With a city as old as this one, you just know Detroit’s got some seriously spooky spots. It’s tough to stop at just a few (we have lots of deceased), but we narrowed them down to places that are accessible -- legally -- to the public, and where you can grab a drink for courage in case you run into any of the shady characters that lurk there. In fact, liquid courage might be necessary. We’ve found at least seven bars home to the dearly departed. We’ve also included two famously spooky Detroit watering holes that, whether or not they are haunted, are probably not haunted by their supposed specter. ...You'll see.
Bartender Sheryl and other regulars at this Corktown Irish bar swear that the place is haunted by no fewer than three ghosts, all quite friendly. While no one is entirely sure exactly who they are, the old phone booth in the front corner was reputedly used by everyone’s favorite Detroit gangster, Jimmy Hoffa, on a regular basis, so maybe he's still stopping in from wherever he ended up to check on things. It’s also entirely possible that the Digby family who opened the general store on the site in 1902 has a family member or three sticking around.
The Two Way has its own share of mysterious occurrences and familiar spirits. Built in 1876 by Colonel Philetus Norris, a Civil War veteran and frontiersman, the building has served as a saloon, jail, general store, brothel, and speakeasy over the years. And some say that the colonel never left: a shady figure has been spotted darting across the back area from the kitchen to the restrooms. Speaking of the restrooms, one of them (we’ll let you guess which) has a unique spectral malfunction: From time to time, patrons in need of relief have been either held inside or outside the unlocked single-stall room by an unseen force. If that’s not creepy enough for you, there are also reported sightings of a young child and a woman in white.
Owner Tom Burelle delights in giving basement tours of the former speakeasy and regaling guests with chilling stories of Purple Gangsters holding late-night card games. Although plenty of Detroit bars love claiming the Brothers Bernstein and others as guests, Tommy’s can actually verify its case. Upstairs in the bar, items jump across shelves and mysteriously make their way to new cubbyholes when no one is looking. And in the downright-creepy basement, shadows move when no one else is around. Burelle tells of one late night: He was disposing trash outside near the bricked-in former basement entrance when a gentleman decked out in a white suit and fedora strolled casually past him, then disappeared straight through the wall as he looked on with terror.
There’s a reason they call the third-floor bar the Ghostbar. It seems to host only one ghost -- that of original owner David Whitney’s widow, Sarah -- but she’s plenty active. Sarah is reputed to never have left her beloved custom-built home, and can be spotted admiring her reflection in the ladies’ powder-room mirror. Frequent sightings also happen on the elevator which, despite frequent mechanical updates and repairs, often stops for no reason on unoccupied floors. Regardless of Sarah's presence, the mansion, built in 1894, is a stunning Gilded Age spot to sip some fancy cocktails.
The Cadieux has plenty of history to go with its famous mussels and feather bowling. Like Nancy Whiskey, the building quickly switched purposes from general store to saloon and social hall for the Belgian community nearby. One such resident, Yvonne Devos, who with her husband Robert bought the popular hangout in 1962, still causes the occasional fright by appearing in her favorite chair after closing hours. She's probably just making sure her family is still taking care of the joint to her liking.
Saint Andrews originally served the drinking needs of Detroit’s Scottish-Americans, so the sound of bagpipes drifting up the back stairs might not cause too much of a stir; that is, until you realize that those back stairs have been bricked off for decades, and that the Shelter is more likely to host a ska show than a pipe-and-drums performance these days.
At least four people were killed on-site during the Leland’s construction phase, and the bodies seem to have just piled up from there. When the hotel opened in 1927, it hosted lavish parties and celebrity guests on the fourth floor. That’s where most of the hauntings, or at least the noisiest ones, seem to be concentrated. Witnesses have described loud laughter and music trickling down from that floor, even though it's closed to visitors and now lies empty. The basement’s Labyrinth bar hosts another bathroom resident, the "white lady of the basement," who peeks at guests.
You’ve heard that the ghost of Harry Houdini still roams the halls of the Majestic because his final performance occurred there, right? Wrong. Well, at least the final performance part. Although Houdini was indeed scheduled to perform there, his actual last act was cut short on October 24th, 1926 at the Garrick Theatre after an acute fever sent him to the hospital. Houdini’s last days in Detroit (he died on Halloween at Grace Hospital, and seances were held there for years after his death) are certainly tragic enough to warrant a haunting. And the Majestic has enough history to claim a ghost or two of its own, so we’ve no doubt odd things happen. We just needed to set the record straight on this perpetuated falsehood.
Here’s another great building with all sorts of spooky stories. The most popularly retold one goes like this: The largest Masonic Temple in the world was built by wealthy Detroit architect George D. Mason in 1926 at the height of Detroit’s prosperity. But with the onset of the Great Depression, Mason fell into extreme poverty and in despair flung himself from the roof of the Masonic and plummeted to his death. It’s a great tale, but the facts don’t quite bear it out. George D. Mason died a wealthy and respected man at the age of 92 in 1948. Regardless, the Masonic has enough creep factor in its 1,037 rooms to get your goose bumps raised at least once a year.
