The Haunted Bars of Seattle
[Insert Pun About Spirits Here]
Ghosts seem to like bars—they may be dead(-ish), but they're not stupid. In honor of All Hallows' Eve, here is a partial roster of their local hangouts, complete with haunting details. Honorable mention goes to the Comet on Capitol Hill and Two Bells in Belltown, each of which has a bar stool that is allegedly filled with the cremains of an actual dead person—at the Comet, look for the brass plaque on the bar that says "ETHEL." Here's to Ethel!
Il Bistro in Pike Place Market
The narrow cobblestone lane slopes precipitously down into the underworld of Pike Place Market, inescapably conjuring fears of twisted ankles and Jack the Ripper. It leads, inexorably, to the monstrosity of the Gum Wall—but for the love of God, do not go there. Il Bistro waits, a haven from the mastication of the masses, if not from certain souls trapped endlessly in limbo. At the marble-topped bar, the drinks are eerily perfect—the bartender can read minds—and the lighting is roseate-dim, with shadows fading off up the steps into the deep, dark beyond. Then, untouched, a glass flies off a shelf and down to the floor. It makes a tinkling sound, but, impossibly, it does not break. Is this the work of the ghost who lives in the mirror in the dining room, the one who likes to make himself smearily seen in photographs? Was it a reverberation from the lady who floats in through the closed front door and glides down the hall to the lavatory, apparently to use it without even making a purchase? It is not for mere humans to know—not now, anyhow. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT
Spend any time with longtime denizens of Re-bar, and, soon enough, you'll hear about the ghosts. These stories will come from people you consider sane—they'll speak in hushed tones of Re-bar's two undead regulars, identified by a medium at a séance as a '70s-style leather daddy and a woman who owned the bar back in the '30s and died where the bar's handicapped bathroom stands now. Another component of Re-bar's haunting: a mysterious smell that infrequently but powerfully emanates from beneath the stage, driving employees to investigate (dead animal in the wall? Hobo sleeping in the crawl space?) but always leaving them empty-handed. "It's a ghost-stink," says a frequent Re-bar theater-maker. As for the leather daddy and the former proprietress, their misbehavior has historically been relegated to light mischief. The former enjoys toying with the sound and lighting equipment, while the latter is content to sit at the west end of the bar after closing time, silently sobbing. DAVID SCHMADER
Dante's in the U-District
Dante's is a three-tiered college bar, loaded with dusky wood beams and giant sports-broadcasting televisions hovering everywhere. Vaguely medieval details suggest a dungeon theme, and some of the particularly windowless rooms feel vast and cramped at the same time. Sick fuck Ted Bundy regularly hung out here back in the '70s. He preferred a specific booth, which has since been carved out and replaced by the DJ station in the corner. Ted spotted one of his earliest victims at Dante's—a beautiful college girl with long brown hair. Lynda rarely stayed up late, volunteered with mentally disabled youngsters, and wrote cheerfully boring letters: "I'm... bundled up in my blue afghan... Everyone at my house is fine... I think I'll make beef stroganoff..." That night, she spoke only with her friends, drank only a couple beers, and then left with her group after only an hour—but Ted followed them home. Using a spare key the roommates kept in the mailbox, he got inside and stole Lynda from her room after everyone had gone to sleep. In the morning, Lynda's roommates found her bed carefully made, and beneath the spread, the mattress stained with blood. Her body was never recovered, just her lower jawbone, found a year later on Taylor Mountain, about an hour's drive southeast. MARTI JONJAK
Angie's Tavern in Columbia City
This establishment is now dead. The building is still there, but there is no life in it. And when there was life in it, Angie's Tavern had a very bad reputation (crime, crime, crime). It was like a bar at the end of some dying town in a western—dust all around, tumbleweed in the wind, a bleeding sun, ghostly music from a self-playing piano, men with deep scars and rotting guns, women with crooked faces and torn dresses. Nothing good could ever come of this. Angie's closed on June 20, 2010. Its emptiness now faces the lively Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria. Angie's haunts the living. Its past, apparently going all the way back to 1905, haunts the present. This is more than a feeling. You only have to look at the place at night—its dead windows and eerie silence—to know exactly what haunting is about. A night spent in Angie's could only end in your death. When you walk by it, you get the strong sense that something is still in there, still present, still clinging to this world, still angry about its closing, still furious about the changes in the neighborhood, still waiting for an unwitting victim to enter and never again exit. CHARLES MUDEDE
Orient Express in Sodo
