Man, I miss the Bitter End. When I first moved to Austin and worked for a marketing firm, we would sometimes have client lunches there. How long ago was that? Well, as you can see from the photo, phone booths were still around.
It was there that I tasted calamari for the first time, learned the difference between a hefeweizen and a pilsner, but I never learned the ghost stories until a few years later. By then, a troublesome ne’er do well had broken into the building on August 25, 2005, and inadvertently started a small fire that grew into something uncontrollable.
For years, all that remained of The Bitter End was a shell of a building and a lot of speculation if it would be rebuilt and renovated. Its untimely bitter end is that it’s now a parking garage at the bottom floor of a building full of high-priced lofts at the corner of 3rd & Colorado Streets, in Austin’s Warehouse District. The bar next door to it, The B-Side still unobtrusively huddles downstairs, as though trying to not attract the attention of developers. And around the next corner at 4th St is the former high-dollar eatery The Capitol Grill. Before that, though, it was the Austin’s haunted Spaghetti Warehouse. The Bitter End’s massive bar ended up at a nearby wine bar. Some of her bricks, I hear, were used in the “W” Hotel décor. Makes me wonder if some of the ghosts attached themselves to anything that left the building before its demolition.
The Bitter End, even after its doors were closed and locked, awaiting its fate, gave us some of the most varied and unique stories of poltergeist activity we had ever heard in our quarter century. Keep in mind, that these warehouses were part of “Guy Town”, Austin’s red light district from the 1870’s until 1914 (legally), and for years after that illegally.
The manager of the Bitter End often stayed well past closing, reconciling the receipts. He said he always had the oppressive sense of being observed. And even though, the doors were locked, he could hear items being moved around. One night, his patience at an end, he got up from his seat at one end of the bar, and shouted to the empty air, “Alright, enough! You want to get my attention? REALLY do something to get my attention!” With that, the bar stool at the other end of the bar tipped on its side and rocketed toward him like a bowling ball. The manager jumped out of the way, called it a night, and headed home, shaken up over what had occurred.
Another time, he was again the last to leave. He went upstairs to the office, grabbed his coat, his backpack, and began searching for his keys. He always hung them on a hook right by the office door and the restaurant sound system, but now they were gone. He rifled through his pockets, his backpack – nothing. He realized he was going to have to spend the night in his haunted restaurant. After all, he couldn’t lock it, drive home, or get in his house! But he wasn’t about to lay there on the office sofa, listening to things go bump in the night. So, he decided to turn some music on. But as his hand reached for the knob on the sound system…there they were: the missing keys, replaced on their usual hook. And they were swaying just a little bit, back and forth, back and forth, almost mocking him. “Gotcha!”
The Bitter End staff arrived one day and began setting up for lunch when someone noticed that all the wine glasses in the restaurant had gone missing. All they had to do was look up. And there, 30 feet above the barroom floor, the wine glasses were lined up on a beam. They didn’t even have a ladder tall enough to get them; they had to borrow one from a neighboring building and begin a “bucket brigade” type of rescue. That’s an impressive manipulation of matter!
But perhaps one of the weirdest occurrences took place as they readied for the lunch crowd. The manager went into the vestibule connected to the B-Side Bar and picked up a stray copy of an Austin Chronicle from off the floor. It was sopping wet with … something. He looked up expecting to see a leaky AC duct or broken water pipe. Instead, there was a glowing, whirling ball, occasionally throwing off plasma goop. The manager called other employees over to have a look, and a group of about five or six of them stood there observing this spinning orb. And here’s the really amazing part – NONE of them took a photo of it! Okay, granted, it was the days of the flip phone when getting to the camera portion was a big hassle. But still.
(I once ran into a pedestrian on my way to a tour, and she introduced herself as someone who once worked at the Bitter End. She said she stood there that day and witnessed this orb phenomenon.
I asked, “Why, oh WHY did no one get a photo?”
“We were afraid if anyone moved, it would disappear”, she answered.
“So, what happened?” I asked.
She shrugged, “It disappeared!”)
Like whipped cream on a paranormal parfait, there’s one final experience to share. The gent who trained me to give the tours always ended his Friday night tour on the stoop of The Bitter End. Behind him were the locked doors leading into the vestibule. Peering through the oblong glass windows of those doors, you could barely make out the restaurant and bar inside, its south wall still blackened by the fire.
Kenneth was wrapping up his tour, when behind him, from inside the building were three knocks. Kenneth glanced behind him momentarily, but turned back to his crowd, saying, “Don’t worry, folks. It’s probably just a transient who got locked in there by mistake. I’ll tell Austin PD about it when we’re done here in a few minutes. So, anyway – “
But before he could continue, he was interrupted by four thunderous pounding knocks, rattling the glass in the doors. Kenneth jumped off the stoop, but three of his guests took his place, snapping photos inside. Naturally, their flash reflected in the glass, ruining the photos. But they shone enough light into the vestibule for everyone to clearly see, there was no one on the other side of those doors.
Like I said…man, I miss the Bitter End!
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