[This piece was awarded the Mark of Excellence First Place in Region 4 for Feature Writing (Small) from the Society of Professional Journalists]
Caption for cover photo: Frank Wazni sits at the counter in Papa J’s Restaurant on Boulevard of the Allies. Wazni, an employee of Papa J’s for over 18 years, is knowledgeable of the establishment’s ghostly happenings. Photo by Matt Nemeth
Frank Wazni does not believe in ghosts, but he certainly respects them.
Wazni, an employee at Downtown’s Papa J’s for more than 18 years, was first employed after his predecessor quit in a rage, throwing his apron down and swearing he would never return after seeing “her” again.
Who was this mysterious “her?” According to Wazni, it could have been any number of women who called the restaurant home before meeting a violent death. The building currently housing Papa J’s on Boulevard of the Allies is the oldest standing former brothel in Pittsburgh and with it comes a sordid history.
Wazni says the ghost legends have been passed down through the years. Among them are the frightening tale of a young lady shot by her husband after he discovered her working in what is now the women’s bathroom, and another woman stabbed to death by her boyfriend when he discovered her on the job in the front room.
“People tell me all the time that they’ve seen things,” said Wanzi in an interview Monday. “They brought a priest in and had the place blessed, and for a month after that we had more glasses break than you can imagine. We went through glasses like water. So yeah, we don’t do that anymore.”
A brothel from 1860 to 1937, a boarding house until 1979, and Tramp’s Restaurant after that before finally becoming Papa J’s in 1994, the restaurant retains much of the original architecture. The wine closet was once an alleyway, the women’s bathroom used to be a bedroom, and the ornate wood carving over the bar is are purposed headboard and bed frame once used by the Madame of the brothel herself.
The restaurant is more than 150 years old and looks it. Coming in, there is a dark wood bar and a narrow staircase leading up to private dining rooms. Many of the rooms are marked with their former use, including Dolly’s Room, once belonging to the second owner of the brothel, and the Madame’s Room, which housed a hidden record of VIP clients who frequented the brothel. This list remains with the former own-er of Tramp’s Restaurant, who was advised against releasing the names of the high profileclientele. The owner of Tramp’s loved hisghost stories, and Wazni keeps the traditiongoing today.
Although Wazni himself has not seen any spirits, the ghostly inhabitants make themselves known in other ways.
“I’ve seen glasses come tumbling offof shelves. I was working a party in Dolly’s Room the one day and all of a sudden all the glasses came down,” Wazni said.
The staff used to keep supplies on a shelf between two places upstairs until one day Wazni found everything broken on the ground as though it had been swept off.
“We don’t put anything on there anymore. We figure they don’t like it,” Wazni said. “We want to keep them happy.”
This former den of iniquity is located just around the corner from Point Park.
Alicia Rightmyer, a freshman at Point Park, loves the campus for just this reason.
“I love Point Park. There are so many old places in Point Park, and in Pittsburgh, and so many ghost stories. It’s awesome,” said Rightmyer Oct. 22 in the Point Café.
And according to Sue Carney of the Pittsburgh Paranormal Society (PPS), many Pittsburghers feel the same love for their supernatural city.
“Pittsburgh is incredibly paranormal,” said Carney in a telephone interview Friday. “We have a lot of people apply for membership with PPS. There are so many older
houses and buildings in Pittsburgh, and people call us in to investigate their homes.”
Haunted Pittsburgh Tours takes Pittsburgh’s love of all things spooky seriously, offering “good old-fashioned ghost stories,” that are “too good to embellish with cheap theatrics,” according to their website. Papa J’s is featured on the Downtown tour, described as “a former brothel that’s now a ghost-infested restaurant.”
Although he is still waiting for proof of their existence, Wazni said he is not about to insult his less corporeal guests.
“When there’s a party of 20 people coming, I set out 21 places,” said Wazni. “We want them to feel welcome here. We don’t mess with them, they don’t mess with us.”