Waking the dead

Club kids and bar-hoppers jamming out to Audio Electric at the Rock and Roll Hotel tonight might be surprised to learn that hundreds, if not thousands, of dead bodies passed through their hangout in years past.

The bar, on H Street in Northeast, has been open for six months. But until a few years ago, Robert O. Freeman Funeral Services was located at the site.

These days, bottled spirits mostly have replaced human ones, but according to General Manager Fritz Wood, phantoms from the Freeman days linger.

“Every other night, at 4 or 5 in the morning, it starts to wake up on us,” Wood said.

At the end of one night recently, a female employee paid a visit to the ladies’ room. While she was in a stall, someone else entered the restroom. Thinking it was a member of the clean-up crew, she told the intruder to return later. The person didn’t listen, and closed the next stall door. The employee  heard the toilet in the other stall flush. But when she checked, no one was there.

Wood said the girl ran out, white as the ghost she may have glimpsed in the loo.

“There are cold spots everywhere,” Wood said. “I’ve never been a believer in ghosts, but after working in a funeral home for so long I’m a [believer].”

Wood recounted several other creepy tales; a ghost investigator is coming in the next few weeks.

Appropriately, then, the décor of the Rock and Roll Hotel, which is not a hotel at all, plays on the supernatural. The eerie light of red candles provides the ambiance for the ground floor, which features a stage and a bar area. A large disco ball hangs from the ceiling and big, ornate mirrors garnish the black walls.

An upstairs room boasts blood-red walls, one of which is adorned with a certificate of death. Old-style, low-seated couches line the walls.

Across a candle-lined and band-poster-covered hallway, a room with a bar is decorated with pictures of past presidents — many of their faces papered over with headshots of rockers. Bob Dylan’s head tops George Washington’s body; Gene Simmons’s visage — here sans makeup — puts a spin on former Vice President Dan Quayle’s shoulders.

At the larger bar upstairs, cow skulls stare down at patrons depositing coins into the jukebox and shooting pool on red-felt tables. Guitars with wings float near the ceiling, and more of grandma’s couches line the walls.

The door charge is about $10 a night, although some shows are free. About 400 people can fit in the space, and only over-21s are allowed upstairs.

And the clientele, like the décor, is a unique, eclectic mix.

Parents (earplugs are $1 at the bar), young people, hipsters and preppies can be seen boppin’ to the beats of the bands.

 “We have a wide variety of bands,” Wood said. “We’ve got emo pretty-boys and dirty punk-rockers. It’s rock and roll in every form or mutation.”

 And, Wood said, some hip-hop acts are also being booked. Rosetta Stoned is playing tomorrow.

Though there are no drink specials at the bar, 17 beers are offered at about five bucks a pop. When asked what’s popular, Wood laughed: “Jameson. We go through two cases a week.”

A few blocks around H Street are being transformed into a lively stretch of bars. Three new ones are set to open this spring. One will feature a miniature golf course.

Business is good at the Rock and Roll Hotel, said Wood, who owns the bar with four other men. A loft will be opened in about a year.

“Every day the neighborhood paranoia goes down,” he said. “It’s safer than Adams Morgan. We have fewer muggings [and] cabs are finally starting to figure it out” and cruise the streets as shows let out.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the bar offers a free shuttle to Union Station, which at about 15 blocks away is the closest Metro stop. Wood’s excitement level about the future of the Rock and Roll Hotel was high: “Great national tour acts who want an intimate setting” are catching wind, he said.

The bar’s answering machine indicates it’s already known across the globe: “You’ve reached the world-famous Rock and Roll hotel …”