If any city can lay claim to being America’s most haunted, then it has to be New Orleans. Every aspect of the French Quarter seems designed to augment the town’s reputation as a hotbed of supernatural shenanigans. I mean, this is a town where real estate agents regularly list whether or not a house is reportedly haunted. There are few better places to follow up a visit to the grave of voodoo queen Madame Laveau than the French Quarter’s Old Absinthe House (240 Bourbon St.). In a building that is some two centuries old, the Old Absinthe House has had plenty of time to build up a healthy (for the dead) crowd of revenants and returners at the bar. In fact, Madame Laveau is reportedly among them, as are a number of notables from the city’s storied past, including celebrity pirate Jean Lafitte and scary US President Andrew Jackson (a drink with his ghost would be the equivalent of sitting down for a lovely meal at New York’s One if By Land restaurant only to discover the ghost of Aaron Burr is skulking about). A number of more anonymous ghosts haunt the bar as well, engaging in the time honored barroom ghost traditions of moving glasses around, slamming doors, and making a ruckus.
Although there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim, many a regular will swear the Old Absinthe House sits atop a network of tunnels dug by Jean Lafitte and his band of privateers, connecting the
Absinthe House to another nearby bar, Lafitte’s Blacksmith’s Shop (941 Bourbon St.). Perhaps Lafitte’s ghost still uses these forgotten (possibly non-existent) tunnels, because the wily smuggler reportedly haunts this place as well. In fact, it is said that there is still buried treasure somewhere deep beneath the foundation of the pub, guarded by the ghost of a rival pirate Lafitte killed and cursed to guard his booty for all eternity.
The Owl ‘n’ Thistle (808 Post Ave) is a typically quaint Irish pub with typically quaint haunted happenings: mysterious voices, bumps in the night, smashing plates (amazing how many haunted bars count broken crockery and incorrect orders as manifestations of their supernatural curse). From time to time, an unseen entertainer will sit down at the bar’s piano and hammer out a jaunty tune. Employees have also reported the spectral appearance of a woman in a wedding dress. Perhaps it’s the location that lends the pub it’s ghostly patrons. The Owl ‘n’ Thistle sits atop a labyrinthine network of underground tunnels and sunken streets still littered with the detritus of centuries past.
As in the United States, haunted pubs are practically a cottage industry in the UK. With a long and bloody history, the capital of the United Kingdom is particularly laden with ghosts who enjoy popping down to the local public house for a pint. The Grenadier (18 Wilton Row) bills itself as London’s most haunted pub, and it certainly has the right atmosphere. Tucked away and hidden from modern London down a cobblestone lane lined with small cottages, the picturesque Grenadier suffers a storm of supernatural activity every September, purportedly connected to the beating death of a young soldier during a card game some many unknown decades ago when the pub served as a mess hall for soldiers in the Duke of Wellington’s army. Patrons and employees report the appearance of a spectral figure, sometimes made of wisps of smoke, and the ghost is fond, as is par for the course, of making the occasional racket and moving around chairs and glasses. Moans and inexplicable chills abound as well, and in 1982, a BBC film crew captured the image of what looks to be a ghostly face staring through the pub’s window.
Wales is the birthplace of more ghost stories, legends, and fairy tales than a sane man could keep track of, so it’s not surprising that a couple of the UK’s most haunted pubs would be in that breathtaking, rugged land. The Skirrid Mountain Inn (Llanfihangel Crucorney, Monmouthshire), in the dramatic Breton Beacons, shows up in records as far back as 1110 AD, and for much of its life the ground floor bar was also a courtroom (actually quite common in both the UK and and US during the 18th and 19th centuries). And legend has it that many of the men condemned to death (and executed right there at the pub) still frequent their final watering hole. And perhaps keeping these unruly ghouls in line is the ghost of the Hanging Judge himself, George Jeffreys, who condemned many a man to death while presiding over the barroom court. His ghost is sometimes accompanied by the malevolent presence of his favorite hangman. Less threatening is the ghost of poor Fanny Price, a barmaid who died of consumption and undoubtedly makes for better company than the Hanging Judge and his grisly procession of criminal ghosts.
With its imposing castle perched atop dark bluffs and its shadowy closes (enclosed streets and walkways), Edinburgh is a city that screams “haunted!” as loud and insistently as a banshee. And there are plenty of pubs within the Scottish capital where you can sidle up next to someone who’s been drinking there since the days of Robert the Bruce. The White Hart Inn (34 Grassmarket, EH1 2JU) is said by some to be Edinburgh’s most haunted pub. Poet and patron saint of whisky drinkers Robert Burns is rumored to have stayed here in 1791. Its most famous ghost, however, is a girl in a red dress who haunts the bar. Even more chilling, however, is the claim that notorious grave robbers Burke and Hare used this very pub to stalk and murder drunk patrons when their supply of corpses ran low.
Kavanagh’s (1 Prospect Square Glasnevin) hardly even needs a ghost, though it certainly has some. It’s located near Prospect Cemetery and was allegedly a popular watering hole for local gravediggers. It was perhaps one of these dour gentlemen who started the tradition of throwing a shovelful of grave dirt against the wall whilst ordering a pint — though i can’t believe that was a particularly welcome tradition even in the 1800s. The pub’s resident ghost, however — a reserved gentleman in tweed who manifests, enjoys a pint, then mysteriously vanishes — seems much better behaved than those rowdy undertakers tossing around cemetery dust.
If you were looking in the 19th century to get knocked out, dragged through a trap door, and eventually wake up as a laborer on a naval vessel, then Hero of Waterloo (81 Lower Fort St.) in Sydney’s Rocks neighborhood was traditionally your best bet for all your press-ganging needs. The pub has embraced its sordid past, turning the basement tunnel into a museum of sorts. Luckily, the pub’s ghost is not that of an irate young man pressed into Naval service against his will. It is instead an ethereal woman who may be Anne Kirkman, the wife of the pub’s founder. Like the ghost of Kavanaugh’s in Dublin, she is markedly better behaved than most of the glass-tossing, order-mixing spectres who tend to lurk in bars. In fact, her tendency to arrange the upstairs chairs fireside chat style and play ghostly classical music make her one of the world’s most cultured pub ghosts.
The Rest of the World…?
If this list is heavy on US, Ireland and UK locations, it’s only because no one seems to love a good haunted bar quite like Americans, Celts, Britons, and Australians. But the good thing about bar ghosts is, well, they stick around long after their dead. Which means we’ll have plenty of time to collect legends, hearsay, and whispers from the rest of the world in time for next Halloween.