Orient Express not only has a ghost, the ghost is pissed. The new restaurant owner, it seems, doesn't believe in the supernatural (or maybe she's just too terrified to bear the idea). So in recent months, rumor has it, the ghost has exploded lights—twice—above the owner's head when she's telling the employees not to mention ghosts. (Rumor also has it that there's a spooky surveillance system behind the bar—to record the ghost?) This place used to be Andy's Diner, the hauntiest of Seattle haunts for half a century down in Sodo. Two guys named Andy bought seven decommissioned railroad cars—one where Franklin Delano Roosevelt slept is marked "FDR'S PERSONAL CAR" on the side—and set them next to each other in a parking lot on a desolate stretch of industrial road where trucks rumble by. Inside is a level of ambience money can't buy. The wood of the tables and paneling is dark and rich, from another age; faded sepia photographs climb the walls. Moving around inside the cars—going to the restroom, say—means navigating a maze of eerie, confining corridors and dislocating switchbacks; new servers get lost on their way to and from the food. Limp curtains are still on the windows—are you moving or standing still? Going sideways in time? You have joined a trip already under way, to an unknown destination. I wouldn't recommend denying the existence of the ghost. JEN GRAVES
Nearly Every Bar in Georgetown
According to the director of the Friends of Georgetown History, LaDele Sines, nearly every damn bar in Georgetown is haunted. At Calamity Jane's, "a man in a dark coat and bowler hat is often seen at the bar and in the dining room," while at Jules Maes, "a Gibson girl is seen near the ladies' room entrance" (perhaps she died of a UTI?). At the Mix, "footsteps" and miscellaneous "sounds" are made by unseen feet and unseen miscellaneous sound-makers, while the 9 Lb. Hammer is home to surely terrifying "giggling." CASPER T. F. GHOST
The Owl 'n' Thistle in Pioneer Square
A pleasant Irish joint in Pioneer Square, the Owl 'n' Thistle is filled with bricks and brass and swirling lattices and rows of elegant books. It rests in a building that's been around longer than anyone can remember, and it is haunted as all hell. The staff describes a generic collection of paranormal happenings: blurry voices, faraway bumping sounds, wispy silhouettes, and stacks of kitchenware mysteriously overturning. Employee Marissa's run-in was more explicit: One evening, she heard the piano suddenly play "a quick little ditty," but there was no one there. The lid was open, and she watched the keys being pressed, in pants-shitting horror. And Stace has seen many crisp otherworldly figures, such as the veiled woman in an intricate wedding gown lurking outside the back room's employee bathroom (maybe wanting to pee). The bar sits above the underground tunnel network—a sprawling, labyrinthine terrain stocked with dust and creaky floors and dead furniture and dirty white walls. There are rooms that lead to rooms that lead to rooms, and somehow the space seems to shrink with the discovery of each one. While ambling through the corridors, a man says: "There's no escape from here, which is kind of scary." MARTI JONJAK
Hunger in Fremont
Hunger is located on Fremont and 43rd across the street from an ominous '70s Laundromat the color of a terminally ill banana, surrounded by chestnut trees that are pretty but could probably look like haunted castles if you were squinting and kind of drunk. Soon after the restaurant opened in the summer of 2010, the staff noticed that liquor bottles and a particular trash can moved around the bar, unaided by human hands. No one witnessed booze flying from shelf to shelf, but no one on staff had OCD or seemed overly interested in garbage, so the owners hired a professional ghost hunter (who worked, mysteriously, on the condition that his identity not be disclosed) to determine whether the building was haunted. Though his machines did not detect a supernatural being offended by the owners' choice of trash can, since his visit objects in the bar have stayed put. Requesting the scariest drink on the menu yields the Corpse Reviver: gin, Lillet, Cointreau, lemon juice, and house-made absinthe, which the bartender regrets is not served in a cauldron. The owner claims that the spookiest thing that's happened at Hunger since the ghost hunter stopped by is the creation of a cocktail that incorporates dry ice. A woman at the bar added—perhaps a little too readily—"There is nothing creepy about this place!" Still, in the restaurant's candlelit black-and-burgundy dining area, it's easy to imagine sipping a Corpse Reviver with an especially attractive, well-dressed dead person while trash cans do a mesmerizing dance of the spirits. SARAH GALVIN
The Sorrento on First Hill
The Fireside Room at the Sorrento Hotel may be funereal—white flowers on the piano, dark upholstery and wood, lots of old people—but it's not haunted, as other areas in the hotel are said to be. "The most creeped-out I've been is in the basement below us," the waitress said, remembering a coworker feeling a ghost's breath on her shoulder down there. "And the late-night lady says on the security cameras she's seen black mist float out of the elevator." But it's the fourth floor, everyone agrees, that's most haunted. "Sometimes the elevator will stop on the fourth floor and no one's there," the waitress said. "Also, the fourth floor is always a bit colder than the other floors."
