Ybor City home to ‘haunted,’ historic 1920s speakeasy in building of cereal café, bar

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The upstairs of the building located at 1909 North 15th Street in Tampa is colorful, vibrant and full of 80s and 90s nostalgia. The newly-opened speakeasy, a former actual speakeasy in the 1920s, is an attraction below.

The location, however, happens to be in Ybor City, one of the “most haunted” areas in Tampa Bay.

Cerealholic Café and Bar and “Afterholic” speakeasy owner Lisa Lawson opened the first floor on Jan. 1, and the basement speakeasy recently opened within the last month and a half.

“When I first came into the building, I kinda knew. It was an old building, so I thought, ‘yeah, maybe it’s haunted, that would be great for business,’ kind of thing. But I’ve had some things happen,” Lawson said.

Those “things” started out as what she describes as “just kind of mischief stuff,” where she would put something down and come back to get it, and she said it wouldn’t be there. Lawson said when she would come back later to the spot, “it’d be exactly where I just looked, even if I tore the place up.”

She also described instances of feeling like something was breathing down her neck and orbs appearing in footage from the security camera set up in the basement speakeasy.

Max Herman, manager and tour guide with the Official Ybor City Ghost Tour, met Lawson as she was working to open Cerealholic and told her more about the history behind the building.

Speaking on the building’s history, he said there was a “major fire,” which was originally a church, that destroyed the third and fourth floors, as well as the steeple.

Herman said a few lives were taken in the fire. The historical tragedy in the building doesn’t stop there.

“There was also a murder that happened in the basement. A murder of passion,” Herman said of the speakeasy.

Despite the things that can’t be explained, Lawson said she and her employees have never felt unsafe and she thinks it’s interesting that everyone she has spoken to has had a different experience in her building.

“I had some people that have smelled certain things. Lavender is a big one down here. I don’t have lavender down here… and I understand it’s actually another world smell, lavender is something for spirits,” Lawson explained.

She said she has distinctly smelled her father’s briefcase in the speakeasy. She has also has smelled cigars, as if someone was smoking a cigar very close to her.

“I want people to come down and have those experiences, because I had a man one time was crying and left here he said his fault his grandfather spoke to him during the other shows,” she said.

Lawson and her staff just hosted their first event in the speakeasy this month, themed after the “roarin’ 20s.” She hopes to do an immersive event at least once a month. The anniversary of the end of prohibition in December is on her radar.

“Afterholic” is open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. While Lawson is still trying to get the word out about the location, no “password” is required.

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