This month is the first installment of a macabre miniseries that brings Flagstaff’s most haunted bars into the light of the Masters of Brewtality candelabra. Initially opened on what was a barren strip of Old Route 66 in 1931 by Dean Eldredge three miles from downtown, the Museum Club began its life as the Zoo. The roadside attraction was filled to the brim with 30,000 exhibitions including perverse oddities like one-eyed sheep, six-legged lambs and two-headed cows, as well as a thorough assortment of exotic wildlife. Whether the stranger exhibitions were just the work of an overly creative taxidermist is still up for debate, and the pictures continue to inspire arguments among patrons. In 1936, the Zoo was bought by local saddle maker Doc Williams, who rebranded it as the thriving nightclub and venue we know today. Its illustrious hardwood stage would go on to host icons like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard.
However, as with most places here in the Wild Wild West boasting a history that long, the Museum Club has picked up a few “permanent residents.” The oldest dates back to the early days when the back rooms also served as a small brothel and gambling hall. Dressed in a long black duster and matching cowboy hat, the history of this frequently cited apparition who lurks by the back bar is lost to the sands of time. Though, it’s not uncommon for patrons to have a gruff interaction with him to this day. Most are usually told they can’t get a drink, but when they head up front and ask what his problem is, they’re informed the back isn’t open and there’s no one there. The more recently departed of commonly sighted ghosts belong to the former and most well-known owners, Don and Thorna Scott. They were credited with putting the Museum Club on the map as a necessary destination for country musicians during its heyday of the ‘60s and ‘70s. That lasted until 1974, when Thorna took a fatal fall while climbing the stairs to their apartment above the front bar. The following year, a despondent Don took his own life with a rifle while seated in front of the ornate fireplace that greets visitors as they enter the building after he drank a fifth of Jack Daniels.
That brand of whiskey seems to hold special paranormal significance to this day, as bottles of it seem to drain themselves, disappear and move about on their own. Longtime employee Jane Bliss remembers finding a full fifth that had somehow overflowed onto the shelf and floor despite being closed and untouched. As if that’s not enough, the fireplace regularly lights itself. Thorna’s presence generally manifests with frequent and fleeting sightings of her sitting in her favorite back booth, where she would finish the evenings paperwork every night. The couple’s energy also manifests in their old apartment in the front second story. Despite being mostly sealed off and with no working lights, patrons, employees and passersby have reported seeing ghostly illumination in the windows after closing time, as if Don and Thorna are settling down after a long day at work.
Perhaps the darkest bit of history the Museum Club has revolves around one of the trees that support the roof. The closest one to the back bar, the last bit of the bottom branch is said to have been used in a frontier hanging some years before the Zoo was built. The man’s crime is unknown; however, the depravity of his execution speaks volumes to its severity. In addition to being hanged, he was also shot and burned, with burn marks and bullet holes still clearly visible on the wood. Patrons photographing the back bar also frequently capture what looks like a ghostly human form hanging from that very branch.
Naturally, the best way to enjoy a haunted bar is by imbibing a few delicious local craft beers while listening to the regular’s stories and the Museum Club has put together a fantastically varied selection of brews from across the state. The standout however, which the ghouls of Masters of Brewtality nearly emptied, was the delicious Wolfhound Irish Red Ale from Uncle Bear’s Brewery out of Ahwatukee. Named the official Zoo Brew of the Museum Club, it comes in at 4.6% ABV and 19 IBU and goes down almost too smoothly. The easygoing, malty red flavor is accented with just a ghost’s whisper of the Tullamore Dew Oak staves it’s aged in, making for a creative and original take on the style.
Tune in next month when we brave the sordid past and grim spectres that haunted the Hotel Monte Vista’s iconic barroom!