When the paranormal went mainstream in the early 2000s, businesses with a history of hauntings were reluctant to be known for that reputation. However, not all were quite so hush hush about their ghosts. A Chicago steak house, That Steak Joynt, wore the reputation of being haunted as a badge of honor. The hauntings that occurred in the Old Town neighborhood remain some of the most frightening hauntings in the entire history of the city. That Steak Joynt, has been gone for many years, but the story is still a part of Chicago’s ghost lore.
Long before the building on North Wells was That Steak Joynt, it was Piper’s Bakery in the 1860s. When the Chicago fire tore through the city in 1871, Piper’s Bakery was destroyed. Henry Piper, refused to be defeated and worked day and night to rebuild his business. When Piper was done rebuilding, he made his bakery bigger and more profitable. Piper’s Bakery remained open for another sixty years, providing pastries and cakes for the neighborhood until it closed.
Following the closing of Piper’s Bakery, a variety businesses set up shop at 1610 N. Wells. A laundry and hardware store being the two that lasted the longest. Not a single one of these businesses ever complained of ghosts terrifying their workers or customers.
That changed when That Steak Joynt moved into the location.
Ralph Mitchell and his business partner, the original owners of That Steak Joynt bought the building in 1962. They were so busy putting the place together, they never noticed anything out of the ordinary although a few employees did occasionally complain about unexplained noises. The subsequent owners, Billy Siegel and Raudell Perez, were the first to report that something wasn’t quite right about their restaurant.
When they bought the building, Mitchell and Perez, converted the bakery case into a bar. To give it an old-fashioned feel, they placed an odd decoration that came from the Matson steamship behind the bar. The object was a conversation starter as a marble bust of a grinning man clutching a wine goblet behind the bar isn’t something you see every day.
It really became the center of attention when people began noticing something unsettling about the bust: it seemed to be all alive.
According to several customers, if you stared at the bust long enough, the expression on the bust’s face seemed to change. One moment, the man appeared to be grinning down at the customers. A moment later his grin would turn into a frown. Some people thought it was a trick of the light while others thought maybe it was simply the alcohol.
If the changing expression wasn’t strange enough, some people claimed the bust had special abilities. A local stockbroker claimed it gave him winning stock tips and others claimed it healed illnesses. Wanting to see if he could capture anything spiritual coming from the bust, a Chicago ghost hunter took pictures of the bust. When he developed the pictures, two white streaks of light seemed to emanate from it. Perhaps there was something to the stories after all.
According to patrons and staff, the bust wasn’t the only haunted decoration to adorn the walls of the restaurant. Hanging on the wall of the staircase were the portraits of William Devine and his wife, Catherine. While the picture of William seemed normal, the same couldn’t be said for Catherine. The expression on the woman’s face would take on a cruel look and if anyone stared at it for too long, they would become physically ill. The complaints got to be so bad, the owners had the portrait taken down and sold it to a merchant.
In the 1980s, the reports of frightening encounters with ghostly figures became impossible to ignore. The owners hired the medium Robert Dubeil with the hopes that he could make sense of what was going on. While in the building, Dubeil claimed to come into contact with three spirits. One spirit, claimed to be the architect that designed the building. The second spirit was a female patron that frequented the bakery. As for the third spirit, it claimed to be the victim of a homicide that happened in Piper’s alley at the turn of the century. The medium’s impression of the murder victim can be historically verified. A double homicide did happen in the alley and the perpetrator was never apprehended. Perhaps that’s why he’s still there.
Before Raudell Perez died, he reported he had a difficult time staffing the restaurant due to the ghostly activity that happened in the building. The night cleaning crew was the hardest to keep staffed, because no one wanted to be in the building after dark. One of the cleaning staff fled the building in terror after coming face to face with one of the restless souls that lurked in the building. He refused to go back and had a friend pick up his final check.
While their staff were the ones to experience the ghosts, the owners were not exempt from encountering the ghosts. Raudell Perez often stayed late to do the bookkeeping because the building was nice and quiet. As he sat at the bar going over paperwork, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. When he looked up, he watched in awe as two apparitions started walking up the stairs. Perez excitedly jumped off the stool and followed the ghostly duo. When they got to the top of the stairs they vanished. When he returned to the bar, he asked the cleaning crew if they saw the ghosts. Of course, they had not.
The hauntings at That Steak Joynt appeared to be equal parts malevolent, and benign. One female employee had a terrifying experience that could only he described as a physical assault. The young woman was trying to leave for the night when a rough hand seized her and dragged her across the floor. She desperately tried to fight off attacker, but she couldn’t fight what she couldn’t see. Not knowing what else to do, she let out a bloodcurdling scream. Perez and a waiter ran into the room and found the woman passed out on the floor. When she regained consciousness, she explained what happened and showed the two men the welts on her wrist. After she calmed down, she promptly resigned and never returned.
When That Steak Joynt closed, The Adobo Mexican Grill opened its doors, serving the neighborhood fine Mexican cuisine. They of course didn’t last long. Roots Handmade Pizza, is the latest restaurant to occupy the building. I have yet to hear if the pizzeria has experienced any paranormal activity. But, if the city’s most prominent ghost hunters say 1610 N. Wells is haunted, their world is good enough for me.
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