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Here’s one way to ensure a bar will be haunted: open it in a former morgue. That’s the case with Captain Tony’s Saloon in Key West, FL, also a former speakeasy, where you may find yourself sipping gin and tonic next to a grave—or a ghost.
“Ghosts tend to go to places they frequented when they were alive,” says California-based Loyd Auerbach, author of A Paranormal Casebook: Ghost Hunting in the New Millennium. “Consequently, places like bars, where people gather for social reasons or for other personal reasons, are often the target sites for the disembodied.”
Every city seems to have a haunted bar and an intriguing story behind it. The ghostly presence can often be traced back to an erstwhile love affair or, sadly, the result of a grizzly murder. In Austin, TX, the victim of a bar fight has been causing mischief at The Tavern for decades, changing the TV channels or banging dishes in the kitchen. And outside of Las Vegas, a gambler killed when caught cheating still roams the poker tables at Pioneer Saloon.
Still, some ghost tales are taller than others. Jim Fassbinder, who leads ghost tours in San Francisco, says: “There’s a bunch of haunted bar stories out there mostly promoted by barkeeps who know a well-told ghost story keeps ’em drinkin’ and gets the barkeep a tip.”
Not so at Stone’s Public House in Massachusetts, where paranormal experts confirmed eerie happenings the owner had noticed. It’s one of our picks for the most haunted bars in the nation—and you might want to consider a nice tip, after all, if you want to keep the resident spirits happy.
The Ear Inn, New York City
Photo Credit: The Ear Inn
The charmingly ramshackle interior of this old sailors’ drinking spot in SoHo is still the preferred haunt of at least one sailor, Mickey. He likes the ladies, as female patrons and employees have complained of being goosed by Mickey. And he also likes his drink; regulars have been perplexed to find pint glasses suddenly empty. In September 2014, there was a ghost sighting by a waitress’s boyfriend. They were sleeping in an upstairs room (the space used to double as an inn), and she woke up in the middle of the night to find him transfixed. When she asked what her boyfriend was doing, he said, “I’m just saying hello to the strange man standing in the corner.”
Captain Tony’s Saloon, Key West
Photo Credit: Becky Hansmeyer
As the site of a former morgue, Captain Tony’s Saloon happens to be one of the few spots you can sip a gin and tonic next to an actual grave. There are, in fact, two here. Oh yeah, there’s also an old tree growing through the roof of the bar; according to legend, it was used to hang criminals. So it’s no wonder that bathroom doors become mysteriously locked on their own or that people regularly feel strange sensations while having a drink here.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, New Orleans
Photo Credit: John Elk III / Alamy
The 18th-century building that houses this Bourbon Street bar is brimming with ghostly intrigue. There’s E.J., who apparently sits at the bar. There’s the woman who sometimes appears in the mirror. And then there’s Jean Lafitte himself, a former pirate who ran a smuggling business here in the 18th century—and who may have used this bar to hide his stolen loot. Patrons have apparently seen his apparition standing in a corner scowling and smelled a trace of his tobacco.
The Jury Room, Columbus, OH
Photo Credit: The Jury Room
It’s a bold move to build on a former Native American burial ground. Yet that’s where the Jury Room sits. Since 1831, this spot has been popular with drinkers, including the spectral kind. Regulars and employees have talked of seeing a tall shadowy man roaming the premises. Workers claim that objects regularly fly off of shelves, and one person even saw a pitcher of beer being poured by itself.
The Brass Rail, Hoboken, NJ
Photo Credit: Abby Hocking
When a bride-to-be tripped at the top of the steps and died after breaking her neck, she ushered in a ghostly era for this Hoboken bar. Since the incident in 1904, employees have regularly seen a lady in white hovering near the steps. Note to any betrothed couples: don’t get married here.
Basement Bar, Santa Monica, CA
Photo Credit: The Basement Tavern
Tucked away beneath a Victoria-era restaurant in sunny Santa Monica is this quasi-secret, hipster-loving cocktail bar. What’s not a secret is that it’s haunted. In the early 1970s, the house that sits above the bar was moved to this location from a few miles away. Delia, the resident ghost, apparently made the journey as well. Delia gets up to the usual ghostly behavior, amusing herself by flicking the lights on and off and slamming doors. If you really want to entertain her, though, order a Delia’s Elixir: bourbon, agave, lemon, and raspberries, and wait for the paranormal activity to commence.
Pioneer Saloon, Goodsprings, NV
Photo Credit: DarrellCraigHarris.com, Getty Images contributor
Pioneer Saloon, located 35 miles from Las Vegas, looks like it’s straight out of the Old West (though it’s been a bar only since 1913). Inside, you’ll find an old potbelly stove, vintage poker tables, and a resident ghost. The spirit of an elderly miner haunts the place. He was killed in 1915 after getting caught cheating at cards. He can sometimes be seen standing over gamblers, though perhaps he learned his lesson since he won’t help any others cheat.
Shaker’s Cigar Bar, Milwaukee
Photo Credit: Don Bates/ Orioncodeworks.com
Not every bar wants its business publicized for being haunted. But Shaker’s embraces its reputation. And the self-proclaimed “Milwaukee’s haunted bar” may not be a misnomer, either. There are a few floors at Shaker’s, and each is said to be crawling with ghosts. Elizabeth haunts the bathroom. Molly, an employee of the brothel that used to occupy this building, was hacked to death and is said to roam the penthouse. Call ahead before your next visit to find out when the owner is giving a tour, as he regularly does.
The Tavern, Austin, TX
Photo Credit: The Tavern Austin
It all began in the early 20th century when a prostitute named Emily was killed in The Tavern, an unwitting victim of a bar fight. That’s when her ghost was unleashed. To this day, bar-goers have claimed to see a woman clad in early-20th-century garb staring out the window of this Austin bar. She’s been known to be mischievous, too, sometimes changing the channel on the TV, dialing the phone, or banging dishes in the kitchen.
Simon’s Tavern, Chicago
Photo Credit: Mark Susina
Once a speakeasy, the eponymous bar of Simon Lundberg, an early-20th-century industrialist, is said to be haunted. When a married woman who was having an affair with Simon’s son, Roy, was killed in a car accident, the family was scandalized as news of their illicit relationship trickled out. So someone, hoping it would make the story go away, cut the woman’s image from a mural in the bar. Since then, some regulars say they’ve felt a strange spirit in the tavern. Current owner Scott Martin says he’s never seen or felt a ghost but that he’s seen plenty of people react to feeling “something.”
Photo Credit for Opening Image: The Jury Room
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