The Red Onion Saloon: Eat & drink with some of Alaska’s most famous ghosts

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Step inside the ghostly world of the haunted Red Onion Saloon

In southeastern Alaska lies a town once bustling with gold rush fever: Skagway. This town is known as one of Alaska’s most haunted locations, and it is the home of various haunted buildings — including the Red Onion Saloon.

Originally opened in 1898, this building served as a brothel during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Today, the Red Onion Saloon has transformed from its original, somewhat notorious role. It’s currently operating as both a restaurant and a museum.

This shift from a house of ill-repute to a dining and historical experience offers visitors a taste of the past, literally and figuratively. As we step through its doors, we’re not only greeted with the aroma of good food but also with whispers of its storied past.

The Red Onion Saloon’s transition to a modern-day attraction hasn’t erased its history. Instead, it has become a popular destination for ghost hunters eager to hear about the stories behind its various hauntings.

Skagway showing the wharves and harbor area, Alaska, ca 1898 (HEGG 665) kw red onion saloon red onion saloon haunted red onion saloon skagway alaska haunted red onion saloon
Skagway c. 1898

History of the Red Onion Saloon

The story of the Red Onion Saloon begins in 1898, during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. During this time, Skagway was swarming with miners fueled by the glint of gold and the dreams it promised.

Amid this feverish quest for riches, the Red Onion Saloon emerged to provide companionship to the miners flooding the town.

On the first floor, the saloon functioned as a bar and social hub. It was where miners, drawn to the area by the promise of gold, could relax and share tales of their exploits, and perhaps plan their next venture into the wilds of Alaska.

The second floor of the Red Onion Saloon, however, is where the brothel earned its reputation. This was where the “cribs,” were located — small rooms where women of the night met with clients.

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The existence of these rooms was a direct response to the predominantly male population that the gold rush had brought to Skagway. The women who worked here were an integral part of the local economy and social structure at the time, as they were providing a service that was in high demand.

The Red Onion Saloon is also known for its rather unique system that was a hallmark of its operation, known as the “doll system.”

It involved a series of dolls, each representing one of the women working on the second floor of the saloon. These dolls were placed on a ledge at the bar, serving as a visual indicator of the women’s availability.

If a doll was upright, it signaled that the lady was available to entertain a client. If the doll lay on its back, it meant she was currently occupied.

Decline of the bordello

As with all things, the Klondike Gold Rush eventually drew to a close, and with it, the shine of the Red Onion Saloon began to dim.

During the early 1900s, a significant shift occurred: the easily accessible gold that had initially attracted scores of miners to the Klondike region began to run out. The saloon, once a thriving hub for gold miners, began to see a change in its fortunes as the rush for gold subsided.

Large mining operations, equipped with advanced technology, replaced the individual prospectors, altering the clientele and atmosphere that the Red Onion Saloon had catered to during its heyday.

As the number of miners decreased, so too did the demand for the services provided by the saloon’s brothel. The transient population, once the backbone of the Red Onion’s business, dwindled, affecting not just the saloon but the entire community.

The town of Skagway, which had rapidly grown and prospered during the gold rush, found itself needing to adapt to a new economic reality.

In response to these changing times, the Red Onion Saloon underwent several transformations. It served various purposes, from an army barracks to a bakery and eventually a gift shop.

The Red Onion Saloon’s current iteration as a restaurant and museum is another chapter in its history and a symbol of the town’s adaptability.

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The ghosts of the haunted Red Onion Saloon

This once-bustling establishment is now famous for its resident spirits. Reports of ghostly encounters and unexplained phenomena have intrigued both locals and visitors for years, making the saloon a must-visit for anyone fascinated by the supernatural.

Lydia, the prostitute’s ghost

Among the various ghosts who haunt the Red Onion Saloon, one in particular stands out: Lydia, a former prostitute. Her story is both moving and mysterious, and it paints us a picture of the challenges women experienced during those times.

Lydia, like many women of her time in Skagway, Alaska, found herself working in a brothel during the late 1890s. This period was rife with fortune seekers and adventurers, which created a demand for such establishments.

Lydia’s life is not fully known to us, but it’s likely that she faced many of the same challenges and tough choices that many women in her situation experienced. Working in a brothel during this time was hard, and these women didn’t have many other options for work.

Tragically, Lydia’s story takes a dark turn. It’s believed that she met her end within the walls of the Red Onion Saloon, with some accounts suggesting she took her own life.

No one knows for sure what happened, but many speculate that Lydia contracted a venereal disease — a considerable risk for women in her line of work during that era. Faced with the stigma and the limited medical treatments available at the time, Lydia’s despair may have led to her death.

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Ghost stories about Lydia

The most common sign of Lydia’s presence is the scent of perfume. It’s often reported by both staff and visitors and is said to linger in the air with no apparent source.

This perfume smell is described as strong and distinct, as if someone just walked past, leaving their scent trail behind.

Cold spots are another hallmark of Lydia’s ghostly activities. In a room that should be warm or at least of a consistent temperature, certain areas feel much colder.

These cold spots are often reported on the second floor where the brothel was located, and they are not the same as a passing draft. They are specific areas where the temperature drop is sudden and noticeable.

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Another phenomenon attributed to Lydia are objects moving seemingly on their own. There are accounts of items being shifted from their original places, with no one around to have moved them. This includes things such as keys and small personal belongings of the staff.

The most endearing of Lydia’s reported activities is her interaction with the hotel’s plants. Staff members have often found the soil of indoor plants damp, as if they’ve been recently watered, despite no one having done so.

Lydia’s appearances are a frequent topic among those who’ve experienced or heard about the supernatural happenings at the Red Onion Saloon.

