The Stockyards’ eerie tales are just as much a part of the 75-year-old historic Phoenix steakhouse’s character as are its aged corn-fed steaks. The stories, along with personal experiences, are something the staff knows well.
Veronica Rodriguez has worked at the Stockyards for 14 years. She's held many different positions and, at one time, was part of a two-person night cleaning crew. She and her shift partner, Luis, would come in after the rest of the staff had gone home.
Rodriguez was responsible for cleaning the areas around the bar, named the 1889 Saloon, and the Rose Room, a smaller private dining room adjacent to the Saloon. One night around midnight, Rodriguez was in the Saloon when she heard the sound of two chords coming from the Rose Room’s piano.
“It was like ‘bing, bing,’ and I stayed still." Rodriguez says, sitting straight up in her chair with her arms at her sides. “I went around the piano to see what it was. I thought maybe it was a critter or something, but nothing.”
She asked Luis if he had gone back there while her back was turned. He had not.
“I knew he didn’t, but I was trying to make it make sense in my head. And, oh, my hairs stood up,” Rodriguez says.
The Rose Room features original murals of city street scenes hand-painted by artist Kate Patton, elegant wood finishes, and a working antique Sohmer & Co. Cabinet Grand upright piano. The dining room is a popular venue for private functions — and also for the unseen. It’s known as one of the restaurant’s paranormal hot spots.
The Saloon also showcases Patton’s original murals in panels along the walls. A prominent figure in the artworks is the Lady in Red, a posh woman in an ornate wide-brimmed scarlet hat, long dark gloves, and a plunging V-neck gown that extends past her feet with a train that spools behind her.
Some say the woman is just a character the artist created. Another popular theory is that she's the canvas embodiment of Helen Tovrea, the woman responsible for the redesign and look of the restaurant after a fire decimated it in 1953, forcing a year-long closure.
Helen was the wife of Phillip Tovrea, who was the son of Edward A. Tovrea, a man known as the “Cattle Baron.” The family also owned the famous Phoenix landmark Tovrea Castle. The Stockyards opened in 1947 as a packing house to support Tovrea’s growing beef operation, which at the time was the largest cattle feedlot in the world. Phillip took over the business after his father died.
“This was a huge packing slaughterhouse," Stockyards owner Gary Lasko says while standing in the Rose Room surrounded by the murals. "A lot of souls here.”
The Stockyards has been a favorite of visiting celebrities and the Valley's A-list. In the 1970s, Clint Eastwood dined here with his Every Which Way But Loose co-star, Clyde the orangutan. Corner booths in the dining room are dedicated to some of Arizona’s most influential icons, including former U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Conner, the Gammage family, and former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater.
Leaning on its history is what distinguishes The Stockyards from other steakhouses. Over the years, ownership has shunned the kitschy Old West look while remaining true to tradition. Original furnishings and decor exude vintage elegance meant to impress a contemporary dining crowd. It’s a fine line to walk.
“People come in and say, ‘No sawdust?’ We fight the boots-and-beans reputation,” Lasko says. “But you’ve got to thread the needle between being really nice and … how it’s always been.”
The hand-carved custom mahogany bar and cattle tables in the main rooms are reminders of the restaurant’s past.
So are the spooky encounters.
Lasko has owned the restaurant since 2004. He had his first ghostly experience a year later.
He used to go the restaurant on Saturday mornings hours before it would open. One day, he was in one of the dining rooms when he heard a voice shout clearly, “Hello!” He was alone. Or so he thought.
“I wondered, how’d they get in? Did I lock the door in the back? I looked, and no one was there. I looked all over and couldn’t see anybody. It kind of freaked me out,” Lasko recalls.
Minutes later, Rodriguez saw Lasko come around through the back door. He had returned from running an errand but Rodriguez didn’t know he had been gone. It quickly hit her: Those pounding footsteps could not have been made by her boss.
“I remember it was so vivid. I was like, 'Oh it’s just Gary.' Then he rolled around the backdoor," she says. "I was alone, but I didn’t know I was alone."
That same night, a woman who had worked at the restaurant for nearly 20 years was picked up by her son after the party. While waiting, her son saw a woman in clothing that matched the Lady in Red standing between the lights in the parking lot, where there was a swath of darkness. He asked his mother whether the party was a formal affair or perhaps a costume-themed soiree.
But the son had never been inside the building. He always waited outside for his mother, so he had never seen the murals or the Lady.
“When she heard that, she got chills because he didn’t know what he was seeing, but she knew what he was talking about,” Rodriguez says.
In 2012, the restaurant contracted with a cleaning company that entered the restaurant after closing. One morning, Lasko got a call from the company telling him that the specific crew that was there the night before refused to return.
“They saw someone crouched in that corner, where the trash can is,” Lasko says, pointing to a rubber trash can tucked under the bar near the entrance to the Saloon. “It freaked them out, and they left.”
Rodriguez remembers a trash bin falling hard onto its side with no explanation. She picked it up and returned it upright. It went down again. She walked away. Her co-worker Luis picked it up and said, “OK, I’ll pick it up. We’ll be nice to the ghost.”
This time, it stayed.
For many of the longtime employees, encounters have become part of the job.
“I've been here for so long, if she wanted me out, I would’ve been out,” Rodriguez says. “Things happen for a reason. I try not to pay mind to it.”
Hector Hernandez has worked at The Stockyards for 13 years. Every now and then, when he’s standing at the dish bin or in the middle of dinner prep, he feels as though someone is staring at him. The vibe is so intense, he says, but when he turns around or looks sideways toward the stairs, he always sees just air.
“Everyone says it’s probably the ghost, but I don’t know. I believe everything can happen,” Hernandez says.
“But the cleaners could’ve bumped that,” she says.
And her explanation for the chandeliers tinkling every now and then on their own: “That’s because of the vent blowing on it.”
However, Bellerose believes her coworkers' stories, and says the Lady’s non-malevolent spirit is behind every account.
“She’s never harmed anyone, save for just being here," Bellerose says. "The feeling of the presence is unnerving, but she just must be happy and not want to leave."
5009 East Washington Street, #115