"Be on the lookout for a female apparition who reveals her presence on the fourth floor or by moving glasses on the bar," the travel publication Coastal Living advised last year, adding, "One local claims she saw an odd-looking woman walking past the hotel one evening. The woman was wearing dark-colored vintage clothing and carrying a parasol. Not until later did she learn about Alice B. Toklas, who at the turn of the century lived on the block where the Sorrento stands and is now rumored to wander its halls at night." Other publications have said to be on the lookout in the hallway outside room 408.
With a drink in hand, I went up to the L-shaped fourth floor to see what there was to see. At each end of the hallway is a skinny door painted black with a black velvet rope in front—presumably, doors to fire escapes. Each room number is on a golden, mirrored plaque; the light fixtures outside the rooms are made to look like candle-lamps; and the Do Not Disturb signs are in Italian. But leaning into a mirror hanging in the hallway above a black marble table and whispering "Alice B. Toklas" over and over produced nothing. Back downstairs, the waitress said, "It's always when you least expect it, not when you want it to happen. That's why those TV shows don't work." CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
The College Inn Pub in the University District
Fishermen are pretty salty dudes. They're almost always fun-lovers, but also very sarcastic, with a big bite in their sense of humor. There's a fisherman who lives at the College Inn Pub—a basement bar under the College Inn Hotel, near the University of Washington. The College Inn was built in 1909, and back in the day, a man named Howard Bok was on his way up to Alaska to fish and mine for gold. He never made it. For reasons unknown, he was murdered in one of the rooms at the inn. Typical of a fisherman, instead of forever dwelling in the boring old hotel room, Howard's made a haunt out of the basement bar. He reportedly laughs a lot, has a deep, gravelly voice, and wears a khaki trench coat. He likes to drink beer and mostly hangs out in the "snug room," the small back room of the pub—especially after hours. Cooks and bartenders claim that they've heard Howard playing the old piano that sits back there. The best time to visit with Howard is at the very end of the night, right around closing time. Howard's a friendly guy. He's even got a menu item named after him. For $5.50, you can order Howard's Special—a bagel dog and a pint of Pabst. Mmmmm, salty. KELLY O
Canterbury Ale & Eats on Capitol Hill
An unpaid intern ought to know better than to go into the dark, cavernous underbelly of a haunted bar like the Canterbury—much less accompanied solely by a stranger. It is quite possible that if something terrible were to happen, no one at The Stranger would notice my absence for weeks, maybe months. But bartender Aaron seems like a nice guy, so I figure the ghosts must like him, and I follow him down the dark staircase. Once in the basement, it becomes apparent why ghosts hang out here. It's a black, convoluted maze of exposed beams, pillars, cobwebs, and crawl spaces, perfect for undead spirits to creep around, whispering about the good old days, perhaps enjoying a drink (ghosts drink, right?). Owner Stephanie tells me that the Canterbury is home to two ghosts. One is their old cook Greg, who died last spring—she has seen him and assures me that Greg is of the benign ghost variety. The other is an unnamed, unknown woman who died there decades ago. No one is sure if the lady-ghost is as harmless as Greg, but I don't wish to be the unpaid intern who endures that basement again to find out. CHRISTINA SPITTLER
The Can Can in Pike Place Market
