It’s 5:45 p.m. on a Sunday and we’ve made a terrible mistake.
We’re in a parking lot on Lower Broadway, somewhere between the riverfront and a Joe’s Crab Shack that looks like it was irradiated with jauntiness. Consigned to the shameful act of paying for parking, we’re mere moments away from forking over $10 for a parking ticket when we hear someone shout “Stop! Don’t do that!” from across the street. A menacing looking dude marches over to us from across the street, waving his arms, desperate to keep us from swiping our credit card like the machine is armed to blow. When he reaches us, the man produces a fistful of parking passes, offering to sell one to us for $5. Without really knowing what was happening, we give him $3 and a Bongo Java receipt in exchange for a parking ticket set to expire in 30 minutes and he takes off.
That, friends, is how our night on a ghost tour in downtown Nashville started.
Here’s the thing about Nashville: it’s crazy haunted. Like, ridiculously haunted. Or at least that’s the impression we get from Nashville Ghost Tours, whose website offers a variety of tours that feature “an interesting blend of historic facts, local legends and true ghost stories.” It also looks a hell of a lot like a Powerpoint presentation we made in the fourth grade on Ghostbusters 2.
We bought our tickets a day in advance (with fear in our hearts of stolen identity) and picked the obvious choice: a “haunted” pub crawl. Was there any doubt? Wehen given a choice between wandering down LoBro with lanterns, riding down it in a hearse, or drowning your sorrows in its truly horrible establishments, we’ll always choose the least mortifying option. And the one with the booze. We were told our tour would start at 6 p.m. at B.B. King’s. Great.
B.B. King’s Blues Club is exactly what it sounds like. Sandwiched between the Charlie Daniels museum and Coyote Ugly, B.B. King’s offers chicken fingers and bad Eric Clapton covers seven nights a week. Thank god that when we approached the hostess and uttered the phrase “We’re, uh, here for the ghost tour?” she knew what we were talking about. Can you imagine having to explain to a total stranger that you spent $30 on a ghost tour that’s supposed to start at a chain blues club? That’s what we’re doing right now (in blog form) and we can say, we don’t feel too good about it.
We’re led to the back, past a “section closed” sign and into a room with a couple of chandeliers. The only other people there are two older women, probably in their 50s. They will not drink a single drop (as far as we could tell) of alcohol the entire night. This is about when panic starts to set in: are we going to be the only ones on the ghost tour? Why does BB Kings have a special ghost tour room? Are we going to have to — gulp — participate?!
Thankfully, a string of people come in. In total, there are 12 of us, plus our tour guide Rob.
Let’s talk about Rob for a minute. We like Rob. Our tour guide is a charismatic older fellow who sounds like he’s been doing this for the better part of a century. More importantly, Rob is clearly in on the joke. The very concept of a ghost tavern tour is absurd and he sells his stories with a kind of attitude that says “I know this is bullshit, you know this is bullshit, but let’s try to have fun anyway.” Except he probably wouldn’t use the word “bullshit.”
Anyway. Rob tells us some ghosty dad jokes before splitting us into teams of four for the trivia contest. Our goal is to score the most points in three rounds in order to win shot glasses. You get one point per correctly answered question and, god damnit, we want those shot glasses! We’re paired up with a nice couple from Chicago, only in town for the weekend, and settle on the name “Aretha Frankenstein,” after a restaurant one of us went to in Chattanooga once. The first round goes poorly, with us getting shut out by “Suck It Trebek” and “Orbs.” Also, we didn’t order drinks because we weren’t sure if they were covered in the cost of the ticket (they were not). That was a critical mistake: always order drinks.
Rob takes us on a tour of the haunted portions of BB King’s, including the hallway leading toward the ladies’ restroom. A member of our trivia team captures an “orb” (read: lens flare [spooky!]) on her digital camera and the other people in B.B. King’s probably think we’re creeps for taking pictures of a bathroom door. We’re also led into the basement — which is really just a horrible faux dive bar called the “Rock Bar” and told about a haunted toilet or something. We’d come to discover that ghosts love to haunt the shit out of bathrooms, as there as a “haunted toilet” story in every bar.
Content with our spookification at the hands of the poltergeist inhabiting a cheap Behringer guitar amp in the Rock Bar, our tour guide rounds us up for the next spot, which he describes as being “next door.” Oh, shit. Next door? Like, Coyote Ugly next door? Did somebody slip and die while showboating on the bar in a wet t-shirt contest?
We should be so lucky! As it turns out, we’re being led to the top floor of the club sandwich of horrible bars: Buffalo Billiards. We spend $12 on a Guinness and a Dos Perros and take a seat on a couch in the back with the rest of Team Aretha Frankenstein. There, we get approximately four seconds of ghost stories (including a joke about the random picture of a sea captain hanging by one of the pool tables) before jumping back into the trivia contest. We come back with a vengeance, naming every damn horror movie that Rob could synopsize at us: The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, EVERYTHING. Thanks to the points we steal from another team, we go for 0 to 5 like the bosses we are.
Since Buffalo Billiards in only haunted by d-bags playing pool, we linger a bit before making our exit, but not before hearing the possible utterance of the words “Past” and “Perfect.” Oh, man. Can’t we just go to Graham Central Station? Surely there’s a vengeful spirit who ODed on uppers, right? No? You’re no fun, Rob.
As we strolled down Second Avenue with our tourist comrades, we were presented with a metric shit-ton of half-assed ghost stories, including (but not limited to): the haunted pots and pans of some karaoke bar, the haunted Hard Rock Cafe gift shop, the haunted stairs of a different karaoke bar, and of course, the haunted bathroom of Merchants. Moral of the story, guys: stay away from bathrooms and karaoke bars.
There were probably more, but we got distracted by a cover band playing “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia across the street and wondering what kind of person earnestly decides to learn how to play a Natalie Imbruglia song from 13 years ago to play in a bar on Second Avenue.
Rob takes us on a winding path toward Past Perfect, telling us stuff about Jesse James and prostitutes along the way. The ghostliness of these stories is tangental at best, but anything better than haunted pots and pans. There are a few more orb photo ops, but we’re more impressed by the Elvis statue with the can of Bud Light in one hand. Nice one, tourists.
Past Perfect is the most haunted bar on our trip. And by “most haunted,” we mean “most empty.” Aside from one table where people are eating dinner, the place is deserted. We’re told something or other about a Mexican ghost lady named Maria. And if we weren’t already checked out of this whole experience, we were double checked out when the words “haunted bathroom” appeared again in a story. The fact that there have been no ghosts in Nashville since the 1800s is distressing.
The final round of trivia comes and goes with us snatching victory from the jaws of defeat — thanks to a question about the simulated blood in Psycho. Rob hands us our shot glasses (tastefully adorned with the Haunted Tavern Tour logo) and peaces out immediately. We pay for our beers and do the same, feeling a special kind of relief to discover that our car didn’t have a boot on it. Thanks a bunch, parking ticket hustler.