It was Friday night and we were ready for some spooky thrills and ghoulish grub, so we did what anyone would do: We googled haunted restaurants in the vicinity. There are a few in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (Forepaugh's and Cuzzy's to name a couple), but we wanted an adventure. So we chose Anoka, the self-proclaimed capital of Halloween and all things scarifying. The haunted establishment we set out for was Billy's, a popcorn-littered sports bar stuffed into an old Victorian hotel -- which was once a scarifyingly scandalous brothel.
As we drove down Anoka's old Main Street, we noticed that the entire stretch had empty chairs (of all descriptions) lining the road. For a brief moment, we were transported to a ghost town, until we turned off of Main to park and noticed hordes of suburban folk entering a block party, with the sounds of Journey covers floating beyond the beer tent. As we walked toward Billy's, we were impressed by the grandeur of the old hotel, decked out in hokey Halloween decor, and boasting a fantastic deal on a limitless fish fry for $11.99. What could be scarier than eating your weight in scrod?
We bit the bait and entered the establishment, clearly a place for Friday after-work drinking and family dinners. Seated by a bored teenager in a Halloween-themed t-shirt, we were then served by another bored but busy woman (in another Halloween t-shirt). She threw a bowl of popcorn in front of us and asked for drink orders ($3 Long Islands every Friday folks; sometimes the 20-minute drive is worth it), leaving before we could even ask about the hauntings.
We searched the dining room for signs of ghosts (a hanging noose, echoing screams, cool breezes) and we even took pictures, hoping against hope that an orb would show up. Afraid we weren't going to be able to chat with our server for more than a millisecond, we decided to do some sleuthing on our own. According to MinnesotaGhosts.com, this is the lore of the old Jackson Hotel (where Billy's is housed):
"This establishment is said to be haunted by a few female employees that worked there when the building held a brothel. It used to be a hotel that was turned into an unofficial brothel by a Mrs. Jackson, who headed as the madam of the house.
The rumors that float around about the events that led to it being haunted include the idea that the patrons killed Mrs. Jackson out of greed and stole the profits of the brothel women. Another version of the story states that Mrs. Jackson hung herself on one of the chandeliers on the third floor due to the stress of losing the hotel.
The reports of the haunted activity include staff reporting pictures moving on their own, the ghost of a woman who haunts an upstairs window where it is believed she committed suicide, and late night visitors who drive by the building sometimes report seeing a shadowy figure in the upstairs window."
This was the exact type of bone-chilling story we were looking for! So when our server arrived with our endless fish baskets (complete with French fries, a tartar sauce that had more sugar than a bowl of ice cream, one of their famous breadsticks, and an adorable little cup of coleslaw), we just had to ask...
"Hey! Have you ever had a run-in with a ghost? Or have you been a victim of any hauntings?"
Our server tried desperately to not roll her eyes but didn't quite manage it. After a sigh, she quickly stated, "I've been upstairs with the people with the ghost machines but they didn't find anything."
We stifled our follow-up questions and continued to feast upon the endless fish, but found ourselves stuffed to the gills before we finished our first plate. Wiping the grease from our mouths (the fish and French fries were not lacking in oil), we paid the reasonable bill and sauntered out into the chilly autumn air.
Disappointed, we thought we'd cheer ourselves up with a brisk constitutional. Passing the alleyway behind the Jackson Hotel we saw two dark figures sitting (hovering? floating?) on a fire escape. Was it the ghost of Mrs. Jackson preparing her nightly haunt? Was that a noose around her neck? Alas, no. Upon further inspection, the shadowy figures turned out to be your run of the mill Batman and Batwoman, and though they did give us a jolt of adrenaline (as we are a superstitious and cowardly lot), they just weren't as exciting as a centuries-old madame ghost.
The rest of our walk, however, was peppered with creepy dolls peering out of shop windows, empty streets, and dead leaves skittering across the sidewalks. The ambiance of Anoka at night (and the $3 Long Islands) made up for the lackluster fish and ghost-less building. Who knew the mouth of Hell would be so quaint?
Looking for more frights?
Rumor has it there's a haunted dairy queen in St. Anthony, and the Lowell Inn in Stillwater features a lady ghost who roams the halls and flushes toilets. We can only hope to be more ambitious when we pass on into the food columnist afterlife.
Billy's Bar & Grill 214 Jackson St., Anoka 763-421-3570
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