Travel

What It’s Like to Work in Florida’s Most Haunted Bar

Scarlett O’Hara’s Ghost Bar takes its name very, very literally

Generally if someone throws coasters, pushes glasses, or follows women into the bathroom at your bar, you kick the jerk out. That gets complicated, however, when the bar is located in the unruly regular’s house. It becomes downright impossible when that person died more than 100 years ago. 

Such is the conundrum for the staff at Scarlett O’Hara’s, one of the most haunted bars in America and the stomping grounds of the late George Colee. It’s a regular stop on nearly every ghost tour in perpetually haunted St. Augustine, and has been called the most haunted bar in Florida

And if you happen to work here, you get to know George pretty well.

Back in the 1880s, poor George Colee fell hard for a woman named Scarlett, who was less interested in George than his money. She eventually agreed to marry him, and he began to build her a house as a wedding present. Scarlett, meanwhile, began bleeding his bank account dry and romancing a local army sergeant. 

Eventually, Scarlett left George for her secret beau. But she asked her new love to continue checking in on George, who had taken to drinking in anguish. One night, George had a few too many bottles of wine one night and fell asleep in his upstairs bathtub. He never woke up.

At least, that’s the official story. 

“Scarlett’s boyfriend was actually the one who found George,” Ancient City Tours guide Matt Cunningham drawls from Scarlett’s main bar, a little like a North Florida Vincent Price. “This man may have been tired of checking in on old George. And maybe he just decided to… give him a little help.”

The bar went through several owners after that. Its current iteration opened up in the mid-’90s. And upon opening, one longtime regular joined the new clientele: George Colee himself. 

According to Cunningham, one night police were summoned to a tripped alarm. One cop wet upstairs to investigate and found the jukebox playing The Beach Boys “Help Me Rhonda” in an empty room. He unplugged the machine, only to return the next night and find it playing the same song. 

That upstairs area, dubbed the Ghost Bar, is where George spends much of his time. The bathtub where he met his demise is on full display, with many guests posing for photos inside. And while cops, customers, and tour guides all have their own stories about George, nobody gets to know him better than the Scarlett O’Hara’s staff.

Sitting at a table at Scarlett O’Hara’s not-so-haunted downstairs, manager Cristy Guidry shows me a video on her phone—everyone in St. Augustine seems to have ghost videos ready to cue up—of a calculator in the upstairs office pressing the total button repeatedly, with no human assistance.

“(We) turned it off and turned it back on, and it just kept going and going,” says Guidry, who has worked at the bar for four years and now talks about George like she would a veteran barback. 

During another of Guidry’s encounters—which she also has on video—the manager was enjoying post-shift drinks. Glasses began moving across the bar, as if floating on pools of condensation… except the surface was completely dry. 

Bar employees thought the movement might just be vibrations from the street, but when it started happening a few nights a week—and the glasses started moving completely across the bar—they knew something was up.

“He likes to play tricks on us,” says Guidry. 

In addition to making things move, George has also allegedly locked a new server in the bathroom. In many ways, he’s the spectral equivalent of a manager who hazes a new employee by telling them to look under the bar for the cash-register fluid. 

“He’s trying to communicate with us so that way we know he was loved.”

Guidry says new employees are often scared to go upstairs at first, especially when they hear tales of a ghostly George bellying up to the bar, or skeptical patrons hearing moans and feeling taps. But once they get more comfortable with the presence, they’re able to explain the ghost, which makes the experience better for the raucous crowds. 

“We can teach them, and give them more history about St. Augustine, and the history of the building,” she says.

For the staff, George eventually becomes just another person they see every day at work. Which means he may not be all that scary, but he still has some idiosyncrasies you have to respect.

“He doesn’t like cursing,” Guidry says. “So if (someone) says a bad word or something sassy, she’s gotta say, ‘Ok, George, I’m sorry, I don’t wanna piss you off today.’”

But for the most part, he just wants to be greeted and respected… not unlike anyone working at a neighborhood watering hole.  

“(George) is not really here to hurt anybody,” Guidry says. “He’s just here to figure out where he needs to go and he’s trying to communicate with us so that way we know he was loved. And you know, he’s part of the family. He's like a regular part of the bar team. That's kind of cool to think about it that way.”

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Matt Meltzer is a freelance writer based in Miami who believes drinks always taste better with a little garnish of thunderstorms. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.