My best friend and I went out last night to a small pub I had wanted to visit for a long time. It’s classic, cozy, and even haunted! The Red Lion Pub in Lincoln Park is full of Chicago history and is a must-see for history buffs and ghost-seekers.
There are several bars that line Lincoln Avenue in the neighborhood but you can’t miss the bright white sign with the red lion figure. The wood and brick building was originally built in 1882, and at the time it was on the northern edge of the city, surrounded by countryside and farms. The Lincoln Park neighborhood developed around the building, and in the 1920s and ’30s, the area became a popular hangout for Chicago’s infamous mobsters. In fact, the Red Lion sits right across the street from the Biograph Theatre, where John Dillinger was betrayed by the “Lady in Red” and shot by FBI agents in a nearby alley.
My companion and I stepped through the old wooden door and, in an instant, were transported “across the pond.” The “Red Lion” is the second most common name for pubs in England, so it only makes sense that this Chicago location is true to its English roots. The front area bears a fireplace with model ships on the mantel and bench seating near the front windows for prime people-watching. Past this, we headed for the dark wooden bar that runs along the south side of the tight space that surprisingly never got uncomfortably crowded, despite it being a Friday night. We ordered a couple of pints (Old Speckled Hen), and I looked around from my seat, taking in my surroundings.
The space was decorated with old English brewery ads, signs and maps of the Tube, pound notes, and I heard there’s even an old red phone booth in the dining area. The atmosphere was friendly and inviting, and even patrons who arrived alone soon found a fellow customer or a pleasant bartender to chat with. No, there was certainly nothing scary about this place’ so what’s all this talk about ghosts?
Across from the bar is a carpeted staircase that leads up to another bar and a candle-lit dining area. Over the stairway, the original owner of the pub (John Cordwell) installed a stained-glass window with a memorial plaque beneath it, in order to honor his father who was buried in England without a headstone on his grave. It wasn’t long before people passing by the window would suddenly feel dizzy, many claiming to feel “something” nearby. Cordwell was convinced it was the spirit of his father, who never received a proper burial.
But Papa Cordwell isn’t the only spirit said to call the Red Lion home. A scruffy cowboy has visited the main bar on occasion, calling people by their first name before quickly disappearing. A young mentally handicapped woman passed away in the building in the 1950s and was known for the lavender perfume she liked to wear, a scent that still can be detected from time to time today. A dark-haired lady dressed in 1920s clothing is also a frequent visitor, but it is uncertain which of these women the prankster is. Many women have found themselves stuck inside the washroom on the second floor, an invisible force pushing from the outside. A number of patrons have felt a push from behind while on the stairs; “someone” pushed current owner Colin Cordwell so hard, he fell down the stairs and ended up in the hospital. Colin has also heard furniture being moved around on the second floor while he is alone in the building.
So, with all this paranormal activity, I’m sure you’re wondering if I experienced anything during my visit. Honestly, not really. The only questionable event was when a few wine bottles fell off their shelf without any provocation. However, it is an old building, and sometimes things settle and shift. It wasn’t so out of the ordinary that, had I not known about the pub’s other-worldly visitors, I would have even given it a second thought.