The Ghosts of Pat O'Brien's Bar

718 St Peter, New Orleans, LA 70116

This world-famous bar is synonymous with New Orleans nightlife. There are also rumors that it’s haunted. An old building in the French Quarter? Haunted? Couldn’t be

Did you know?

  • The building is one of the oldest in the French Quarter
  • O’Brien’s establishment began as a speakeasy
  • The famous Hurricane cocktail was created here
  • At least one employee has quit due to fear of the paranormal

The Party Never Stops

Pat O’Brien’s is one of the most popular bars in New Orleans. Operating since 1933, this old-style Irish pub has plenty of stories to tell, and some of those stories are indeed ghost stories.

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not alone? In general, that’s not an uncommon feeling to have at a crowded pub. However, employees at Pat O’Brien’s will tell you they get that feeling even when they genuinely are alone.

The Piano Bar

Upstairs at Pat O’Brien’s is the piano bar. The famous dueling pianos therein have entertained more guests than you can shake a thousand sticks at. Perhaps that’s why spirits seem to keep coming back, hoping to dance to one more ragtime melody.

Employees report hearing disembodied footsteps tapping around. Another common happening is the sound of a chair being pulled back across the floor. The pianos also attract wandering spirits, who will occasionally strike a single note on their ivory keys.

One employee told when he was restocking the bar and heard footsteps following him. No matter where he went, the footsteps followed immediately in his wake. He then heard tinkling piano keys. Was this spirit asking him to play a song, or maybe coaxing him into a piano duel?

One Stubborn Tenant

The building on the Bourbon Street side of the property was originally constructed in 1824 and was used as an apartment building. When doing renovations on the building to prepare it for private parties, it seems they may have disturbed the spirit of a previous resident.

On the 4th floor, there was one window that would not stay closed. Every night, the project manager made sure the window was shut. However, when they arrived in the morning, it was propped up.

The 4th floor was also used as a kitchen storage area. Several cooks refused to go there, citing an eerie and unnerving feel to the area. We’re not sure who may be haunting the 4th floor, but they do seem to like making their presence known.

The Ladies’ Room

Rumors swirl around the ladies’ restroom at Pat O’Brien’s. Some say the specter of a former attendant haunts it. Many women report hearing footsteps following them in, but nobody’s there. Others hear rummaging around and feet shuffling in another stall, but no legs can be seen. Even more bizarrely, some have allegedly heard bursts of laughter.

One writer recalled making an off-handed remark to someone standing at the sink next to her. The voice that came in reply was that of a man. She turned to see a handsomely dressed gentleman with a towel in his hand, offering it up to her. When she reached for it, her hand passed right through his.

Too Haunted to Handle

When a former employee of Pat O’Brien’s was interviewed, she stated she had to quit the job because she dreaded going to work every day. The reason? She felt a ghostly presence in the ladies’ room, which manifested in the form of footsteps and heavy breathing.

Though the former employee stated she didn’t believe the spirit had any malicious intent, she remarked that Ghosts of any sort just scare me senseless, so she had to quit. Normally I’d say that ghosts just add some spice to a workplace, but I prefer my restrooms to not be haunted.

The History of Pat O’Brien’s

The history of the property at 718 St. Peter is somewhat unclear. Some sources say Pat O’Brien’s resides in the same building originally built there in 1791, and others say it dates back to 1817 instead.

The next point of discussion is the original purpose of the supposed 1791 building. Most sources indicate it was a theater, a part of the Theatre d’Orleans while others claim it was the Theatre de la Rue Saint Pierre. Some say it was the first Spanish-speaking theater in the city, and others claim it was the first French-speaking theater.

So what’s the truth, and how did it come to be the bar we know and love today?

Much Ado About Nothing

Our research points to the original building at 718 St. Peter being the Theatre de la Rue Saint Pierre. That directly translates to Theater of St. Peter Street, while the Theatre d’Orleans seems like it opened after 1791 and was located on Orleans Street, which also makes sense given its name.

New Orleans was originally founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company. It operated under French rule until 1763, when it was ceded to Spain. The Spanish Empire retained control of the area until 1802.

That information, along with the theater’s name being French, indicates that this was a French-speaking theater. That would’ve been an anomaly since the area was Spanish-owned, making it possible that the Theatre de la Rue Saint Pierre was the first French-speaking theater in the city.

However, all that means very little to Pat O’Brien’s. Almost every source agrees that whatever stood at 718 St. Peter burned to the ground in 1816. The property was then purchased by John Garnier, who built Pat O’Brien’s Bar’s current home, originally as a residential complex.

Storm’s Brewin’

In the early 1930s, Pat O’Brien was traveling through New Orleans to Texas. Some friends convinced him to stay for a few days, and he wound up falling in love with the city. Before he knew it, Pat was operating Mr. O’Brien’s Club Tipperary, one of many speakeasies dotting New Orleans during prohibition. It was located one block from the current bar, in the 600 block of St. Peter.

Only those who knew the password storm’s brewin’ would be allowed into the club. O’Brien must’ve done good business because, after the repeal of Prohibition, he opened the doors of the now-official Pat O’Brien’s bar. Eventually, the business outgrew its walls. In 1942, Pat and business partner Charlie Cantrell moved the operation to the larger building at 718 St. Peter.

Storm’s Brewin’ pt. 2 - The Hurricane

Throughout the 1940s, US distilleries were pushed to produce wartime necessities, so local liquors were scarce. Imported rum from the Caribbean was easy to get but not palatable to the locals who preferred bourbon and whiskey. The challenge: make a mixed drink using rum that the locals would enjoy.

After much trial and error, O’Brien and Cantrell found a concoction that disguised the taste of the rum and replaced it with fruity sweetness. Ever the businessmen, the pair had also purchased oddly shaped glasses (which looked like old hurricane lanterns) at a discounted price.

Combining his recipe and his frugal business purchase, the result was the world-famous cocktail that we know today as the Hurricane. Even as bourbon and whiskey became more widely available after the end of World War II, patrons of O’Brien’s bar kept coming back for the one-of-a-kind Hurricane.

The Dueling Pianos

Dueling pianos is a concept that originated in the 1890s. The idea is that two pianists play songs, competing for attention and, even more importantly: tips! The format quickly became a favorite for the locals, who heard twice the music and even some banter between the competitors.

The format is slightly different at Pat O’Brien’s, with musicians taking requests from the audience. This creates a fun and engaging atmosphere, where talented musicians ply their trade, and the audience directs the show. If you plan on stopping by Pat O’Brien’s, don’t miss the Piano Lounge - that’s where you’ll find the real party!

The Storm Grows

As a result of Pat O’Brien’s success, additional locations have opened in Orlando, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas. No matter which location you visit, the famous Hurricane, born of wartime necessity, is the star cocktail. You’ll also find the signature dueling pianos at each location!

You can have a real New Orleans style good time at any Pat O’Brien’s location. However, the original New Orleans location is the place for those who may like to take a walk on the spooky side. The numerous haunting stories represent a certain vibe that just can’t be replicated.

Visiting Pat O’Brien’s Bar

If you want to visit a bar that just oozes history, you’ll find none better than the famous Pat O’Brien’s at 718 St. Peter, between Royal and Bourbon. Grab yourself a Hurricane but be careful: they’re sneaky strong!

Good times, good drink, and a good chance of paranormal encounters await. Head upstairs to the Piano Lounge and request your favorite tune. Just be aware that not all the feet you hear tapping belong to the living…

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