Deliciously Scary: Becoming a Haunted Restaurant or Bar

Halloween is upon us, and not only are ghostly stories all around you, the bars and restaurants that profit off of those tales are everywhere too. Jealous of all the action that your haunted competitors have at this time of year? Here’s how you can leverage your own spooky history to become an acclaimed haunted place.

Some of the Most Haunted Food and Beverage Places in America

Haunted bars and restaurants all over the country get national coverage during the Fall season, but these deliciously scary places are considered to be the best.

1. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (New Orleans)

This haunted bar was built between 1722 and 1732, and it is commonly considered to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the U.S. At night, they increase the spookiness by only allowing candlelight (plus a couple of flatscreen TVs). Their story is that the place used to be a smuggling den for the pirate Jean Lafitte, and that he stored his final stash near the fireplace. According to legend, his ghost still paces the area in front of the fireplace and his red eyes glow from behind the burning embers, all to prevent the theft of his pirate booty.

2. The Ear Inn (New York City)

This inn and tavern has a long history of drawing the “undesirable” elements of the population, due to its proximity to the harbor. Merchant marines, sailors, and other oceangoing types would relax with some grog while on shore leave… and the place catered to their interests by becoming a speakeasy and a brothel. Their story is that a former boarder at the inn, Mickey, can be seen waiting outside the building for his ship that will never come in.

3. Shaker’s Cigar Bar (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

This former brothel has a long and grisly history of violence. Horror-seekers can take a ghost tour and descend into the basement where cold spots and “shadow people” have been reported, and where camera equipment regularly malfunctions. Their story is that a prostitute named Molly Brennan was murdered, hacked into pieces, and buried by a client. When the current owner was remodeling, he found human remains on the premises and determined that they were all that was left of Molly Brennan.

4. Captain Tony’s Saloon (Key West, Florida)

As the favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway during his Key West years, Captain Tony’s certainly has enough press—but when patrons learn that Captain Tony’s is also the site of a former morgue, with two actual graves, the interest level really ramps up. Their story is that Captain Tony’s was a former ice house and served as Key West’s only morgue in the days before electric refrigeration. As if the opportunity to sit next to real corpses in real graves weren’t eerie enough, Captain Tony’s also features a hanging tree that grows through the building. The tree was responsible for the deaths of 17 convicted criminals—16 pirates and a woman who stabbed her husband and two small children to death.

What Do Deliciously Scary Places Have?

The most successful scary bars and restaurants share a few commonalities, which you’ll need to maximize in your own establishment as well. Here are just a few of the things haunted places have.

  • A clear story: These places not only have a spooky story, they’ve also refined that story endlessly to come up with the absolute best version of it. Remember, this is a selling point for you. You’ll want to train your bartenders, your servers, even your bussers and line cooks to be able to retell this story in its most chilling form. Storytelling is an art—it requires some practice and finesse.
  • Detail in the story: At the Ear Inn, Mickey isn’t just some guy outside, he’s a former boarder and sailor who is still waiting for his ship all these years later. At Shaker’s Cigar Bar, there wasn’t just a murdered woman, there was a murdered prostitute who was hacked into little, itty-bitty pieces and buried by a client. Details make the story memorable.
  • Unsettling ambiance: At Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the only illumination comes in the form of candles. At Shaker’s Cigar Bar, the tour descends down to the badly lit basement. Captain Tony’s is located in a morgue—‘nuff said.
  • Ghost-finding tours: Like the tree in the forest, if a bar or restaurant has ghosts that are never sighted… do the ghosts really exist?
  • Actual haunted history: You can’t make this stuff up, because that’s just cheating. If your building or business has a creepy past, play it up. Don’t invent something if you have no creepy past. Instead, go to the local secretary of state, historical society, museum, or library, and see if you can dig something up about the building you’re in. If you do find something, that’s awesome. Be sure to play it up. If not, oh well. Get a great band instead.

How You Can Make a Name for Yourself through Spookiness

Assuming you already know or have found your chilling history, here are the steps you need to take to ensure that you get known for bringing shivers to the masses.

1. Refine your story until it is clear and compelling.

2. Add some chilling decoration or play with the ambient lighting or music.

3. Create ghost tour specials (a beer and a tour, or a tour and a meal).

4. Host some scary events such as haunted houses, costume parties, horror movie screenings, or ominous read-alouds.

4. Market the heck out of your event, your story, your specials, and your ambiance.

In Conclusion

If you have a deliciously scary establishment, why not leverage that for greater profit and a wider marketing reach? By crafting a clear and compelling haunted story, slightly changing up the look of your restaurant or bar, and hosting fun events, you too can be known as a Halloween hot spot.

Photo licensed by Matthew Hester