Explore Washington D.C.

Spirits & Hauntings

Sailors carousing in gritty dockside bars. Jazz Age flappers jiving in hazy speakeasies. Wandering souls have always sought refuge in this town’s watering holes. For today’s urban explorers, timeworn taverns promise local lore and maybe a ghost encounter or two.

Mount Vernon’s 1903-built Belvedere Hotel (now condos) and its bar (now the Owl Bar) attracted glitterati like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Prohibition turned the party hush-hush, with wooden “owls” transmitting messages: Blinking eyes meant a “shipment” had arrived; eyes that stared signaled the feds were near. Today stained glass owls peer over patrons who come for brick-oven pizzas and the very legal house lager.

Taking an 18th-century nickname for pirates and seafarers, the Wharf Rat in Fells Point welcomes modern vagabonds. Home-style cooking and craft brews recall old-fashioned “waterfront hospitality” in a building that dates to the 1780s (a bar since 1863). In 1907, an owner was shot to death here by his nephew who was disgruntled by too many plays of the Victrola’s only song, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Some say the poor patriot lingers to “mess” with the sound system.

The last spot where Edgar Allan Poe was seen alive, The Horse You Came In On claims a ghost named “Edgar” who knocks over bar stools. “Frenchie,” a War War II double agent, waiter and now spirit, plays friendly pranks on the staff at the bohemian Club Charles. At Cat’s Eye Pub, a long-ago brothel, careful listeners sometimes hear the “red light” clicking on and off, still controlled by its former residents.