The Red Onion

Posted by junketseo in Denver Ghost Tours
The Red Onion - Photo

The Red Onion was established in 1892 by a man named Thomas Latta. The restaurant began its days as a saloon. It was formally known as the Brick Saloon but was referred to by locals as the Red Onion due to the color of the brick. Allegedly, the upper floors were used as a brothel, adding to the dark history and intrigue of the entire establishment.


Why is the Red Onion Haunted?


From a murdered madame and a knife fight between employees to barroom brawls galore, the Red Onion has reason to be one of the most haunted places in Colorado. Keep reading to learn more, and to see some of Colorado’s most haunted locations in person, book a Denver ghost tour with Denver Terrors!


History of the Red Onion


Aspen, Colorado, where the Red Onion is located, was established during the Colorado Silver Boom. Like many mining towns, the city’s population snowballed and reached nearly 10,000 residents by 1890. Two years later, Councilman Thomas Latta bought the building, which would later become the Red Onion, and opened it as a gambling hall and saloon. The bar was christened the ‘New Brick Saloon’ at its opening; however, old-timers in the area had their own ideas about what to call it. The red bricks it was built with and the property’s uniqueness led it to be called the ‘Red Onion.’

Thomas Latta and his family hailed from Greenburg, Pennsylvania. They were a proper family, so proper that you needed a calling card to give to their butler when you visited. Thomas was a free-minded and wild entrepreneur who created the popular Red Onion as a dancehall, gambling saloon, and brothel. He didn’t let his political background stop him from enjoying the spoils of the Red Onion or whatever the Wild West had to offer him.

The saloon grew to be one of the town’s most popular eateries nearly overnight. In those early days, its patrons were local men and miners. After the silver boom crash, it remained open throughout Aspen’s ‘quiet years.’ People had moved away during this time, and the economy began to collapse. The Red Onion kept its doors open and survived this low time. With countless stories already under its belt, the next life of the Red Onion came in 1918 when Tim Kelleher purchased it. He kept the Onion in operation throughout prohibition by selling sandwiches.

When World War II finally ended, a veteran of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division named John Litchfield bought the Red Onion in 1946. After completely renovating the Restaurant, John Litchfield reopened the restaurant in January 1947. He had the name formally changed to the Red Onion, honoring all of those Wild West men who came before. The Onion also began to host musical performances and shows.


Lady Day and the Red Onion


Billie Holiday was a well-known blues, jazz, and swing music singer known for her amazing vocal delivery. Her friend and partner Lester Young gave her the nickname ‘Lady Day.’ Young was a well-known saxophone and clarinet player. He and Holiday became friends when Young was a boarder in Billie’s mom’s home.

In the late 30s and 40s, Billie’s life was tormented with alcohol and drugs to the point of arrest and prison time. She lost her permit to perform in New York but continued her music career. Although Aspen was not the hot spot of her time, Holiday accepted the booking to perform at the Red Onion for two nights when Aspen was hosting its annual Winter Festival.

Aspen locals remembered that year for the success of the ‘Winterskol’ and Billie’s riveting performances. Sadly, Holiday succumbed to her addictions at the age of forty-four in 1959.


Red Onion’s Haunted History


The Red Onion is said to have nine lives, each filled with more intrigue than the last. Changing hands over the decades, many stories of ghostly happenings have begun to surface, leaving visitors today wondering who these spectral patrons may be.

In the 1970s, William Doyle Dean and Billy Joe Richards were two chefs employed by the Red Onion. They lived above the restaurant, sharing all of their time together. One evening during their break, the two got into a heated argument, and Dead grabbed a large kitchen knife, stabbing Richards in the chest. The fight began in the kitchen but traveled to the alley behind the restaurant. Billy Joe Richards died in a pool of blood on the ground, and William Doyle Dean was arrested for murder and sent to prison.

About a decade ago, a woman hired to clean the bar in the mornings kept having experiences where she would see footsteps on her freshly mopped floor. After re-mopping, the footsteps would appear again and again. She also reported seeing a man in the back of the kitchen out of the corner of her eye. Could this possibly be the spirit of the murdered Billy?

Stories have been passed down for over a century about a Madame who ran the brothel in the upper levels of the Red Onion being brutally murdered. Some claim to have seen a woman of the era hanging around the bar.

A bouncer for the bar reports being alone in the building on several occasions. When he would go down to the basement for supplies to restock the bar, he would hear someone walking around upstairs. Quickly running back up to the main floor to see who it was, he would find the bar empty.

Could it be the Madame downstairs for a drink to scope out potential customers for her illicit business?


Haunted Colorado


With over one hundred years in existence, the Red Onion was once filled with entertainment, celebrities, and cowboys. The tragedies at the Onion have left their mark, that darkness echoing throughout the ages and creating the haunted establishment that Aspen residents know and love today.

Want to learn more about Haunted Colorado? Book a Denver ghost tour with Denver Terrors!