Chasing Spirits in the Haunted Bars of New Orleans

Posted on: Oct. 24, 2016 | | By: Claire Christine Sargenti

“The more spirits you drink, the more spirits you see!” It’s a phrase that can be heard all over New Orleans’s French Quarter from barking tour guides selling haunted tours and bartenders encouraging their patrons to have another drink, sending them over the edge and into the paranormal.

As a Haunted History tour guide and former bartender at the haunted bar Pirate’s Alley, I must say that there is a distinct aftertaste to the afterlife, and it’s quite a nice pairing of oak barrels and pine boxes, often smokey, occasionally with a little bit of a bite to it.

The drinking and sharing of alcohol surrounds many important traditions in life, from your first drink into adulthood at the age of 21, to the many many years of birthday shots from that point on, to the sharing of wine at religious ceremonies and the popping of champagne to ring in the New Year. Even the weekly celebration of the end of the work week is marked with happy hour specials and weekend bottomless brunches. Because alcohol is meaningful to us in life, it remains important in the afterlife.

The spirits that I’ve encountered are just like regular people: some are nice, some aren’t, and they all like to drink.

And there’s a reason why spirits choose to spend their eternities in bars. There’s always good company from their favorite bartender and the regular sitting at the end of the bar, something new and exciting from the first-time patrons who stumble inside, and of course, free booze.

We didn’t know too much about the ghost who haunts Pirate’s Alley when I started working there. We knew he was male, but who he was and why he was at that particular bar remained a mystery. Pirate’s Alley is a cute little absinthe bar, tucked into an alleyway behind the Saint Louis Cathedral. With all of the shutters open, it has a feeling of being an outdoor bar, completely open to the alleyway and its inhabitants. All of the bartenders were female, and we all worked solo shifts, dressed from head to toe as pirate wenches, complete with lace-up corsets and feathered tricorne hats.

Without a fellow employee, no manager, no security guard and nothing but a plastic sword to defend the cash register, it seemed more than likely that our little bar could be an easy target for the many types of mayhem that the French Quarter is known for. My first day on the job, my training bartender told me not to worry. The ghost liked us. And he would protect us. He would be hovering over the end of the bar and he saw everything that went on. All we had to do was to keep the glass in the center of the shrine at the top of the bar full of his favorite liquor and we would be safe.

One of my favorite ghosts, Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, haunts the Jackson Square restaurant Muriel’s. Originally owning the building where the restaurant is currently located, Monsieur Jourdan lost his home in a poker game. Instead of clearing out his home and handing over the keys to his opponent, Jourdan hung himself on the night of the poker game and still resides in this very location. A very temperamental ghost, Jourdan would oftentimes be found throwing entire shelves of glasses across the restaurant, destroying all of the glassware in sight. It wasn’t until the Muriel’s staff began setting a special table for Jourdan every night when the restaurant closed that the glass breaking ended. Before they lock up the restaurant, a freshly baked loaf of bread and a glass of wine are set at Jourdan’s special table. The bread and wine are left out all night for the ghost to enjoy. In the morning, the bread can typically still be found on the table, but the wine is usually gone.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a stop at the Bourbon Street bar, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. This bar is haunted by a cast of characters ranging from pirates and privateers to lovers and soldiers (including the famous pirate and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte himself), all of whom enjoy the candle-lit atmosphere, the live piano music in the back room, and the famous purple slushie drinks. One of three original French buildings remaining in the French Quarter to this day, this bar survived both of our great fires simply due to the fact that it’s a bar, or as I should say, the bar. Bucket brigades were formed from the river to the bar to ensure the safety of our favorite watering hole while the rest of the city, including our church, went up in flames. Boasting the title of the “longest continually running bar in America,” not only did this bar defy the works of nature by surviving both great fires, but it defied the American government as well, refusing to shut down during Prohibition. It’s no wonder that so many souls have chosen to make the stools of this bar their final resting place.

Whether you’re having a drink from your favorite after hours location, or the afterlife itself, keep in mind that there’s more than meets the eye. You never know what or who may be lurking around the corner, but one surefire way to make a friend in this life, or the next, is by offering them a drink.

There is a popular Jewish toast l’chaim, meaning “to life,” but I like to say, “here’s to the afterlife.”

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