Real ghost stories from Spiderhouse: Austin’s haunted cafe turns 20

Boessi Kreh plays on the cafe stage at Spiderhouse in 2012. Julia Robinson/ For American-Statesman
Boessi Kreh plays on the cafe stage at Spiderhouse in 2012. Julia Robinson/ For American-Statesman

Spiderhouse Cafe celebrates 20 years this weekend, with a huge blowout bash on Saturday. The free, all ages party kicks off at 2:30 p.m. and features three stages of entertainment with a musical lineup that features sets from Octopus Project, Mobley, Ringo Deathstarr and Foot Patrol. The day’s programming will also include “best of” segments from the cafe’s regular storytelling events Mortified and Testify as well as standout performers from the Austin Poetry Slam and the Austin Mic Exchange. Spiderhouse is also bringing in a giant waterslide, a dunk booth  and more for the event.

» RELATED: Spiderhouse Cafe and Ballroom’s vibrant art scene celebrates 20 years

We caught up with owner Conrad Bejarano last week to talk about how Spiderhouse evolved from a cozy cafe in an old farmhouse into a thriving art complex that includes a tattoo parlor in an adjacent garage apartment, an eclectic courtyard and a performance space in a former plasma center. Bejarano also gave us the lowdown on the unearthly patrons who haunt the grounds.

“I have never felt any ghosts, but the stories are pretty fun,” he said.

Working in the basement of the house Bejarano says there’s often a “constant walking and rustling upstairs and there’s nobody upstairs.” That’s the closest he’s come to a personal encounter with the otherworld, but he says some of his employees have had much more chilling experiences.

“All the girls who have been working there for years, they don’t go in the women’s restroom past 2 a.m. because they always get their hair fondled in the back,” he said. He didn’t realize this was happening for years, until one night he overheard his employees talking about the eerie presence.

One day, when Bejarano and his business partner John Dorgan were renovating the garage apartments in the back, a woman who did tarot readings on the property stormed off the property with a cryptic declaration. “I’m leaving. She’s really upset,” she said.

It took Bejarano and his general manager a few minutes to figure out that the fortune teller was not talking about a client, but the spirit who inhabited the apartment who she said was displeased with the construction.

“After that we had all kinds of crazy stuff happen up in the garage apartment where the tattoo folks were, and still are,” he said. “They would leave at night and come in the morning and there would be the classic sort of stacking the chairs. There was this one time where they said that a bike (in the apartment) was completely disassembled and there was ectoplasm everywhere.”

Another time, back in the ’90s, he came into the cafe in the morning to find an odd message on his answering machine that had come in between 3 and 4 a.m. The caller ID on the phone said the message had come from the house line, as if the phone had called itself. On the tape there was error message from the phone company “you cannot make this call on a rotary phone.”

“You (could) hear this woman in the background making all kinds of super eerie noises,” he said. “It made the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”



Author: Deborah Sengupta Stith

Deborah Sengupta Stith has been hanging out in dimly lit corners of the city soaking in the music scene for almost 20 years. Twitter: @deborific

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