by Tim Gilmore, 7/7/2014
The first time he stepped through the door at Third Avenue South and Third Street South was in 1965. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, and when they did, he looked at the leather-clad bikers assembled around the Glass Bar and turned around to walk out.
“That’s when one of them yelled out, ‘Hey, motherfucker! Where do you think you’re going?’”
Randy was 18 years old. When he stood there in his Navy uniform and said, “I just don’t think I’m in the right place,” one of the bikers said, “You’re serving my country, aren’t you? Get the fuck over here and have a beer.”
Now Randy’s almost 70, gray-bearded, gap-toothed and pony-tailed. He says he came in almost every day after that, and it was months before they let him buy his own beer.
The Glass Bar survived biker fights and storm floods. The building had also housed Ossi’s Food Store and a dress shop. Supposedly the sons of the 1955 building’s original grocery drowned on a shrimp boat and their bodies washed up at Third Avenue South. The old woman who owned the bar stayed upstairs in her wheelchair after her husband died at the jukebox.
But the regulars at the bar on a hot Sunday afternoon all seem certain the ghost that haunts the place is Ginger’s. She owned and ran the bar for 27 years until she died of a stroke at age 79 in 2003.
Ginger’s real name was Darlene Edith Payson, but when she and her husband Ziggy bought the bar in 1976, they called it Ginger’s Place, alluding not just to Payson’s hair color but to her past as “Tiza, the Girl in the Goldfish Bowl” and “Ginger Lani.”
A framed photograph of Ginger Lani, young burlesque dancer, hangs on the wall. The caption reads, “NUT CLUB…Ginger Lani is one of the featured performers of the Peek Show attraction.” A framed ad calls her “The Gal Who Shocked CHICAGO.” She performed an “All-Star 7-Act Show” as the “Shower Girl,” “1st Show at 10 P.M.” Yet another ad announces that as “The Original Shower Girl,” “Lovely Ginger takes her shower every night right on our sho-bar.”
But the barflies’ favorite image of Ginger is the Valentine’s Day photoshoot portrait behind the bar in which her vibrant red hair is arranged on top of her head in the shape of a heart.
Jamal, a gruff and granite-like bartender, who seems to be a man of very few words, opens up when you ask him whether the building is haunted. He says one day he was upstairs working with the controls for the lights in the bar when a woman’s face appeared right in front of him in the dark.
Randy says he’s been in the bar nursing a beer when the sign came off the women’s bathroom door and flew across the room and when an adjustable calendar warning against underage drinking seemed to throw itself on the floor.
But Randy lifts his eyebrows and says emphatically, “She doesn’t want to hurt anybody. She’s just reminding us. This is still Ginger’s Place.”