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Bohemian Ghostbusters

Hungry ghosts at Salt

tomstavern9

By Maya Silver | Editor

The narrow basement hallway once served as a stairway for shuttling corpses. Now, the space is used for wine and liquor storage.

The narrow basement hallway once served as a stairway for shuttling corpses. Now, the space is used for wine and liquor storage.

Before the building at the corner of Pearl Street and 11th in Boulder became Salt, it had a few other lives. The first incarnation of 1047 Pearl was as Trezise Undertaking back in 1883. Corpses were carried directly down into the basement via a flight of stone stairs that linked the sidewalk on 11th to the underbelly of the building. Arched windows flush with the sidewalk let in natural light to illuminate the space for morticians to do their work.

Later, the mortuary was converted into a bright and cheery restaurant: Tom’s Tavern. A cornerstone literally of the block and symbolically of the community, Tom’s operated on the ground floor of the building, and relegated the basement to a kitchen storage area. Kitchen staff would have to prop open the trap door and carefully make their way down the rickety wooden ladder to the cellar to retrieve supplies. Of course, they also had to be careful to avoid disturbing any spirits residing below.

By the time Salt moved in, untold layers of dirt had accumulated in the narrow stairwell space of the basement. Carol Vilate, Salt’s co-owner with her husband and chef Bradford Heap, insisted upon an archaeological dig of sorts. Salt’s construction team sifted through the dirt—bucket by bucket—searching for relics of the building’s early days. There, they found old beer cans, coins, old toys, and Tom’s first dollar bill in an envelope.

But that wasn’t the only excavating Vilate had in mind. She describes the basement pre-renovation as “crowded.”

“I had a visceral feeling,” Vilate says, “my girlfriends felt it, Brad felt it, the architects felt it, and the engineers felt it.” While she never actually saw a ghost, she did catch shadows in her peripheral vision that disappeared when she turned to look at them.

Restaurant storage at its best

Restaurant storage at its best

Vilate promptly enlisted her friend Kini Christie and an herbalist friend to come and perform a spiritual clearing in Salt’s basement. The three women set up an altar on the stairs with plants like rosemary (a symbol of remembering), sage (a symbol of clearing), copal sweetgrass (a symbol of good spirits), and other herbs. They burned the herbs, chanted, sang, and drummed. Routinely, Vilate would sound a bell in the basement—an alarm clock of sorts to signal to the spirits that it was time to wake up and move along.

That spiritual clearing is memorialized in the stairwell space of the basement, which has now been converted into liquor and wine storage. In a small alcove of the wall there, Vilate set up a mirror, candles, herbs, a little bird representing ascension, and other symbolic objects. For several months after opening, Vilate also set a place at the end of the bar where any lingering hungry ghosts could take a seat.

The small altar in Salt's basement keeps the positive vibrations flowing

The small altar in Salt’s basement keeps the positive vibrations flowing

Now, the basement at Salt is one of the most coveted dining areas of the restaurant. Dark woods, a turquoise floor, and a 13-seat intimate round booth set a serene mood. While bartenders in Salt’s earliest days attested to a bit of a lingering funky feeling, the energy in this former passageway for spirits is now decidedly benevolent.

The basement dining area at Salt has come along way from its days of dusty ghosts

The basement dining area at Salt has come along way from its days of dusty ghosts

Visit Hungry Ghosts for more spooky stories.