SEATTLE — An historic bar in Pioneer Square is known for specializing in spirits... and, spirits.
Merchants Café and Saloon was established in 1890 in the heart of Pioneer Square and is a tourist destination for visitors who like ghost stories.
But lead bartender Michael Harris, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, said it’s also a place for locals.
"I think anyone who loves history would love Merchants,” he said. "It's a place that sticks with you. Once you're here once, you definitely don't forget coming."
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Behind the bar, a binder filled with photos and handwritten stories serves a “history book,” documenting decades of unexplained happenings.
"Oh it's definitely haunted, like 100%,” Harris said. "We're the longest running restaurant, licensed, in the city — I think, in the state of Washington."
Those years come with a dark past. Following the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, the streets were elevated and the former main entrance became an underground lounge. The street-level floor was a gambling hall, and the upper floors were a brothel.
"At one point, they hung two men outside of the window because they caught them cheating at cards,” Harris said. "And so to get into the bar, you had to walk underneath dead bodies."
How many people met their demise in the Merchants building may never be fully known, but the lower lounge is said to be occupied by the spirits of two children who tragically died in the underground tunnels.
Harris said their “activity” is generally playful. Once, they made a mess of the lower bar area — despite the space being padlocked.
"I come down, unlock the door, and everything I'd left on the bar was knocked over. Anything that could be tipped was tipped,” he said. "It was definitely like, 'Okay, I see you. You're here.'"
The street level bar area is where Harris said he was truly frightened, while working alone late one night. He rounded a table and saw a man.
"My first thought was, 'You forgot to lock the door tonight and you're getting robbed.' So I threw the glasses down and I turn around, I'm ready to fight, and there's no one there. There's no one there,” he said, laughing. "That is probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me here."
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There's also an old portrait on the wall that’s purportedly haunted. When the owner took a photo of the image, it double-exposed and seemed to reveal objects in the background.
But for all the ghostly tales, Merchants is also a place of unquestionable significance.
"The only photo ever taken of Chief Seattle was taken upstairs,” Harris said.
As for his own experiences, Harris said nothing has made him want to work anywhere else.
"Our ghosts are like the spirits in ‘Coco.’ The more you talk about them, the more you remember them, the more they like you,” he said. "I mean, that's what history is right? It's remembering those dismal parts so you don't repeat them. And celebrating the parts that are really great, you have to do that, too."
Merchants Café and Saloon is located at 109 Yesler Way and is open daily from 11 a.m. – midnight or later.
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