Diary of a doorman (Halloween edition): The Haunting of Alex’s

To most clubbers, quaffers and concertgoers, Alex’s Plaza Restaurant and Bar is not a spooky place. You enter downstairs, make your way up the first flight of stars, hit the switchback to climb the second flight, rising into an open space full of people enjoying their favorite libations and watching the band that is off to the right, next to the long bar. Directly ahead, across the small dance floor, are the large windows that look onto the balcony and the plaza beyond.

Behind the bar to the right is the long, all-seeing mirror that makes the place look even larger. Alex’s continues to

Photo courtesy of bizarrebytes.com
spread out to the rear of the building, revealing another large seating area, a banquet room, and a back deck. Nothing too creepy about it.

That is, until you’re there at 3 a.m. after the slurring, stumbling patrons have left and it’s just you. Or, at least you think it’s just you. Alex’s has played host to many ghost stories over the years, and I’ve heard most of them. But, I always heard them diffused through many channels. Not until last night did I get firsthand accounts of the “other” residents of Alex’s, the beings that only come out late at night when the closing bartender is counting out his or her till, dimming the lights, and putting the stools on the bar. Very late at night (or very early in the morning, depending on your point of view) is when the ghosts come out to wreak havoc upon the eyes, ears, and psyches of Alex’s devoted employees. And to put up with the eerie occurrences, they do have to be devoted.

There are many places in Ashland that are reported to be haunted. I’ve heard tales of ghosts in the Hemporium, OSF’s Bowmer Theatre, Lithia Park and many, many places on our fair SOU campus just to name a few. But Alex’s history is a rather intriguing one, to say the least.

Supposedly the building that Alex’s now resides in was once used as the courthouse, and supposedly the fine people of Ashland had no qualms about hanging wrongdoers from the vaulted ceiling above the staircase. The building also hosted the jail, a site of many horrid happenings, including murders among angry guards and suicides of hopeless prisoners.

After the courthouse was moved, the building was used for many different reasons, until it became used as a restaurant. Somewhere in the history, a distraught cook hung himself in what is now the banquet room. He never left.

My buddy Frank used to bartend at Alex’s, when the housing market fell off and his real estate license wasn’t paying the bills. One night Frank was counting his money at the large table in the banquet room after close. There was no one in the building, though Frank hadn’t locked the doors yet. He was seated at the table, counting his money and facing the large mirror on the wall, which reflected the doorway behind him that leads into the other large dining area. He saw a figure of a man walk behind him. He called out, saying the bar was closed, and rose to extricate the unwanted visitor.

He looked everywhere and found nothing. He checked the back deck, restrooms, kitchen, behind the bar, even under tables. Satisfied that he was alone, he locked the doors and resumed his nightly bookkeeping duties. He began counting when once again, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure walk behind him. As Frank looked up to more clearly see the reflection of the tall man behind him, the figure turned its head in Frank’s direction, cold eyes staring hard into the back of Frank’s head. The apparition paused briefly, locked his eyes upon Frank’s in the mirror, and continued walking to the back deck, out of the doorway and out of the mirror’s range. Frank picked up his unfinished books, threw them in the safe, and quickly left.

Frank no longer works at Alex’s, though his reasons for leaving have nothing to do with Alex’s unwelcome specters. However, Tonie and Julia do still work there, and both have been witness to their own nightly visits.

Since Frank’s experience in the banquet room, the safe has been moved to a small closet off the bar. Bartenders now do their nightly bookkeeping in the front of the house and deposit their books in the safe without spending too much time away from the front door. This is for multiple reasons, the least of which is have someone in the front of the house to catch any late stragglers stumbling their way inside and up the stairs, looking for one last drink.

Julia was closing one night, counting the till while behind the bar. The closing server had left, everything was closed down, and the lights in the back of the restaurant and kitchen were off, leaving only light around the bar. As Julia was counting money, she felt a strange presence that sent shiver running up her spine. She looked up in the direction of the restrooms on the other side of the room. The very dark room. Rounding the corner, bathed in an unearthly glow, was a woman in a long, flowing white dress and wearing a bonnet. She stopped and turned her head to look at Julia for an achingly long, frightful moment. Her eyes, a sickening shade of unnatural black, locked with Julia’s as slowly – ever so slowly – a knowing, mischievous smile appeared on the woman’s face. As Julia screamed, the lady in whilte turned away and continued around the corner to the back of the bar. Julia did not follow.

The same lady in white has been seen by bar manager Tonie, in almost exactly the same place. The woman shows herself only occasionally, but everyone who has seen her describes her the same: tall, wearing a bonnet, dark cold eyes that penetrate deeply. Only after Tonie and Julia had shared their stories with each other did they tell anyone else about the sightings.

As it turned out, the woman in white has been around for a while. Robbie DaCosta, who often plays at Alex’s, knows of her well. Robbie’s father long ago gave him a picture taken in Alex’s, of two patrons seated and drinking at the bar. Behind the two patrons sits a woman in white, wearing a bonnet. She is partially transparent, the light from the windows behind her showing through her body. She is looking at the camera, cold, dark eyes focused intently, the smallest hint of a smile upon her ashen face.

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