The Spookiest Joint in San Antonio

Menger Bar.jpg

Given that the Cowboys last season won a playoff game and buried their ghosts of Decembers past, I have a hunch where these spirits now live: The Menger Hotel.

It may or may not actually be haunted, but man is it creepy.

The Menger is just across the street from The Alamo, where since the 1850s it's hosted the likes of Sam Houston, Generals Lee and Grant and Presidents McKinley, Taft, Eisenhower, and Roosevelt; Babe Ruth, and Mae West. Legend has it that 32 ghosts - you know me and ghosts - roam around the joint.

It's dark and dank and drafty. Imagine the bar scene in The Shining, then quadruple it. 

There are unexplained pockets of cool, musty air that feel like a crawl space beneath an old house. There are grainy, black-and-white photos everywhere. There is a refurbished spot on the wooden bar where a crazy guest one night went after her cheatin' husband with an axe.

And, yes, there are characters.

If I didn't know better I'd have thought the guy at the bar last night was a paid actor, charged with lathering guests with history and stirring up the spooks. It took him two seconds to buy me a drink.

He was a burly Joe Pesci, dressed in a white suit and one of those straw hats baseball fans wore back in the 1930s. In his best fake half-Spanish/half-Cajun accent, he immediately regaled me with tales of how Roosevelt fired off his gun in the very seat in which I sat. He claimed to be a lawyer, praising Teddy and slamming Obama and cussing every other word.

Each time I tried to ask him a question, he only snuffed me out with a wilder story in a louder voice. He wanted to take me on a personal tour of the hotel, to which I politely declined. During my 45-minute stay he made similar overtures to each new guest.

"Nobody knows what he does," the bartender says, "but he's here all the time. Every day."

I had just one question for the guy, "Are you a ghost?"

He deadpanned, "Of course. What gave it away?"

Before I could decipher, a cop straight out of Andy Griffith sidled up to the bar.

"Water," he says. "Ice if you got it."

Another actor? Another "ghost"? Another eccentric.

Looking bewildered, the cop slammed his water, crushed his plastic cup, grumbled something about "prohibition" and exited just as fast as appeared.

The bartender shrugged. I skeedaddled.

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