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1. Nancy Whiskey2644 Harrison St, Detroit
2. Two Way Inn17897 Mount Elliott St, Detroit
3. Tommy's Detroit Bar & Grill624 3rd St, Detroit
4. Ghost Bar4421 Woodward Ave, Detroit
5. Cadieux Cafe4300 Cadieux Rd, Detroit
6. Saint Andrew's Hall431 E Congress St, Detroit
7. The Leland Hotel Bar400 Bagley Ave, Detroit
8. The Majestic4120 Woodward Ave, Detroit
Established in 1902, Corktown’s Nancy Whiskey holds one of the oldest liquor licenses in Detroit. Besides pour whiskey, the Irish pub, inhabiting the ground floor of an old corner building, does other thing right: fry seafood. Fish ’n’ chips, battered cod and seafood tacos are all the rage at a weekly fry. Live music on the weekends and television sets reliably tuned to Lions, Tigers and Wings games keeps the ‘Cheers’ atmosphere alive.
The Two Way Inn, established in 1876 by Colonel Philetus Norris, is the oldest bar in Detroit having gone through many reincarnations as village jail and general store, brothel, speakeasy, and now as a “fine dive.” You wont find a menu here, but owner and bartender Mary will host a weekly “popup” or two with homemade comfort foods like pasta, meatloaf, and shepherd’s pie. The first Sunday of every cold-season month Danielle hosts a brunch where she makes drinks from her homemade stash of vegetable infused alcohol. You have to be buzzed in for a bottle of domestic, international, or local craft beer, or to catch a glimpse of Col. Norris who is rumored to have never left this dark, weathered, underground-style bar.
Tommy’s is a long-standing neighborhood joint that serves American diner food and shuttles guests to Detroit sports games. Tommy’s loves to support its city and offers as much Detroit-local products as possible like Wrigley’s corned beef sandwich, chicken wings, grilled cheese, and locally-sourced, thick beef patties that they hand roll and layer with cheese and specialty toppings. They also offer American craft beer on draft and a decent list of bottles … our favorite part is the happy hour, although the ghost tours to the old speakeasy is a top contender. While you play pool you might catch a glimpse of an old gangster fading through the nick knack-covered walls by the warm glow of the colorful neon bar signs.
Built in 1894, this rose marble mansion is not only a beautiful, historical landmark, but also a fine dining restaurant (think afternoon tea and beef wellington) that houses the Ghostbar, an upscale lounge on the third floor of David Whitney Jr.’s Gilded Age home. Getting it’s name from alleged sightings of Whitney’s deceased widow, Sarah, Ghostbar serves up deadly cocktails like The Witching Hour (a tart citrus drink rimmed with sugar) and the Boulevardier (the Detroit answer to a Manhattan), and offers a variety of quality beers on tap as well as a stunning wine menu. Every weekday evening is happy hour which features an unbelievable discount on the admittedly pricey menu, live piano music, and occasional oyster specials.
Flemish culture thrives at this Motor City staple, as evidenced by the robust collection of Belgian beers, the frequent crowd of “featherbowlers,” -- the equivalent of Belgian bocci, essentially -- and, like any self-respecting Belgian-themed bar, fresh steamed mussels, served daily. The Cadieux Café started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, and it’s still kicking today, supported by community veterans who come for the culture and young folk who swing through to enjoy live entertainment until the wee hours of the morning.
Built in 1907, Saint Andrews Hall is three music venues rolled into one old Downtown Scottish Society meeting spot. Upstairs is The Society Room, an exclusive high-ceilinged, exposed-brick lounge with a full bar, high tops, and chesterfields. On the main floor you will also find a full bar, but instead of tables it’s a music hall complete with balconies that has hosted legends like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Adele on its small stage. Through a back ally entrance is The Shelter, a bar and music venue in the basement where there are regular DJs and other musical entertainment. Throughout Saint Andrews you will find over 80 different beers and the whole gamut of spirits for cocktails and shots.
If you are looking for a cheap place to stay long term that has good views of Downtown, then the old Leland Hotel is for you as long as you don’t mind the cockroaches and the water pressure. We are more interested in the other things the Leland can offer us … like alcohol and a solid burger. Whether you head to the reception desk in the glamorous, refurbished 1920s-era lobby for a laid back drink (yes, the desk is a bar), or head to the old ball room to dance at City Club, Leland is notorious for the a good time and a cheap drink. On the street level is also a 1950s-style American diner called Lucy & Ethel’s good for greasy comfort food.
The Majestic is a multi-purpose complex that has been run by the Zainea family for decades. It's made up of the Majestic Theatre, Café, Sgt Pepperoni's, Garden Bowl, Alley Deck, and now Populux -- an EDM club. Lately they’ve given up a little on live rock shows, killing off the iconic Magic Stick to open Populux in the hopes of bringing all the cool kids in once again. And serve them booze, obviously.