Welcome, foolish mortals, to the home of cadaverous casseroles, exsanguinous eats, and snack-related sagas so strange and frightening they may well transport you to a realm unknown. Welcome, readers, to A Dark and Stormy Bite, a monthly column that dives deep into a teeth-chattering culinary dimension of utterly ghoulish proportions. Basically, if it involves food and goes bump in the night, we’ll cover it here. Do you have a favorite haunted restaurant or cursed recipe? Email email@example.com—and beware.
Upon moving to Chicago in 2019, I took one look at the place, sniffed the air, and made an easy determination: this place is haunted as hell. Only in Chicago can you stroll past the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on your way to a tasteful tapas brunch. Only here would someone erect a post office in a lot that formerly housed a bona fide torture palace. Only here can a lost soul wander aimlessly between Harold’s Chicken locations, never quite knowing which is the original, cursed to suffer imitation mild sauce for all eternity.
Then there are the restaurant hauntings. Usually when you picture haunted Chicago restaurants, you think of the infamous Red Lion Pub or the Wells Street Hooters located just a few feet from where corpses were found in the 19th century stuffed into barrels that were, ironically, labeled “poultry.” But I stumbled on a surprise earlier this week as I browsed an old Food Network slideshow of the nation’s most haunted restaurants. According to the slideshow, I had already dined in Illinois’ most haunted eatery earlier this summer: the Chicago Chop House.
A bit of history: the Chop House is an old-school steakhouse located in a Victorian brownstone in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Per the restaurant’s website, the brownstone was built in 1897. The Food Network explains that one Robert Minier moved in with his family; unfortunately, his nine-year-old daughter, Florence, died of unknown causes in 1906. Now, young Florence’s spirit is said to roam the building, chucking wine glasses, turning lights on and off, and making all sorts of ghoulish sounds to terrify staff and guests alike. Per the Food Network, sightings have taken place at all times of the day and on all three levels of the restaurant, although the third floor is said to have the most spectral activity if you’d like a side of ectoplasm with your porterhouse.
It’s a delightfully spooky tale, and one I was naturally inclined to believe. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the Food Network got its information about Florence. The publication didn’t cite any sources and despite ample research, I wasn’t able to find a single mention of a nine-year-old Florence Minier who died in 1906. Somewhat surprisingly, the building also isn’t listed on the City of Chicago’s landmark building registry, so I wasn’t even able to determine when the building was converted to commercial use. The restaurant’s staff also declined to comment on the rumors, leaving me to my own devices.
Would a Chop House haunting make sense? I’d say so, as the River North neighborhood is home to all sorts of hair-raising legends. I mean, there’s a Hard Rock Cafe across the street, which, depending on who you talk to, may already be full of lost souls trapped in a novelty mojito purgatory. The former Excalibur nightclub is also just one block over on Dearborn Street. The nightclub was housed in an infamous 1892 building where Chicago Historical Society workers once allegedly discovered a pile of bones from Great Chicago Fire victims—victims who reportedly continue to haunt the location. Finally, a little over a mile away, the stunning Congress Plaza Hotel has inspired a number of sleepless nights, even sparking Stephen King’s chilling short story 1408.
Location aside, it’s easy to see how the Chop House could lend itself to ghost stories. Some 1,400 photos hang on the walls, transporting guests to a darker, sootier, Capone-ier Chicago. The steakhouse’s lush atmosphere is also fairly quiet and hushed other than the occasional clinking of classes and jovial bellows of nearby businessmen. The Chop House features a live pianist most nights, too, which any horror buff knows is a great scary movie setup. (Is there a ghost in the piano? Is the pianist a ghost?)
Yes, the Chop House could be haunted, I suppose. Lounging in the dimly lit dining room, it’s easy to picture the ghost of a longtime proprietor suddenly materializing at the bar to offer you a martini, very dry. (Of course, the Chop House has only been open since 1986, so even if there were a longtime proprietor, they wouldn’t be very old.) At this point, I can’t be sure. Either way, if you’d like me to conduct an in-depth paranormal investigation, all that I ask is you pay for my dry-aged filet. If anything, the dubious legend of the Chicago Chop House drives home the one question that I always ask myself upon entering a new space: is this place haunted, or does it just have high-pile carpet?