Beyond the grave: Griffin Cider House & Gin Bar brings history to (after)life in Lakewood

From Franklin Castle to Gray’s Armory, Cleveland certainly has its fair share of notorious haunts. The city’s history is full of murderous mobsters, unsolved serial killings, and tragic family downfalls. 

Often occupying century buildings or sharing historic spaces, spooky ghost stories are also on the menu at many Cleveland food and drink establishments. With hours going late into the night and a particularly haunted reputation, the Griffin Cider House & Gin Bar offers visitors the chance to see firsthand what goes bump in the dark.

Richard ReadHaving grown up in an older Lakewood house myself, I’ve been fascinated by the unexplained ever since suffering the nightly creaks and bangs in my childhood bedroom—although it was only our radiator heating at the time.

When a family member shared a tip about the Griffin, I was eager to accept owner Richard Read’s invitation to visit and see the creepy basement (normally off limits to guests)—all with an expertly crafted gin cocktail in hand, of course.

Read, an ex-pat who is still fond of his British heritage, is the self-proclaimed “pub landlord” at Griffin. Though he works as a scientist by day, he is surprisingly open-minded about the existence of the spiritual realm. 

“We believe in current science, [or] what we currently understand,” says Read. “I think people use [science] as a weaponized word. They don't really understand what science is; it's an ever-evolving thing. People disprove yesterday’s science all the time.” 

After Read’s purchase of the Griffin in 2015, it wasn't long before he and his family recognized that something about it was different. The building itself harkens back to 1912 and was the former Madison Bar, among other previous establishments. 

According to Read, at least three spirits now haunt the site. Upstairs in the private rooms, Read has felt the presence of what he believes is the former owner, having detected the smell of cigarettes and even the odor of bad breath. Childlike laughter can sometimes be heard, and Read’s wife was convinced one of their sons was playing behind the bar until she realized they had both been upstairs the entire time.

Both employees and guests report seeing things in their peripheral vision, including a third resident spirit. The ghost of an older woman seems to prefer a corner in the back room, perhaps where she used to work quietly in a former life. Read remembers once seeing her ghostly arm pass across a hallway, and confirmed the vision with a fellow witness.

One particularly spooky phenomenon was captured on security footage in the basement. An unlucky employee was retrieving supplies in the walk-in cooler when suddenly the door slammed shut on him (as anyone in the business knows, it takes more than a draft to slam those hefty doors).

A ghostly visage looms in a crack of light.It was to this dark, creepy floor that Read offered to lead me during my visit. As we descended the creaking wooden stairs, I soon realized just how large and labyrinth-like the basement was. Here, the building's age is very much apparent.

In one storage room that even Read admitted to hardly ever entering, we faced a pitch-black abyss with just a thin streak of light along the far brick wall. Using my camera’s long exposure, I quickly snapped a photo and moved on. It was only later that we discovered what looks alarmingly like a ghostly face peering into the frame.

Though strange experiences happen at all times of the day, Reid advises that novice ghost hunters consider a nighttime visit. “It's when things are quiet,” Read says of the pub’s many sightings. From disembodied footsteps to faces in the attic windows to even exploding glassware behind the bar, the Griffin has had more than its fair share of paranormal occurrences.

While Casper The Friendly Ghost they are not, the resident spirits don't seem to have malicious intent in mind. Both skeptics and believers alike can enjoy a gin cocktail and ghost sightings at the Griffin, and those who fall into the latter category can also check out a few other nearby paranormal hotspots.

Ohio City-based Johnny Mango’s is the only restaurant in Cleveland to be included in the Haunted Ohio Directory. Though activity is not as frequent here (according to staff), Mango’s has even hosted real life ghost whisperer Mary Ann Winkowski. Across the river, the Flat Iron Café houses the ghost of a woman who died in a fiery blaze claiming half the building in the late 1800s.  

No doubt Cleveland’s storied past lives on in the many bars and restaurants sharing her history. For those brave enough to seek it, the results might just be out of this world.

This article was contributed as part of the "Now That's Fresh" series in partnership with Literary Cleveland. This six-week class helps emerging journalists learn about the reporting process and get published for the first time.

Read more articles by Brittney Hooper.

Brittney Hooper is a lifelong Clevelander who resides in Old Brooklyn with her husband, two young sons, and a house full of animals (she thinks living near the zoo equates to needing a zoo yourself). A passionate environmentalist, Hooper works by day as a research associate at a biotech company and in her free time writes, colors, explores, cooks, and otherwise enjoys the many jewels her city has to offer.