Dr. Clint Lanier and Derek Hembree, authors of Bucket List Bars, have criss-crossed our great nation in search of the most interesting, historic, storied, and all-around-best bars in the US. And they found more than they’d even bargained for. First, they told us about the 10 most historic bars in the country, and now they’re back with the most notorious. These bars are of the infamous sort with histories as mafia meeting places, part-time brothels, Prohibition-era speakeasies, and haunted ghost hangouts.
Esquire Tavern, San Antonio, Texas
When the Georges family opened the Esquire Tavern the same day Prohibition ended, it was doubtful they had any idea the dark road the bar would travel. During its long history it was a known Mexican Mafia hangout, bar-wide brawls were almost a nightly occurrence, and drugs and prostitution could easily be found. There was even a hidden VIP room where the intimate company of a lady could be had. During one particularly heinous two-year period, police were called to the bar almost 400 times and a regular performer was quoted as saying "the bar attracted people that like chaos, danger, fun, and mayhem…" Today the bar is under new management and extensive renovations along with a new identity, make it the coolest place to enjoy a beer or cocktail on the San Antonio River Walk.
Simon's Tavern, Chicago, Illinois
More than a few people have said they've sensed a "spirit's" presence while sitting at the thought-to-be-haunted Simon's Tavern. Some visitors have even been seen running out of the basement (where the original speakeasy was located) screaming about an evil presence and refusing to step foot in the bar or basement again. But most ominous of all is what occurred to the Hunter's Ball mural located in the bar. On this mural is painted Roy Lumberg, the founder's only child, who was a part of a family conspiracy when he had relations with a married woman. The woman later died in a car accident while traveling with Roy. Years later, upon Roy's passing, his image was found mysteriously cut from the painting leading many to believe that the spirit of the woman with whom he had an affair continues to reside in the bar.
Ear Inn, New York, New York
The Ear Inn is known to have been a favorite among river pirates and immigrant gangs throughout the 1800 and 1900s. During Prohibition it was a known speakeasy complete with an extensive brothel on the second and third floors. Today it is rumored to be haunted, with the highest floor reportedly being the ghost's favorite hangout, and multiple occurrences of mysterious sounds and apparitions reported. Tie all that in with certified, and charging, head-shrinker (psychologist in layman's terms) located on the second floor, and you have quite the spooky experience.
El Chapultepec, Denver, Colorado
Some bars have hardnosed clients, customers who are just as at home in a bar fight as they are slamming back a couple of cold ones. And some have hardnosed owners. This was the case at "The Pec," where 5' 4" owner Jerry Krantz was just as mean, if not more so, than any of their customers. Because of his small stature Jerry was known to use anything from a baseball bat to a sock with a cue ball in it to keep patrons in line, (he switched to the cue ball after a judge told him to stop hitting people with a bat). Jerry was one of the most colorful owners in the history of American bars. Though he is no longer with us and "The Pec" has since straightened up, Jerry's spirit lives on in this legendary bar.
Bridge Cafe, New York, New York
Of all the bars we've documented, few hold a candle to the haunted events of Bridge Cafe. From footsteps on the empty second floor to unexplained electronic malfunctions, messes left by spirits who like to enjoy a drink or two, the paranormal activity is "alive" and well here. Creepiest of all is the story shared by current manager who, upon opening a bottle of wine for a weary 9/11 worker, realized they weren't alone when loud footsteps were heard above them on the second floor. When asked by the worker if anyone was up there, the manager confirmed there wasn't any other living souls present in the building; he quickly decided it was time to enjoy the wine elsewhere.
Crystal Palace, Tombstone, Arizona
Established in 1879 the Crystal Palace was the place to go in Tombstone during the city's heyday. It was outside this bar that Virgil Earp took a direct hit from a shotgun (he survived but lost the use of one of his arms). Multiple bullet holes can be seen riddling the roof, evidence of the countless shootouts here throughout history. Today the bar is better known for its period gun fight reenactments and haunted occurrences. Paranormal incidents include lights turning off and on at random and relic gambling wheels spinning without any human interaction. Southwest Ghost Hunters visited the saloon and recorded strange and eerie bodiless voices replying to questions posed by the living. It is even rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Doc Holiday's long-time girlfriend, Big Nose Kate, who was often found drinking, gambling, and otherwise enjoying the Crystal Palace.
Green Mill, Chicago, Illinois
Originally opened in 1907 the Green Mill was built as an American version of France's Moulin Rouge. Known for its excess at the time of its opening, with scantily clad dancing girls, live performances, and free flowing alcohol, it later became known for one of its owners, "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn and one of its regulars, Al Capone. McGurn, Al Capone's favorite and most feared enforcer, used intimidation, bribery, blackmail, and violence to gain ownership interest in multiple clubs across Chicago, though the Green Mill was his most adored. So adored, in fact, that in 1927 when Joe E. Lewis (a long-running and popular Green Mill act) decided to leave and open another club, Jack McGurn ordered a hit on him. Left for dead after a severe beating (part of his tongue was cut out…), Lewis was eventually able to perform again as a comic after a recovery that was rumored to have been funded by none other than Capone. McGurn was later the only individual charged in the St. Valentines Massacre, though he never went to trial. He was eventually gunned down in a bowling alley by a rival gang.
The Tavern, Austin, Texas
When plans were finalized in 1916, The Tavern was intended to be a local bar until it immediately ran into an issue that was sweeping the nation—Prohibition. Being ever the entrepreneur, R. Niles Graham quickly turned it into a grocery by day and a speakeasy, gambling hall, and brothel by night. Though the brothel has long since been shut down, a former hostess and her daughter, rumored to have both been killed during a fight between two patrons, seem to have stuck around. Patrons often see apparitions of Emily and her daughter staring out of a second floor window late at night. In addition, employees and managers have plenty of stories of strange footsteps coming from behind them only to turn and see no one there, TVs that change channels at random, and mysterious phone calls made from an empty manager's office. To help solidify the stories, a pair of shoes discovered during a renovation and rumored to have been Emily's, are on display on the second floor for patrons viewing pleasure.
Pioneer Saloon, Goodsprings, Nevada
The Pioneer Saloon was erected in 1913 in the bustling boomtown of Goodsprings, Nevada. It was at this very bar that Clark Gable spent three straight days drinking and smoking cigars while awaiting the retrieval of his wife's remains following a plane crash in nearby mountains; you can still see burn marks from his cigar on the bar today. Upon additional inspection of this mining town relic, you will find two distinct bullet holes located in one of the exterior walls. They were put here after a gambler, who was caught cheating, made a move to shoot the dealer. The dealer quickly drew a pistol and shot the unlucky cheater twice in head. The bullets passed through the gambler and through the wall, creating two perfectly round holes still present today.
Frolic Room, Hollywood, California
The Frolic Room is adjoined to the famous Pantages Theatre and is rumored to have begun as Freddie's Frolic Room, a speakeasy with a hidden entrance connecting to the theater. Lacking today's street entrance, it played host to performers, wealthy patrons, and celebrities who visited the grand theatre. But the Frolic Room's darkest secret may come in the form of one of LA's most notorious murder mysteries, the Black Dahlia. The Black Dahlia, whose real name was Elizabeth Short, was found brutally murdered and dismembered in the Leimert Park area of LA. One of her favorite hangouts and the last place she was seen alive was the Frolic Room. Was her murderer a regular visitor to the Frolic Room; did he pick her up there that night; did he ever go back? We may never know…