Plenty of spirits at BlackJack Lil's - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Plenty of spirits at BlackJack Lil's

Family revives old Hauser Lake haunt

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Posted: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 9:19 am, Wed Sep 4, 2013.

HAUSER LAKE - They just want you to know that they are here, said Vern Mathis, explaining the ghostly things that have happened since his daughter opened Blackjack Lil's Saloon and Grill on Hauser Lake.

There is a bell attached to a chain at the end of the bar. If you ring it, something is going to happen, said Karenna Mathis.

They believe the old brothel is haunted with a spirit named Mattie.

"She was the piano lady. She was also a working girl," Karenna said. "They found her dead upstairs."

Since the family leased the old bar and restaurant, they have had a number of chilling experiences. Vern said he was always skeptical when his daughter or her boyfriend, Nathan Quincy, would recount stories of what they experienced while getting the business set up.

Quincy and Karenna run the restaurant and saloon. Vern and his wife are just there to support them with their years of experience in running five restaurants in Hawaii.

They held a soft opening on Aug. 10, and they plan a grand opening on Saturday with drink specials and a debut of their new breakfast menu.

Vern said he became a believer in ghosts one night after his daughter told him about the ice scoop. If they set it on top of the ice machine, which is not running, and walk out of the kitchen, Karenna said it will invariably end up on the floor.

"Not just on the floor, it will fly across the room," she said, explaining that she demonstrated that to her father one evening while closing up the bar.

"Sure enough, as soon as we left the kitchen we heard something fall on the floor," Vern said. "It was the ice scoop and it was completely across the room from where we left it."

Quincy said there are bumps in the night as well.

One time he was upstairs in the former brothel part of the building and he heard loud banging going on in the bar area.

"It sounded like someone was tearing the bar down with a sledge hammer," he said. "I came downstairs and there was nobody in the bar."

Karenna said that almost every regular customer that comes into the bar has a story about it.

"I've talked with previous bartenders when they come in here," she said. "Sometimes it takes them a little while but they eventually bring it up."

It's the bell cord that is the most intriguing, however.

"Every time someone rings the bell, something strange will happen within 10 minutes," Karenna said, explaining the last time it happened was when a couple of television producers stopped by for a drink and just had to ring the bell.

"About two minutes after they did it, black smoke came out of all the ceiling vents," she said. "So, we shut down the vents and had the air conditioner checked and there was nothing wrong."

When they turned the unit back on, it worked perfectly fine, Karenna said.

Vern said the family has done a lot of investigation into the building's past. While they haven't determined the exact age of the building, it pre-dates 1905 where they found a picture of the bar when it was called "The Club."

The first recorded deed on the property was in 1908, Vern said.

He has also found a false wall that used to hide liquor and prostitution activity during prohibition. The wall folds down from the ceiling in the stage area of the bar.

Vern has yet to let it down because he wants to make sure he can put it back up once he does. But he is excited to see what's behind the wall. Rumor has it that the working girls have carved their names into it, and so did a former county sheriff.

"My curiosity is getting to me," he said.

They have already restored the beer cooler that was an old stone ice box built back in the 1930s.

They are chipping away at several projects they hope to accomplish soon. Above the bar area is where the old brothel rooms were. Vern said the plan is to remodel those and open them up for tourists.

"They are full of early 1900s stuff," he said. "It really needs some work up there, but we'll get them all fixed up."

Karenna said while it is a little spooky at times, it is also exciting. She was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and has been rehabilitating after having a tumor removed from her spine.

That is what got her into the business, Vern said. She couldn't be in nursing anymore.

"It's a big thing for me and my wife to see her doing this," he said. "Both her and Nathan are doing a terrific job."

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