Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Jackson Hotel (Billy's Bar and Grill)

Billy's Bar and Grill is my favorite bar in Downtown Anoka, and I've been to every bar in Anoka.  I love it because it's sort of a dump, but that's part of the appeal.  The carpeting is old and worn, there is a front closet used for storing high chairs and coats that is always left open right when you walk in.  There has always been one stall in the bathroom that doesn't lock, the bar has a distinct "dank-ness" about it, and the restaurant is a mish-mash of old photos of Anoka in cheap frames and quotes from comedians in cheaper frames hung on the walls.  The best way to describe the dining room is "worn."  Surprisingly though, the patio kicks ass.  It has beautiful cobblestone and Billy's brick exterior creates a very old-world feel.  Billy's is so beloved I had my daughter's first birthday party there in the "party room," which is a cold, brick room with no windows in the basement.  We brightened it up with some bright, colorful balloons though (thanks, Party Papers!)  Even my family is a huge fan!  Every Easter morning we go to brunch with my Dad.  "Let's go somewhere nicer this year, like Green Mill."  my sister suggestions.  "No way."  said my Dad, "I like that dive."  Here!  Here!

Here is a picture of Violet's first birthday party in the basement of Billy's:

Billy's Bar and Grill was built in 1877 by Swedish immigrant Charles G. Jackson as the Anoka Hotel, but changed it's name to The Jackson Hotel a few years later.  It is on the National Register of Historic Places.  On August 22, 1885 it became the scene of Anoka's first murder.  Two friends, M.F. Mirick and Peter Gross got into a drunken argument outside of the bar.  Mirick shot Gross in the back.  Gross was brought to a hotel room upstairs for doctor's care (the doctor musta been at the bar...) Unfortunately Gross died in the hotel the following night.

In the 1930's Anoka was a fairly industrious town due to their location on the confluence of two rivers and the railroad.  A few gansters made their way into town (John Dillinger even spent some time here!) and set up shop at the Jackson Hotel.

The bartender's nephew was a cab driver at the time and was in charge of picking up three women at the train station every Friday night and bring the ladies back to the train station on Sunday night for the gangsters...use.  One of the women in particular caught his eye, the red-headed woman.  One Sunday night the cab driver was bringing only two of the women back to the train station, the red-headed woman wasn't with them.  Being quite naive the cab driver thought the woman was going to stay in Anoka for good since she wasn't with them.  He returned to the hotel from dropping the women at the train station and excitedly asked his uncle where the red-headed woman was.  His uncle instructed him to forget about the red-headed woman and that it would be in his best interest never to speak of her again.    

After the Jackson's died, the hotel was willed to a relative who converted the hotel into apartments until 1975, when it changed ownership hands again.  A few owners later, it became Billy's Bar and Grill.

Billy's Bar and Grill is on the Ghosts of Anoka tour and I have heard more stories about this place than any other stop on the tour.  Last summer I took a Ghost Hunting course through Community Education that was held at Billy's and a few of the waitresses and managers came to speak to the class and tell their stories.  (Ghost Hunting through Community Ed. right?!)

The most popular spirit at Billy's, the one who is seen the most, is that of the red-headed woman.  She is said to be somewhat of a nasty spirit.  She haunts both the upstairs of Billy's (which is now used for storage) and the basement as well. (I did offer her a piece of Violet's birthday cake, but she must be watching her ghostly girly figure.)  One of the incidents in the basement is of a storage room that can only be opened from the outside.  Beer cases are currently stored in this room and a staff member was trying to access the room but the door would not budge.  A few more employees helped open the door and it looked as though someone had stacked all the beer cases in front of the door from the inside.  There is a theory that the red-headed woman was buried in the basement.  There is a poured concrete floor that has a raised section the length and width that would be needed to put a adult human body.

Another incident involving the red-headed woman was after one of the Ghost Tours (Billy is the last stop on the tour.)  A woman had brought her granddaughter on the tour with her and the woman and the docent were chit-chatting in front of Billy's.  The girl started tugging on her grandma's arm trying to get her attention and suddenly was begging to leave.  The grandma asked her why and the little girl responded that the red-headed lady in the window upstairs was mean and making faces at her.

Billy's dining room seems to be haunted by the spirit of a much friendlier man.  A few people have even been asked how their meal was by the man.  The dining room is also a hotbed of unexplainable activity including pounding underneath tables and many creepy things that happen after the restaurant closes.

One manager recounted a tale of how she went to shut off all the TV's in the dining room one night and went to unplug the lone TV that doesn't have an on/off button (all of Billy's things are second-hand.)  She was a little apprehensive to climb on to the chair she would need to use to reach the plug-in.  Just as she was about to climb on the chair, the TV behind her snapped back on.  Distracted and annoyed, the manager went to shut the TV off again, only to turn around and find the other TV unplugged for her.

Billy's employees have even come to open the restaurant with the coffee made or the chairs all on the tables.  And the pictures on the wall are always crooked, even after straightening them time and time again.  At this point the staff doesn't even bother to straighten the pictures anymore.

Upstairs, where most of the hotel rooms were, is now used for storage.  One server went up there to get something from the dark dusty third floor and had to get low to the floor to get it.  She was digging around in the tableware until she found what she needed when she turned around she was greeted with champagne glasses in a circle around her, with hand prints that weren't hers in the dust on the floor.  This server refuses to go to the third floor alone anymore.  

So much activity takes place after the place closes for the night the owners decided just to leave the lights on overnight, since that seems to cut down on activity.  They have the highest electricity bill in town but it's worth it to the staff.

Billy's Bar and Grill in downtown Anoka is a great, fun place.  The food is Americana done very well and the drinks are not shy on the alcohol.  The dank, the slanty floors and the "worn-ness" of it all is just part of the charm.  And along with the ghosts you also get free popcorn!

And here it is at night for spoooooooooky effect!

  Hey, Billy's, I'll see you on St. Patrick's Day!

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