Learn More About This Historical and Haunted Bar
Fans of the strange and paranormal converge with line dance-loving country music fans at this supposedly haunted and historically famous honky tonk bar in Wilder, KY. Bobby Mackey’s is a spectacle, and it can be found Only in NKY.
I’ve driven past Bobby Mackey’s nightclub hundreds of times. I knew the stories and was familiar with the countless reality-show hosts that have visited the supposedly haunted bar. I was also very familiar with the full-to-the-brim parking lot and line out the door on weekends. But for the first time in my 28 years of living in Northern Kentucky, I finally got to visit the honkytonk bar with a spooky reputation. It was a Friday night and my fiancé, and I pulled into the gravel parking lot and headed for the front doors.
The building is old and unassuming, originally constructed in the 1850s as a slaughterhouse and meatpacking factory. It’s wrapped in sandstone siding and the only visible windows are on the second story where the apartment and offices are located. The double doors that lead into the nightclub are tattered, but welcome visitors into a brightly lit vestibule with a foreboding sign that reads: WARNING TO OUR PATRONS: This establishment is reported to be Haunted. Management is NOT responsible and cannot be held liable for any actions of any Ghosts/Spirits on these premises.
If you’ve seen any of the paranormal shows that have visited Bobby Mackey’s over the last decade, you may notice that the hand-painted sign that used to share this warning is gone. It was stolen—along with the original WELCOME TO BOBBY MACKEY’S rug—by some overzealous fans; a true testament to people’s infatuation with this establishment. Luckily, these petty crimes are a far cry from the much darker history of mobsters, gamblers, and bootleggers that once made their home at the casinos and nightclubs that predated Bobby Mackey’s Music World.
A Storied Past
Newport, KY used to encompass the city of Wilder and was the original “Sin City’ long before Las Vegas was lit by traffic lights and neon signs. In the 1920s Newport was declared an independent municipality, exempting it from state and federal control. Casinos like the Flamingo, the Tropicana, and the Jockey Club popped up everywhere. Bootleggers and mobsters ran the city. Bobby Mackey’s, then known as the Primrose Club and later as the Latin Quarter, served as a speakeasy and gambling den.
During our visit, we were shown a hidden button that associates would use to alert their bosses that trouble had entered the building, providing just enough time to hide any illegal activities before law enforcement (or worse) entered the upstairs apartments. On the ghost tour, which happens hourly on Fridays and Saturdays and costs $10, we were shown the basement with its stairway to nowhere and a well that were both used to make transporting bootlegged liquor easier. The basement also had a jail cell for holding those who weren’t able to pay their debts to the club above.
Is It Haunted
The urban legends surrounding Bobby Mackey’s make it the perfect setting for ghost stories and haunting tales, with some claiming it to be the most haunted bar in the country.
Many of the legends are rooted in true stories. There’s the fatal car accident that happened right in front of the club. First responder Larry Hornsby arrived on the scene and as he surveyed the wreckage, a woman dressed in a gown brought him tablecloths from inside the club to cover the bodies. Hornsby later returned to the club to thank the woman, only to learn that the doors had been locked the day of the accident, and no woman worked there matching his description.
Then there’s the building’s possible connection to the tragic story of Pearl Bryan, the alleged occult rituals, and the “portal to hell” in the basement. There have been stories of dancing ghostly women, strange shadows, full-bodied apparitions, disembodied voices, and more. You can determine for yourself which stories to believe. Regardless of whether or not the hauntings are true, the atmosphere at the club feels full of mystery and allure.
Bobby Mackey's Today
Today, Bobby Mackey’s is a beloved staple in Northern Kentucky. Open just two days a week, the nightclub gets packed with line-dancing couples, college students, curious ghost hunters, country music lovers, and regular clientele with their names plastered on reserved tables and chairs. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air, a mechanical bull whirs in the back room, and the sound of cowboy boots stomp to the beat of live music. The lights are low, the stage is always set, and the walls are hung with newspaper clippings and old vinyl record sleeves.
Bobby Mackey himself plays nightly with his band at 10:00 PM, crooning rockabilly tunes, country classics and originals. He doesn’t believe in the ghost stories and says he’s never experienced any paranormal activity, but he appreciates the extra business the spirits bring in. “Come for the ghosts and stay for the music,” is the mantra of the space.
The convergence of music, history, and the unexplained fosters an environment unlike any other at Bobby Mackey’s. When the space comes to life, visitors are sure to make new memories and new friends and leave with a sense of nostalgia and an appreciation for experiences you can find only in NKY.
If you have enjoyed this article, please check out our blog page "The Kitchen Table" for additional "Only in NKY" articles featuring our Purple People Bridge, a magic shop, vintage toy store and circus themed brewery.