Credit: Stephanie Rudig

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Before it opened in August 2006, Rock & Roll Hotel owner Jason Martin toured the building. It was over 90 degrees outside and even hotter inside what had previously been a funeral parlor. But despite the sweltering heat, he felt unmistakable pockets of freezing air. 

Rumors that the building was haunted ran rampant before the doors ever opened.  

Hotel bartender James Humphrey recalls that the staff members hired to work the venue were “freaking out” well in advance of ever clocking in. “The embalming room is going to be the kitchen,” she recalls them telling each other. “People were talking about how the pipes still had the blood of people in them.” 

Even after remodeling, parts of Robert O. Freeman Funeral Services remained. The tile viewing platform for the bodies still sits under the stage, directly beneath where the drummers typically play. 

“[H Street] was empty back then,” says Mark Thorp, a former Rock & Roll bartender who now owns Little Miss Whiskey’s and Jimmy Valentines. “You could walk down the center of [H Street] after dark. You’d hear something and think it might be kids out in the street, so you’d go look out the window and there’d be nothing there.”  

Gabe Torres, who has been a bartender there for six years, says he has sensed something paranormal from the beginning. “The strongest feeling is just that there’s presences,” he says. “You’ll feel someone looking at you, checking you out. And you turn around and there’s no one there.” 

Laine Crosby, an author from Derwood, Maryland, who describes herself as an “investigative medium”—basically, a ghost hunter—says she felt around 40 spirits present at the nightclub when she visited on Oct. 19. While no unexplainable phenomena occurred that night, Rock & Roll Hotel employees have reported much more than just unsettling feelings over the years.

“We’d come in the next day and the candles [from the night before] would be lit,” says Humphrey. Not wanting to burn the building down, they started pouring water into the candles at night’s end. “We came in and the water would be out of them and they would be lit,” she recalls. 

Some of the most commonly reported phenomena include doors slamming, footsteps, and voices or radios when someone is alone in the venue. 

“There have been three or four people, including my ex-wife, who’ve had this experience, kind of like an AM frequency tune in,” says Fritz Wood, one of the hotel’s original employees who worked there for nine years. 

Wood remembers one instance very vividly, when he was closing up and his ex-wife Lisa was waiting for him in the lobby. 

“She’s like, ‘Weird, someone left the radio on.’ And it’s like some old talkie show, and they’re talking about her. And they’re describing her dress, and asking, ‘Who is she? Why is she here?’ So I come down five minutes later, and she’s literally standing in the middle of H street with her arms crossed like, ‘Nope, nope, nope.’” 

The bathrooms seem to be the most common location for chilling events. Faith Alice Sleeper would work at the tables by the second-floor window and recalls hearing the bathroom doors slam when she was alone in the building. 

“It’s like a jammed frequency back there,” Humphrey says. 

Two years ago, Torres was opening the bar early for H Street Fest with another bartender. His colleague went to the bathroom, after which Torres heard her scream and saw her run outside. In the backstage area, the shower was running, so he turned it off. When his co-worker returned, she told him the shower had turned on by itself. 

Crosby offers a potential explanation for the intensity and frequency of events in the bathrooms. When she went herself, she reported a female spirit warning her about a Peeping Tom. Crosby believes the ghosts may have been husband and wife and that the husband had been a voyeur in his human life as well.  

“You just gave me the chills,” Humphrey says when told what Crosby felt. “It does feel like someone’s watching you.” 

Occasionally, people have seen the ghosts themselves, especially on the second floor. 

“We were open for business—the lights were down, the music was playing—and they [Thorp and former bartender Kelly Sheeran] both saw a man standing in the hallway by the jukebox,” Humphrey recalls. “I’m coming up the stairs and I turn really quickly and there’s a silhouette of a man standing there and he’s wearing rain gear and he floats by the pool table, stops at the pool table, and then he goes to where the stairs are.” 

The peak of Rock & Roll’s haunting came when a security staff member nicknamed Andy the Mohican made a 48-hour audio recording of the kitchen’s back room.  

“He knew the place was haunted. He could feel the spirits, and it always freaked him out,” Humphrey says. 

Wood says Andy isolated some sounds on the recordings and shared them. 

“It was like, ‘leave us, leave us, leave us.’ And that next week, he drained his personal account—his joint account with his wife—left her, their toddler, their newborn child. They found him in a fucking state park in upstate New York sitting by a campfire, drinking fucking antifreeze, singing ‘leave us, leave us.’” 

“I honestly do not believe that [the ghosts] were very happy in the beginning, but I will say as time went on all these crazy weird things would kinda stop happening,” Humphrey says. 

It may be because the spirits and the staff learned how to get along. 

“We’d literally put on five bucks worth of songs [on the jukebox] and say goodnight and walk out the door,” Wood says. “I think whatever spirits are there—if they are there—think we’re not crazy and just appreciate what we’re doing and what we’re trying to give back, and that we’re trying to throw a fun party.”

In the Presidential Suite upstairs, Crosby reported the presence of Miss Kitty, a sassy older prostitute who entertains many ghost guests, loves the club’s liveliness, and even has a crush on one of the bartenders. Crosby suggests that spirits are coming and going with music fans as they attend the nightclub’s shows. Over time, the spirits who liked the Rock & Roll Hotel the most were the ones who stuck around. 

As Humphrey puts it: “If there was a spirit there that didn’t like it, the fun spirits were like, ‘Get out, dude.’”