She’s been seen in full apparition before — often wearing a long, dark dress, typical of the late 19th century. These sightings are not limited to the dead of night, either. Some people have encountered her during the day as well.

Some employees and guests describe feeling a gentle touch or caress — especially women. Others have heard soft footsteps or rustling sounds in otherwise empty rooms. These interactions, though certainly unnerving, aren’t usually described as threatening.

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Other ghostly residents

Lydia isn’t the only ghost to haunt this location. Another well-known figure in these tales is Diamond Lil, who was a madam at the saloon.

Her presence is known for more direct interactions, especially with male guests. People have often reported feeling a mysterious touch or hearing whispers when no one else is around, leading many to believe that these experiences are Diamond Lil’s way of making her presence felt.

Then there’s the story of a less known, malevolent male spirit that adds an eerie dimension to the saloon. Unlike the benign encounters with Lydia and Diamond Lil, encounters with this spirit tend to be more unsettling.

His unpredictable actions range from playful to downright unnerving. Staff and visitors have talked about feeling an oppressive atmosphere and noticing bizarre occurrences like objects moving on their own.

Tools, keys, and even personal belongings of the staff and guests have been found in strange places or otherwise tampered with, without any explanation as to how they got there.

No one knows who this male spirit is. Unlike Lydia and Diamond Lil, whose histories are somewhat known, this spirit’s past and reasons for haunting the saloon remain unclear.

Together, these ghostly residents — Lydia, Diamond Lil, and the unknown male spirit — create a chilling atmosphere that draws both visitors and ghost hunters.

Each spirit brings its own story and way of interacting with the living, playing a big part in the Red Onion Saloon’s status as a must-visit destination for anyone interested in haunted locations and their histories.

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Paranormal investigations and stories

A paranormal podcaster captured EVPs or Electronic Voice Phenomena while recording for an interview at the bordello. (For those of you who don’t know, EVPs are sounds found on electronic recordings that some believe are spirit voices.)

In one room, their recorder picked up a voice that sounded like a woman whispering, even though no one was there.

A historian from Skagway, who knows a lot about the saloon, did his own investigation. He’s spent many nights there and heard footsteps upstairs, where the “cribs” are located.

His EMF detector, which is usually for finding electrical problems, showed higher-than-normal readings in these rooms, even though there’s no electrical equipment there.

Visitors to the saloon often tell their own spooky stories to the staff. For example, one tourist felt the temperature drop suddenly in one of the upstairs rooms. She also felt something touch her shoulder, but when she turned around, no one was there.

In another case, a staff member was locking up for the night and heard piano music coming from inside. Thinking someone must have stayed behind, they went to check it out. But when they got to the piano, the room was empty, and the piano was closed.

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The Red Onion Saloon today

Today, the Red Onion Saloon is more than just a piece of Skagway, Alaska’s history. It’s a lively spot where the past meets the present, working as both a restaurant and a museum about its days as a brothel.

When you walk in, it’s like stepping back into the late 1800s. The place has kept its original look and feel, showing off pieces from the past to give visitors a real sense of what it was like back then.

As a restaurant, the Red Onion Saloon is welcoming and cozy. You can grab a bite to eat and relax in a place filled with history. The menu has lots of different dishes, so there’s something for everyone, and eating here feels like part of exploring the saloon’s past.

Upstairs where the brothel was located is where you’ll find the museum. These rooms are kept just like they were, with furniture and items from that time. Walking through here, you get a real picture of what life was like during the Gold Rush.

Keeping the old parts of the saloon, like the wood floors and the bar, has been important to the owners of the saloon. These parts of the building help tell its story. Artifacts on display range from historical photographs to personal items that belonged to the women who worked in the brothel.

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Photo:Timkal, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tips for visiting the Red Onion Saloon

Location and operational months

You can find the Red Onion Saloon at 201 Broadway, right in the middle of Skagway, AK.

Keep in mind: the saloon is open seasonally, usually from mid-April to late September, which is when Skagway has the most visitors. It’s a good idea to look up the exact dates it’s open before you go, as they can change a bit from year to year.

For the most up-to-date information regarding operating hours, their website can be found at:

What to expect

The saloon’s ground floor operates as a bustling restaurant and bar, where you can enjoy a meal or a drink in an atmosphere that harks back to the late 1800s.

The décor and ambiance are as authentic as it gets, with period photographs and artifacts adorning the walls.

Experiencing the Saloon’s history and hauntings

If you’re curious about the saloon’s ghost stories, you’ve got to visit the museum upstairs.

The tours are neat; the guides dress up in period clothing and offer rich stories about the saloon’s past inhabitants — both living and spectral.

They offer “quickie” tours that are particularly popular, offering a brief but informative glimpse into the life in a Gold Rush brothel. You can book tours through their website (

Visitors interested in the paranormal should consider taking these tours, as guides often share anecdotes about ghostly encounters and unexplained occurrences within the saloon.

It’s a good idea to bring your camera — you never know what you might capture.

A few additional tips

  • The saloon can get quite busy, so try to get there early or book a tour ahead of time.
  • If you’re interested in the paranormal, visiting when it’s less crowded might increase your chances of experiencing something unexplained.
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An aerial view of modern-day Skagway. Photo: Christopher Michel from San Francisco, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Red Onion Saloon haunted

Going to the Red Onion Saloon is like stepping right into a key part of Alaska’s history. It’s a chance to feel like you’re walking through the past. And who knows? You might even have a brush with the paranormal to add to the ghost stories.

If you’re looking for a place that’s got a lot of stories to tell (and maybe a ghost or two), the Red Onion Saloon is a great spot to check out. It’s a fun way to experience history, learn something new, and maybe get a little spooked. 👻

Don’t miss: 10 Haunted dolls: These fascinating & frightening real stories will stalk your dreams

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