Everyone knows about the ghost at the Can Can. After close one night, the bartender blew out all the candles in the low-ceilinged, subterranean place and stepped out for a smoke. He returned to a silent room with every candle flickering. A Can Can regular named Mike tells of another ghost, very close by. Mike is from Neah Bay, and his family includes a Russian-Jewish chemist, an excommunicated Greek Orthodox grandma, and a Makah granddad who took him hunting for elk and deer around the Hoh Rain Forest. He runs a stand at the Pike Place Market and lives in an apartment just above it. A few years ago, his daughter made friends with a boy who would appear outside her window—next to the Market's iconic neon sign—at dusk. "She would take my hand and say, 'Hey, come see him,' and lead me into her room," Mike said. "She'd take her mother to see him, she'd even take you—she'd take everyone to see him." Mike followed his daughter to the window over and over, but he never saw the boy. He describes himself as an atheist-materialist ("science can explain everything there is to know in the world"), but he doesn't dismiss his daughter's invisible friend. "Some elders say that children can see things we've learned not to see," he said. About a year ago, Mike's wife saw their daughter leaning over the corner of her bed at nighttime, kindly but assertively saying, "Go away, I have to go to bed now. Go away!" After that, she never mentioned the ghost-boy again. BRENDAN KILEY
The DeLuxe Bar and Grill on Capitol Hill
Just after we closed one night in 2004, a well-dressed man walked through the next room of the DeLuxe Bar and Grill. When I ran over, he was gone. Nobody was hiding under a table, the bathroom was empty, the doors were still locked. Who was in the restaurant? That's when the bartender told me: The place has ghosts.
"There are three that I can think of off the top of my head," says Barry Rogel, whose family has owned the place since 1962. "There's a boy and girl who are supposedly in the basement next to the liquor room," he says. "People who have seen them say they pop out of that wood-slatted wall." The building has housed a bar or tavern for approaching a century, he says, except for some time during Prohibition, when it was an ice-cream shop. That's why the kids are there—for the ice cream. But it was also a speakeasy. The third ghost is "very dapper, in Prohibition-style clothing, and a gambler," Rogel says. "His name is Jack."
Late one night a couple years go, after everyone else was gone, one of the bartenders, Jamie, went into the poolroom. "There was Jack, leaning up against the pool table," says general manager Beth Fuller, who's heard the story from Jamie several times. "Jamie definitely saw it. He wasn't an apparition. He was just there and then disappeared." That is, in the same place I saw the well-dressed man while we were closing the bar. Before he disappeared. DOMINIC HOLDEN
Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub in Pike Place Market
Kells, on narrow, cobblestoned Post Alley, used to be the Butterworth & Sons mortuary. The corpses were hauled in through the alley entrance, which is the bar's front door; the embalming took place inside. Then they'd be hoisted upstairs via a dumbwaiter in the corner, where the "wee bar" is now. Joe the bartender says both of the owners have seen the apparition of a little girl who sits, waiting patiently, at the top of a flight of stairs between the morgue/bar and the now-vacant chapel. Joe himself hasn't seen her, but he's not afraid: "If I'm closing up and I hear the door rattle, my first thought isn't 'Oh shit, someone's trying to get in'—it's 'Oh, the ghosts are reminding me to lock up.'" Liam Gallagher, who is from Belfast but has played music in the bar for decades, says he and one of his fellow musicians used to see a phantom regular in a long black coat and an "old-timey" hat. He'd appear at a table by the wall, but when they glanced back, he'd be gone. They called him Charlie. "He seemed older, like 60, but you couldn't see his face," Liam said, getting ready for the night's set. "He coulda been 30. We haven't seen him in five years or so." Then Liam turned back to his gear on the stage. "Where's that microphone cord?" BRENDAN KILEY