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The Old Absinthe House: New Orleans’ Haunted Bars

New Orleans’ Green Fairies and Ghosts

You can hardly walk down one of New Orleans’ historic streets without feeling transported in time. With so much to discover, many first-timers wonder, what is the best way to see it all?
Whether or not you consider a ghost adventure a traditional part of your typical vacation, a New Orleans ghost tour at night is an option that simply can’t be ignored when visiting the Big Easy. Beneath all of New Orleans’ textbook history that many tour guides share await incredible stories that are stranger than fiction. Because while the festivities of Bourbon Street seem a far cry from spooky, New Orleans is crowded with much more than tourists—it is crowded with ghosts.

Would you like to meet one of these ghosts? You simply need to sit down in a local bar.

Nightly Spirits is taking you on a ghost tour unlike any other as we explore the most haunted New Orleans bars. Come along for the journey as we travel to the Old Absinthe House, at the heart of Bourbon Street.

You might just be lucky enough to get a visit from the Green Fairy.

Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House

Jean LafitteUpon entering the Old Absinthe House, you are greeted by a rather unexpected interior: football helmets and business cards form the main decor. And the bartenders? If you ask them to tell you a ghost story, they are likely to look at you as if you have taken one too many vodka shots.
But don’t let the unassuming (dare we say dive bar) aesthetic of this place fool you. The Old Absinthe House is a New Orleans icon for a reason. First of all, the green elixir they serve up is the real thing; absinthe, a botanical drink, said throughout history to cause hallucinations (thus its moniker as of “the Green Fairy”).

Secondly, the bar is closely tied to New Orleans’ resident pirate. If you have read the Nightly Spirits’ story on Jean Lafitte, then you know that he was somewhat of a controversial character in history. Some think of him as a barbarous pirate in the vein of Captain Jack Sparrow—charming and perhaps even a good man if it wasn’t for that whole plundering thing. Others view him as a scoundrel, and still others, as a patriot.

The patriot part of Jean Lafitte’s story takes us here, to the Old Absinthe House.

A Bargain in a Bar: The Battle of New Orleans

Legend tells that Jean Lafitte received an offer from the British—would he help them in their war against the Americans? After all, Lafitte had a powerful network of buccaneers to draw from, not to mention ships, bravado, and most valuable of all, he knew New Orleans like the back of his hand.
Lafitte opted against helping the British, perhaps because of what some might call a code of honor–he had a soft spot for the Americans. He even offered to help them instead. The Americans didn’t exactly trust Lafitte, however. They returned his gesture of goodwill by storming one of his outposts, leaving destruction in their wake. It was Captain Andrew Jackson who mended the relationship with Jean Lafitte; he knew that the pirate’s services were necessary. And that is where the Old Absinthe House comes in…

They say the two men met on the second floor of the bar. Perhaps the Green Fairy helped seal the bar-gain, as well as the outcome of the ensuing Battle of New Orleans. Andrew Jackson agreed to full par-dons of all of Lafitte’s men for their various crimes (which included buccaneering at the very least). Lafitte offered up his firsthand knowledge of New Orleans—its swamps, its backwaters, and basically everything the Americans needed to know to beat the British.

Lafitte proved invaluable to Jackson’s efforts, and soon his status as a hero of New Orleans was secured. Nowadays you can find his name on everything from t-shirts to coffee cups should you wander into any New Orleans gift shop.

As for the Old Absinthe House, it has also seen its share of ruckus over the years.

The first building to sit on the site was burned down in 1788 during the Great Friday Fires, leaving be-hind nothing but the fireplace. After it was rebuilt, it was a grocery store, then it served as a coffee house. Lest images of housewives enjoying their morning cappuccino enter your mind, it is important to note that coffee houses at the time were synonymous with vice—absinthe (and surely harder drugs) being a popular sin of yesteryear.

During Prohibition, the Old Absinthe House suffered a rather tumultuous tumble with the government. Reportedly, the bar that sits within was removed in its entirety to a secret location to continue serving absinthe in secret—then brought back to continue serving its most loyal guests (the storied copper-topped bar of yesteryear now sits in the Belle Epoque lounge adjacent to the Old Absinthe House).

But while Lafitte’s name may be on the Old Absinthe House’ sign, he isn’t the only celebrity to have visited here. Most New Orleans ghost tours at night stop here for a reason; locals will tell you that many of the Old Absinthe House’s most loyal patrons still haunt this Bourbon Street bar to this very day.

The Old Absinthe House Today: Green Fairies and Famous Ghosts

Among the immortal patrons that haunt the Old Absinthe House are some of New Orlean’s most storied celebrities. Marie Laveau was said to have frequented the bar. Celebrated writers Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain are said to have partaken of absinthe here. Perhaps it was the Green Fairy who inspired Mark Twain, to famously comment that, “New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.’”

While Jean Lafitte is mostly seen elsewhere in the French Quarter, namely at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Bar (as Nightly Spirits has discussed in other blog entries) he is also seen here at the Old Absinthe House from time to time. There is a rather thrilling explanation for his ghostly travels from place to place—legend has it that secret tunnels lurk beneath the bar, connecting this absinthe house to his storied blacksmith bar.

From Jean Lafitte to Marie Laveau, the ghosts that haunt the Old Absinthe House seem to have one thing in common, a delight in mischief. They love slamming doors, shattering glasses, moving things around, and causing general mayhem.

Perhaps they are still partaking of the Green Fairy on the other side of the grave? Find out by booking our New Orleans Ghost Tour and hear all the best ghost stories in NOLA.

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