To the casual customer, things seem in order.
The menu is straightforward steak and seafood. Ornately trimmed windows and fine wallpaper lend the high-ceilinged rooms a genteel civility. The hostess, the busboys, the rest of the help reek of breezy efficiency.Dinner in the 137-year-old house is a pleasant diversion on a damp autumn eve.
But sometimes on a midnight dreary, the waiters ponder, weak and weary . . . the chef nods off, nearly napping . . . suddenly there comes a tapping.
Or the sound of a piano in the foyer upstairs where there isn't a piano. Or a child's faint laughter from some dark, distant and supposedly unoccupied corner of the third floor. Or the icy draft of something rushing along a hallway that just looks empty.
It's nothing to worry about, though, promises a reassuring Mike Balderas, manager of The Chart House restaurant, which only since January has been quartered in the historic Devereaux House opposite the Delta Center on South Temple.
Balderas and his staff have reconciled themselves to the belief that they share their work space with some ethereal thing neither of heaven nor Earth. They say their house has a haint, that a ghost walks among them.
Balderas insists this isn't a tall-tale marketing ploy for the Halloween weekend. Titillated by his own encounter with the ghost and by similar accounts from other restaurant employees, he wrote it up this week for a company newsletter published by Chart House headquarters in Solano Beach, Calif., and distributed to the 68 restaurants in its nationwide chain.
Restaurant workers think it's a benevolent spirit, according to Balderas, "probably a child, definitely not an adult who's bitter and upset with life."
Or death, for that matter.
He said he had his brush with it while working late one night and hearing a "female voice" nearby. Striding from his office into an adjacent room, outside across a "widow walk" atop the English Victorian mansion and into another office he trailed the sound, but to no avail. Nobody was there.
"I asked downstairs, and everybody denied it was them."
Balderas said he is no fan of the dark side and that his motives are pure.
"I'm a good Catholic boy," he said. "I believe in Jesus."
To bolster Balderas' account, other employees have come forward with their own spirit stories. One employee told colleagues of a storage-room meeting with a man dressed in 19th-century clothing. The worker turned tail as soon as he noted the intruder's odd garb.
A woman who later quit, "partly because of this," Balderas said, was lured upstairs one day by the tinkling noise of a piano while she was working alone. There is a broken organ on the second floor, but no piano.
And occasionally employees get the unmistakable feeling they are being watched from above through the main bannister railing that divides the house.
"We have our theories," said Balderas, noting that the house in its heyday served as party central for some of the city's rowdier denizens. "Those affairs ran late, and the kids had to stay upstairs . . . maybe it's one of them."
"This place has been a million things - a regular house, apartments, even an insane asylum," he said, nodding as he spoke toward a harried waiter hurrying past.
"This guy'll tell you it's still an insane asylum."