Faces was in a blocky old two story brick building with a full basement. The entrance was in the back, and once you passed the diligent doorman in the hexagon foyer you were on the main level where the dance floor was located. DJ’s regularly flew in from across the globe to entertain the masses. The top floor housed the cabaret where drag legends performed on stage and the runway stretched past intimate candlelit tables. The basement staircase descended to the small, campy Neon Lounge. In the lounge was a door marked as if it were the men’s room—but it led to a seemingly endless basement bar with concrete floors, black walls and ceiling, and porn-filled televisions. The large, dark basement with its famous back rooms was often filled with debauchery.
I had the opportunity to interview the employees and performers who knew that place best. They talk of being in the cavernous building after everyone had gone home and say even if they were the only one there, they were never alone.
There were many reasons to find being alone at Faces unsettling. It was in the heart of East St. Louis, surrounded by crumbling, long abandoned buildings. All of the buildings in downtown East St. Louis are connected by wet, rat infested tunnels once used by the mafia—although the entrance to Faces was long bricked over. The structure was originally a funeral home, and the outline of the embalming slabs were still evident in the basement—one in front of the jukebox and the other behind the bar.
The Vital VOICE’s own Colin Murphy recalls the many ghost stories he’d heard about Faces over the years, including the frequent appearance of a favorite bartender who had passed away, Don Granda. “Terry Vernon used to tell me he’d see Don all the time after he died.”
Many, including Ed “Rosee” Abmeyer told stories about showing up for work on Wednesday and finding candles burning in the cabaret—when nobody had been in the building since Sunday.
Danny Morris remembers hearing voices in the cabaret. “I remember going in and doing light programming and hearing people in the cabaret and I thought the drag queens where up there practicing. Went up and no one was there. Also one day I went in to hang a speaker in the DJ booth and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw someone at the door. As I turned my head to look the bungie cord that held the speaker snapped and the hook on it slightly cut the side of my face. That could have been my eye.”
Bobby Burress had many unexplainable experiences: “Once me, David and another guy were working on something in the Neon Lounge and we heard what sounded like two women talking by the stairs going to the main dance floor,” he recalled. “David did not hear it, but the other guy and I did. We went over there and it stopped. We went back to what we were doing and it started again. We couldn’t make out what they were saying but they were talking to each other. We searched the whole building and no one.”
“This is the only one that scared me” Burress said. “I was there by myself and again I was in the Neon Lounge and I heard a noise in the basement. I knew I was the only one there and I stopped what I was doing and froze. After a couple of minutes I heard it again. I thought someone had broken in and I didn’t know what to do. I remember I grabbed a stick or a board or something to use as a club and started down the little hall where the vending machines were. Right when I got to end of that hall—but hadn’t gone around the corner—I hear it again, loudly.”
“It was like a bang with some shuffling noises with it,” he continued. “It sounded like it was coming from right in front of the jukebox in the basement. I tried to peek my head around the corner to see and just then the vending machine behind me started clicking and spitting out change! Man—I literally jumped straight up in the air! I ran into the basement no longer worried about the other noise and nothing was there. The vending machine continued to spit out change till there was a pile on the floor and the machine was empty. Then nothing else happened. I was scared of someone being there I wasn’t so much scared of a ghost”
Years after its closure those who were part of Faces still share their memories via Facebook. They miss the legendary entertainment, the camaraderie, the debauchery, and even the ghosts.
“That building could be terrifying at times. Weird noises in the Cabaret all the time. Glowing and stuff when all of the electrical breakers were off. Just plain creepy sometimes in the Cabaret” remembered Tyler Hill. “God, I miss that place.”
BY: CHRIS ANDOE