The Cork Street Tavern in Winchester, Virginia has a long and colorful history that many believe contributes to its bevy of active spirits.
Winchester is among the oldest cities in the Shenandoah Valley. German and Scots-Irish settlers put down roots there as early as the 1730s.
Abram’s Delight, built in 1754, is the oldest surviving house in the city, and the city itself dates back to a charter from the Colony of Virginia in 1752.
George Washington, future first president of the United States, surveyed town lots for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.
Lord Fairfax named one of its avenues “Cork Street”, after a street in Mayfair, London, in 1759.
It wouldn’t be until the 1830s, however, that adjacent federal-style redbrick buildings would arise along West Cork, near the corner of Cork and Loudoun streets.
It was a prime location, as Winchester was the destination for travelers entering the northern Shenandoah Valley, and just a short walk from the Red Lion Tavern.
Originally private residences, it’s rumored the ground floors became home to several businesses prior to Prohibition, including a feed store, Baptist church, and even a speakeasy.
In 1932, John Hockman and William W. Warrick opened The Rustic Tavern at the location and added a log-cabin façade. Their pub was so popular it survived the Great Depression.
To this day, one of the ghosts thought to linger there has been nicknamed “John” after this original owner.
It wouldn’t be until 1990s, however, that the street front took its familiar shape.
The Rustic Tavern had moved next door, and the Colonial Inn took its place. A group of five investors purchased the Colonial Inn in 1985 and re-christened it The Cork Street Tavern.
Over time, they bought out and remodeled the two adjacent businesses and established the Cork Street Tavern as it exists today.
Despite extensive remodeling and additions (or perhaps, because of it) it quickly became clear that something from the past remained.
When you are lying in bed at one o’clock in the morning, and all of a sudden all the lights in the building suddenly turn on, you kind of freak out.Joel Smith
Items moved by unseen hands, disembodied voices, and an unnerving feeling in the basement are just a few of the strange phenomenon reported by patrons and staff.
The presence of an unknown woman, nicknamed “Emily”, has been seen and felt around the tavern.
Most of the eerie encounters have been experienced by women.
Waitresses have reported feeling ‘tripped’ by something—or someone—when they walk past a certain table.
Others found themselves locked in the women’s restroom or unable to open the door like something was pressed against it.
According to Joel Smith, a previous co-owner who lived in an apartment on the second floor, the ghosts like to re-lite candles that were extinguished for the night, turn on lights, or make loud noises in the kitchen.
“Over the years, I have easily witnessed 150 to 200 different incidents,” he told author Michael J. Varhola. “When you are lying in bed at one o’clock in the morning, and all of a sudden all the lights in the building suddenly turn on, you kind of freak out.”
During a paranormal investigation in 2010, one new employee refused to go down into the basement because she heard stories bodies were buried down there by gangsters during Prohibition.
In the 2000s, the business was divided into two halves, separated by a kitchen. The west half served chiefly as a restaurant, and the east half served chiefly as a bar, which allowed patrons to smoke inside.
On February 11, 2016, a fire of unknown origin swept through an adjacent building and damaged the Cork Street Tavern.
Its restaurant partition recovered quickly, but the bar required extensive renovation and didn’t reopen for over twelve months. Only time will tell if the fire aggravated the tavern’s phantoms or expurged them.