From Franklin Castle to Gray’s Armory, Cleveland certainly has its fair share of notorious haunts. The city’s history is filled with murderous gangsters, unsolved serial murders, and tragic family falls.
Often occupying century-old buildings or sharing historic spaces, spooky ghost stories are also on the menu at many Cleveland dining establishments. With hours stretching into the late night and a particularly haunted reputation, the Griffin Cider House & Gin Bar offers visitors the chance to see firsthand what goes on in the dark.
Richard ReadGrowing up in an old Lakewood house myself, I have been fascinated by the unexplained ever since I suffered from the nightly crackles and bangs in my childhood bedroom, even though it was just our radiator heater at the era.
When a family member shared a tip about the Griffin, I was eager to accept owner Richard Read’s invitation to tour and see the spooky basement (normally off limits to guests), all with a expertly handcrafted gin cocktail, of course.
Read, an expat who still loves his British heritage, is Griffin’s self-proclaimed “pub owner”. Although he works as a scientist by day, he is surprisingly open-minded about the existence of the spiritual realm.
“We believe in running science, [or] what we currently understand, ”says Read. “I think people use [science] like an armed word. They don’t really understand what science is; it’s a constantly evolving thing. People refute the science of yesterday all the time.
After Read’s purchase of the Griffin in 2015, he and his family were quick to recognize that something was different. The building itself dates back to 1912 and was the former Madison Bar, among other earlier establishments.
According to Read, at least three spirits now haunt the site. Upstairs in the private bedrooms, Read sensed the presence of what he believed to be the previous owner, having detected the smell of cigarettes and even the smell of bad breath. Childish laughter can sometimes be heard, and Read’s wife was convinced that one of their sons was playing behind the bar until she realized that they were both upstairs the entire time.
Employees and guests report seeing things in their peripheral vision, including a resident third spirit. The ghost of an older woman seems to prefer a corner in the back room, perhaps where she quietly worked in a previous life. Read recalls seeing his ghostly arm once pass through a hallway and confirmed the vision with another witness.
One particularly frightening phenomenon was captured on security footage in the basement. An unlucky employee was collecting supplies from the cold room when suddenly the door slammed shut on him (as everyone in the company knows, it takes more than a draft to slam those heavy doors).
A ghostly face looms in a crack of light.It was to this dark and spooky floor that Read offered to take me when I visited. As we walked down the creaky wooden stairs, I quickly realized how big and maze-like the basement was. Here, the age of the building is very apparent.
In a storage room that even Read admitted to hardly ever entering, we faced a pitch black abyss with just a thin trail of light along the back brick wall. Using my camera’s long exposure, I quickly took a photo and moved on. It wasn’t until later that we discovered what alarmingly resembles a ghostly face peering through the frame.
While weird experiences happen any time of the day, Reid advises novice ghost hunters to consider a night tour. “It’s when things are calm,” Read says of the pub’s many sightings. From disembodied footsteps and faces in the attic windows to even the explosion of glassware behind the bar, the Griffin has had more than its fair share of paranormal events.
While Casper The Friendly Ghost isn’t, the Resident Spirits don’t seem to have any malicious intent in mind. Skeptics and believers alike can enjoy a gin cocktail and Griffin ghost sightings, and those in the latter category can check out a few other paranormal hotspots nearby as well.
Johnny Mango’s, based in Ohio City, is the only restaurant in Cleveland to appear in the Haunted Ohio Directory. While the activity isn’t as frequent here (according to staff), Mango’s even hosted real ghost whisperer Mary Ann Winkowski.
Across the river, the Flat Iron Café is home to the ghost of a woman who died in a fiery fire that took hold of half the building in the late 1800s.
There is no doubt that Cleveland’s historic past lives on in the many bars and restaurants that share its history. For those who are brave enough to research it, the results might just be out of this world.