Dining with Spirits in Portland
As foodies and lovers of good eats, it’s probably a given that each and every one of us enjoys venturing out to experience the myriad of dining venues Portland has to offer. We get to take our pick of the new up and coming, trendy hotspots, as well as those that have stood the test of time to make their mark in the city’s culinary history. Although, culinary history isn’t all they’ve got. For as we immerse ourselves in the festive month of October, celebrating ghouls and goblins and all things spiritual and ghostly, we may want to think about the company we keep at some of our well-known meal destinations around town.
Jake’s Grill has been a favorite Portland dining spot since it opened on the first floor of The Governor Hotel in 1994. The restaurant and bar is known for its’ old-gentlemen’s-club-like atmosphere, with 15-ft. tall ceilings bordered in deep mahogany crown molding, and elk, deer and buffalo heads mounted behind the bar as if they are surveying the scene below. A slightly curved bar that looks as if it hasn’t been polished since 1920, framed photos of gentlemen in bowler hats and suits from the early 1900s and cigar-smoking patrons allows Jake’s to blend perfectly with the old-time feel and history of the building it’s situated in. But that’s not all Jake’s is known for. It’s been said that the building Jake’s sits in may very well be haunted. “Haunted?” you say. Yes, haunted.
A while back I was given a tip that the building had witnessed some unique occurrences, mainly on the second floor, where Jake’s manages countless catering events. I had stopped into Jake’s a few times to try and pry some information out of those who really know what’s going on; the bartenders and cocktail servers at the restaurant. I had little luck and received odd looks from the few I approached, signaling that they were completely unaware of any tidbit of information surrounding what I was looking for. After a series of attempts to find some information about ghostly happenings in the building online, I reverted back to the hotel, this time to its’ catering office. Bingo! Thanks to a fellow WCI student who works there, the woman at the desk said she was expecting me. As she tried to get a hold of a representative who could, hopefully, fill my curiosities of possible ghost sightings, a hotel employee came into the office and overheard the information I was on a mission to find out. Is it haunted, or not? “Oh definitely,” he said. His name was Jeff. Standing roughly 5’5” tall, he was an energetic guy who had worked at the hotel for 11 years. “Two years ago, a Night Porter was riding down one of the elevators. He turned and looked to see a woman standing behind him. He turned facing forward again, then turned back again and the lady was gone. The Night Porter ran screaming out of the elevator,” he continued on. “I haven’t seen anything myself, but I definitely feel it at night, when I’m walking the halls, I just feel that something, or someone, is there.” He ended with that and as I was jotting down a few notes on what he was saying he, himself, seemed to disappear in a flash. Moments later, two gentlemen—one in a full suit and the other in a shirt and tie, sans the jacket—came marching in. These two couldn’t be here for me, I thought, but they were. Michael Poe, general manager of Jake’s Grill and Jake’s Catering, and Bradley Jones, director of banquets were standing in front of me and immediately proceeded to give me their business cards. Oh wow, I thought, I’ve caused quite a stir at Jake’s. I’ve taken the GM and banquet director away from their busy day to talk ghosts and spirits? But on second thought, maybe this meant they had something to say.
The three of us headed into a medium-sized meeting room off the reception area of the office and sat down to discuss any rumors of any haunting. To my surprise, Michael immediately jumped in, having experienced some strange events first hand. A Jake’s employee since 2002, Michael remembered a few specific instances that happened during the hotel’s remodel in 2004. “I remember one early morning when I came in to unlock the doors in the lobby which led into the restaurant. As I was unlocking the doors, I felt a presence to my left and heard someone say my name in a loud whisper into my ear. I quickly turned and no one was around me,” he said, and continued on. “That happened to be on a Wednesday. Later that Friday, a construction worker was conducting plumbing work up on the second floor at around 6:00am. He said he saw a guy in a brown shirt and blue pants squatted down, working right next to him. The construction working just starred at the man, not blinking. Moments later, the man literally disappeared in what the construction man described as a cloud of dust,” he said. And lastly, “One evening the Vice President of Operations and I took the elevators down to the bottom floor. Just prior to the elevator doors opening, we both heard someone say a loud ‘hello’ directly on the other side of the doors. When the doors opened, there was no one around the place.”
Michael, Bradley and I finished our conversation and although Michael needed to leave, Bradley was nice enough to take me on a tour of the infamous second floor. The Governor was originally built in 1909, and at that time it was known as the Seward Hotel. In 1923, they added on a west wing that would be the official site of the Portland Elks Lodge. That space now makes up the multi-room maze of meeting rooms and the second floor. I could see why it would carry some spooky characteristics. Some of the rooms were so tiny and they are all interconnected with doors at the back of each room that led either to a storage alcove or to the next room. We walked through the former Vault, which still contains an old-fashioned vault door with a gigantic wheeled lock on it, that, according to Bradley, no one can seem to open. Next was the Fireside Room, which was the only space women were allowed into back in the day. I quickly noticed how strangely cold it was. Hm. Maybe this is the home base for all the spooky entities floating around the site. The Fireside Room led to the Boardroom and the Boardroom led to a majestic library and so on and so forth. Michael left me alone to wander through the rooms on my own. As I strolled through I noticed many of the rooms had spaces in the walls that were formerly doorways, but were now sealed shut. I wondered what had occupied the space behind them in their original state. Each room was very intriguing and had its own unique characteristics about it, but no unusual occurrences for me that afternoon. I hung out in the long, arched corridor outside of all of the rooms and wondered what happened at the hotel that would keep any spirits roaming around in the first place. That was one question I still have yet to get answered, and so, for now, it will remain a mystery to me and anyone else who may be curious.
Regardless of whether or not you believe in the ghosts and spirits, or in unexplained happenings at Jake’s Grill, the menu will always be all the reason you need to go. The restaurant is known for having the freshest seafood as well as a hard-to-beat $1.95 happy hour menu—and they have late-night happy hour for those of us in evening classes.
Interested in more culinary hotspots known to have a few ghosts in their closets? Check out these venues that are also said to have a place in Portland’s haunted scene:
Old Town Pizza, located at 226 NW Davis Street, is said to have a resident ghost, Nina, who is known to leave a smell of faint perfume as she roams the restaurant in a black dress and observes diners basking in their pizza.
Lotus Cardroom and Cafe, located at 923 SW 3rd Avenue, has had reports of something very “creepy” that lurks down in the basement. It’s said that many employees there refuse to even discuss it.
White Eagle Tavern, located across the river at 836 N. Russell Street, claims that one of the stairways that leads from the bar to the upstairs hotel is haunted as well as the kitchen area that stems off the office.