Raise the Bar: Hit the sauce and get spooked at The Whitney’s Ghost Bar

4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-5700; thewhitney.comHit the sauce and get spooked at the Whitney's Ghost Bar

The historic aesthetic isn't feigned at the Whitney. The space wasn't designed to recall the architectural trends of past eras. It was built in 1894. It is the past. Thomas Edison installed some of the light fixtures himself. The windows are Tiffany glass. The staircase is grand. The rooms are many. It is refined and august. And its ghost stories are abundant.

A dinner at the Whitney is a special occasion. It's expensive, yes, but it's also a remarkably unique experience. The food is delicious (we suggest the Beef Wellington), and the service is exceptional. But the fact of the matter is that most of us can't afford to dine here every Saturday night.

But that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the beautiful (and, alright, slightly spooky) interior of the Whitney on at least a weekly basis. Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to close, the third story Ghost Bar opens up, and here you can enjoy a classy cocktail or a Michigan craft beer amid a gallery of eerie paintings, old furniture, low lighting, and — rumor has it — some ghosts.

OK, perhaps we need to backpedal a bit. David Whitney Jr., a famous and filthy-rich lumber baron, had the home built in his later years. The house was a show of his enormous wealth. In today's dollars, it would've cost $10.5 million to build. It's 21,000 square feet, has 52 rooms, 10 bathrooms, three stories, 218 windows, 20 fireplaces, a secret vault, and an elevator.

Just six years after the house was built, Whitney died. We've also read that his wife, Sarah, died here, too. His family continued to live in the home until the '20s, and in the mid-'80s it was converted into the fancy restaurant it is today.

While the Whitney has a reputation around town, Ghost Bar is less well-known, but for reasons we can't really figure out. When the Whitney family still called the place home, the third story served as their art gallery. The vaulted ceiling is accentuated by the enormous bronze lighting fixtures that hang from it. It's gorgeous, the space is one-of-a-kind, and we've heard that every once in a while a ghostly figure is spotted in the ladies powder room.

According to rumors (and Wikipedia), most of the paranormal activity in the home takes place on the second and third floors. A staff member once asked a man to leave the second floor, only to watch him vanish into the floor. The elevators are said to move about on their own, things go missing for days, sometimes the water turns on and off by itself, and ghostly noises are heard on occasion. Ask the bartender why it's called the "Ghost Bar" and he'll reply simply, "Because we serve spirits."

The cocktail menu here is small, but good. The Witching Hour is made with Valentine White Blossom Vodka, Lemoncello, Chambord, and fresh lemon. It's pretty and fruity, but watch out — it packs a punch. Aside from the small selection of cocktails, most of which are made with local spirits, on the menu, there's also a full bar, a selection of wines, and some Michigan crafts available. On tap, they've got Rochester Mills Milkshake Stout. The dark beer is served, looking delicious, in a tall glass with a frothy head. In the evenings, a spirited pianist plays jazzy covers of current hits. This place is a pretty complete package.

One of Detroit's best-kept secrets, Ghost Bar is a place worth visiting, especially during this, the spookiest time of year.

Alysa Zavala-Offman

Alysa Zavala-Offman is the managing editor of Detroit Metro Times. She lives in the downriver city of Wyandotte with her husband, toddler, mutt, and two orange cats.
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