Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ghosts and Spirits: a Late Follow-up to Halloween

The Hotel San Carlos in Phoenix, Arizona is one of the oldest hotels in the Southwest. When it was completed in 1927, it was hailed as the most modern hotel in the entire Southwest. It was the first fully air-conditioned high-rise hotel of the day and quickly earned a reputation as the "it" spot for local Phoenix hotshots and Hollywood stars. The hotel was built on the site of Phoenix's first elementary school, and it wasn't long before tales of schoolboy ghosts began to be told about the hotel. The hotel's most famous ghost is Leone Jensen, a young woman who flung herself over the edge of the 7th story roof, plunging to her death in the city street below. The sounds of young children playing have also been reported by guests.

The hotel and bar have seen Hollywood stars and have undergone many style and name changes over the history of the hotel. Some stars from yesteryear include Mae West, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gene Autry, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and other big names of the 30's, 40's, and 50's. The hotel underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2003 to upgrade the amenities to current standards, yet still held on to many of the unique qualities that sets it apart from modern hotels, including intimate-sized hotel rooms, delightfully arched doorways, originial crystal chandeliers, a steam-heat radiator system and copper clad elevator doors.

The new "Ghost" Bar was renovated, renamed and re-opened in June of this year. Renamed, I suppose, to play off the sketchy, scary, slightly haunted history of the hotel.

At 7 p.m. on a Sunday night, it's lightly inhabited by living, breathing loud-talking 20 and 30-somethings. Young bartenders talk up their specialty drinks to a big-haired redhead with a raccoon-tail inexplicably attached to her purse. Phoenix fashion trend? IDK. The night was still young and there was much to be explained.

The bar consists of three rooms: the main room shares the 20ft bar with several high bar tables and an unseen source of recorded music. The other two rooms are lightly populated by early 1930-style sofas and berely designed bar furniture. These two rooms seem to be a work in progress. Since this just re-opened a few short months ago, I expected better.

Though there is a very interesting mirror mosaic on one wall of the smallest room. Cheap, framed photos of movie stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood pepper the walls, sharing space with framed prints of the hotel and Phoenix from the 1920's and 1930's. The graceful arches of the doorways and the original crystal chandelier offer the only real interest. All other introduced elements merely gave the bar a slightly schizo-personality. Otherwise, the Ghost Bar is not much differenct from a typical hotel bar.

I ordered a Cannonball Cabernet, which turned out to be a nice spicy Cabernet. One sip brought out the sweet berry and pepper flavors I love, followed by a nice oaky finish. In the gloom of the bar, it shone with a darkly ruby glow. Made me consider ordering steak. But sadly, one of the less-inspired attempts at ambiance included the lack of light. (I don't like to eat in place where I am not able to identify my food by sight.) Additionally, I was told there's no food available in the bar on Sunday. "Our kitchen is closed." But the bartender eagerly encouraged me to head next door to an Irish Pub for standard Pub Grub. Perhaps I'm outside their desired demographic, or maybe I didn't have the correct critter hanging from my purse. At any rate, I finished my Cabernet and headed back to my cozy room, sans steak, and ready to get out of Phoenix.

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