The Ramada Inn towers over the corner of Cass and Bagley, a grandiose, aging relic from Detroit’s days as the Paris of the Midwest. It may well be Detroit’s most haunted building.
It’s a curious structure, infamous for many reasons. Built in 1927 as the Leland House, it was once a favored hangout of Jimmy Hoffa, who frequented a bar on the fourth floor. The main lobby is an elegant flashback to Detroit’s heyday, with enormous raised ceilings drenched in gold detail and eerie gilded faces peering from the walls. A huge set of elephant tusks climb from the fireplace, the alleged site of a Purple Gang shoot-out during Prohibition.
In sharp contrast to the porcelain elegance of the lobby, the second floor is home to Detroit’s longest-running underground bar, City Club. A delightfully seedy, pitch-black institution of Detroit clubbing, the bar caters to the goth and industrial crowd. A similar smaller bar, the Labyrinth, resides in the basement. Every weekend, the black-clad masses file into the two clubs, dancing till the wee hours to the pounding rhythm of dark electronica.
Ramada lore is seemingly endless; employees merrily tick off ghost encounters as though they’re comparing battle scars. Mohawked club patrons gleefully spin tales of gangster shoot-outs from the ’30s and Mafia hits. As the legend goes, after Hoffa mysteriously disappeared, portions of the basement were excavated in a search for his body. Two large rectangular depressions in the floor in a room behind the Labyrinth purportedly mark the excavation efforts.
The Ramada rents portions of the hotel as apartments, frequently occupied by employees and regulars of the two clubs. Both residents and guests have described strange, inexplicable occurrences.
Musician Sarah Klamer of Grand Rapids stayed in the Ramada once and swears she heard footsteps in the middle of the night, but the other guests in her room claim they stayed in bed the entire evening. For almost every night over the course of three months, resident Miranda Nowak says she and her roommates awoke to the sounds of someone choking, but all the surrounding hallways and staircases were empty upon investigation.
One housekeeper who declined to give her name said she has heard voices calling in empty rooms she was cleaning, and complained she often feels “chills up my spine” in certain areas of the building.
The hotel was allegedly a safehouse during Prohibition; people who were to testify at the courthouse stayed there, and sometimes assassinations occurred. Some floors in particular, like the seventh, have a reputation for ghost sightings. The building allegedly has an abnormally high number of suicides, of both residents and guests.
However, the hotbed of ecto activity appears to take place in the Labyrinth.
“I am Captain Cynic,” says Jay Abu-Awad, manager of the club, “but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had any creepy experiences down here. And it’s nothing that I can easily dismiss.”
“I wouldn’t say that I actually believe in ghosts,” says employee Doug Wolf, “but I’ve seen so many things I can’t discount them. You can say you don’t believe in something, but if you see it enough, you have to question it.”
“You see things out of the corner of your eye and no one is there,” says the singularly named Blackie, a former manager of the club. “One time I’m standing at the bar, and I feel this hand grab my leg, and I look down and nothing’s there. About a year ago I quit going down there by myself because it was just too freaky.”
A team of paranormal investigators once tested the Labyrinth, and turned up a plethora of activity. Wolf says one of the first things the investigators said upon entering the empty bar was, “Wow, it’s crowded in here!”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I believe,” Blackie says. “Until those ghost hunters came down I was questioning my sanity, but when they came down and told us they experienced the same things we did, then I thought, well, it’s time to change my thinking.”
Some of the most frequently encountered “ghosts” of the Labyrinth, according to employees: a man dressed in a suit and a bowler hat who lingers at the corner of the bar and flickers away in an instant. There are voices in the men’s bathroom, and a female voice that says “hello” or addresses employees by their first name. A smell described as “old ladies’ perfume” lingers in the DJ booth when no one has been in there for days. Patrons report seeing faces in mirrors.
Abu-Awad says the ghosts are particular about who they do and do not like.
“There are people who come to the bar who are always brushing their shoulder, or something’s flicking them in the ear and they turn around and there’s nothing there. Blackie and I, when we would tend bar, we would laugh at them: ‘Oh, the ghosts are fucking with you.’”
“And then there’s Robbie,” Wolf says in reference to the assistant manager, Rob Humphrey, “They hate him. He’s like the ghost chew-toy. It’s gotten to the point where the majority of the time he won’t go anywhere in the bar by himself.”
“Yeah, they hate me,” Humphrey concurs with a strained smile.
The crew at the Labyrinth seem mostly amused with the alleged paranormal activity, but Abu-Awad says at least two employees have quit because they were “too freaked-out.”
“The overall feeling of this building is a very depressing and oppressive vibe at times,” says Abu-Awad. “It’s real hard to keep a positive attitude in this place. Some people are completely immune to it or thrive off of it, and some people get broken by it.”Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at [email protected]