When you first look at Monteleone’s Ristorante, a lot of thoughts might come to mind. Its décor and façade feature the giant, stylized face of a 1930s gangster, while another angle features what appears to be an oversized 30s car sticking from the side of the building. Step inside and you’ll find it’s decorated with a mishmashed variety of odd props, funny signs and relics of El Paso’s unique history.
You might think it’s strange, odd, eclectic, quirky, even, but haunted? This isn’t an ancient manor house left over from times gone by, loaded with dust, cobwebs and myriad memories of the dead. Monteleone’s is an Italian restaurant designed by a former Hollywood set designer that opened in the 1990s.
Dig a little deeper, though, and the unique history of Monteleone’s begins to unfold. From secrets hidden in the floorboards to spirits who wander its once hallowed floors, Monteleone’s has gained a reputation almost as much for its supernatural guests as it has for its delicious Italian cuisine and charming environment.
So stick around, pull up a chair and grab a menu, for this culinary experience requires a journey into mystery.
History of Monteleone's Ristorante
From El Paso to Hollywood and Back Again
To understand Monteleone’s Restaurant, one must first understand the man who founded it: Gary Monteleone. At the age of 30 after nearly 13 years as a banker, Gary decided that it was time for a change and set out to pursue his dream of being a Hollywood set designer. With no experience or education, he headed out to Hollywood and gave himself a year to find success.
After six months of sweeping floors and working restaurants at Universal Studios, he grabbed an opening in their prop and set design department and set about making a name for himself. Monteleone grabbed jobs in a number of movies and TV series, including Back to the Future Part III and a regular job on the Craig T. Nelson series Coach.
As happens from time to time, a large earthquake hit southern California. This frightened an actress on Coach so much that she demanded production be moved to Florida, and with no interest in moving along with the series, Monteleone moved back home to El Paso to be near his family and get married.
Fresh out of work as a prop and set designer and newly married, Gary Monteleone needed a project to fill his time, and after redecorating much of his house in his uniquely eclectic style, he settled on wanting to open up an Italian restaurant. He and his wife purchased a property that had been almost condemned by the city and revitalized it.
Using his set design skills, Monteleone remodeled the restaurant and gave it a 1930s Chicago gangster theme, designing its exterior to look like a gangster’s car while one wall has a giant, cartoon face of a mobster on the side of it. The interior is decorated with an odds and ends array of artifacts including a number of props from his time in Hollywood, including a robot from Short Circuit and one of E.T.s heads.
Strange and unique, over the years Monteleone’s Ristorante has developed into a memorable and irreplaceable staple of El Paso’s distinct culinary experience.
It was during the renovation of Monteleone’s that the first signs that there might be something paranormal going on began to occur. It was little things at first, strange noises and images of people where they shouldn’t be, mysterious odors and cold spots.
One of the most distinct encounters came one day when Monteleone left the restaurant with a contractor working alone inside. Upon returning, Monteleone said he found the contractor standing on the other side of the street. The contractor wouldn’t say what exactly spooked him, but he said he would only come back inside the restaurant if there was someone else with him.
Years after opening, Monteleone’s expanded into a building next door, where they discovered a curiously walled off room. While investigating the room, they pulled up the floorboards and discovered a number of old photographs and a charter from 1922 for the Texas Spiritualist Association Church. Thinking these interesting curiosities, Monteleone put them on display in his restaurant.
This was a choice he would soon regret.
The Haunting of Monteleone’s Restaurant
Upon moving the artifacts from under the floorboards, Monteleone’s Ristorante was held in a reign of terror by bizarre, unseen forces. There was heavy banging on the walls, loud chimes at strange times, strange voices and cans thrown about the kitchen.
One night, while closing up, Monteleone reported seeing a dark, charred arm snaking around the front door trying to grab him.
Another time, a customer’s child was crying inconsolably. When asked why, the child (who refused to uncover their eyes), pointed to an empty corner of the restaurant and said, “He’s over there.”
Moving the artifacts back to their original room calmed down the activity somewhat, but fearing for his and his customer’s safety, Monteleone knew it was finally time for something to be done.
A number of investigations were called to help figure out just what was going on in Monteleone’s Ristorante. A historical investigation discovered that the Texas Spiritualist Association would frequently hold séances and mediumships as a way of communing with the dead, a possible explanation for the paranormal activity that called the restaurant home.
Psychic investigations would deem the restaurant to be over a portal between the living and the dead, home to at least four guardian spirits and one angrier entity that went by the name of Thomas. Concerned, Monteleone authorized one of the psychics to do a cleansing ritual on the restaurant, finally putting an end to the hostile activity that had been besieging this quiet and quirky Italian restaurant.
Fine Dining and Ghosts
Nowadays, while Monteleone’s Ristorante may not host such crazy activity as it used to, it is still a paranormal hot spot in the otherwise supernaturally active city of El Paso. The less malevolent spirits who remain are held with a certain air of respect and amusement (as the ghostly gangster on their menu can attest), while the restaurant itself is dedicated to an authentic and fun Italian dining experience.
If you’re in El Paso looking for a good meal and some ghostly fun, be sure to stop by Monteleone’s. Just be nice, open-minded, and respectful to the spirits; nobody wants to find reason for Thomas to return.
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