Is Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub Haunted?

Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub

The original owner of this historic Wisconsin bitters bar is said to still keep tabs on it in spirit

Paranormal Activity at
Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub

  • Strange feelings are felt throughout the bar
  • Doors are reportedly closed by unseen forces
  • Disembodied footsteps have been heard
  • Women sometimes feeling a cold breath on their necks from an unseen entity while at the bar
  • The specter of a former owner is said to appear in the women’s restroom
  • Radios in the pub reportedly change stations with no known cause

Unique History of Nelsen’s Hall

On scenic Washington Island in Door County, Wisconsin, there is a bar unlike any other. While it may look ordinary at first, Nelsen’s Hall & Bitters Pub stands out from the long list of Wisconsin pubs – and more.

Nelsen’s has been open since 1899, and has developed a truly unique tradition of serving shots of pure bitters.

But the bar is good for more than a dose of bitters. Some call it the most haunted pub in Wisconsin, purportedly haunted by its namesake: Tom Nelsen.

Timeline of Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Nelsen’s Hall Bitters Pub through the years


In the late 1800s, Washington Island, like the rest of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, was a swiftly growing area. Between 1870 and 1900, the region’s population swelled from just under 5,000 to over 17,500. In this influx of settlers came Tom Nelsen, an immigrant from Denmark.

In 1899, Nelsen hoped to bring a lively community center to Washington Island, and opened Nelsen’s Hall that year. Opened as a dance hall, Nelsen’s was a swift success. Shortly after, Nelsen’s added a bar, and became the island’s preferred watering hole.


Nelsen’s Hall saw such great success that, when Prohibition became law in 1920, Tom Nelsen had no interest in shutting down. Nelsen instead filed for a medicinal alcohol sales permit, and started selling doses of pure Angostura bitters, a 90-proof shot. A popular story tells of a time when Nelsen was arrested for selling alcohol.

In court, Tom reportedly pulled a bottle of bitters from his pocket and poured a shot for the judge. The judge, reviled by the taste, reinstated his medicinal license immediately.


Through Prohibition, Nelsen’s became well-known for its bitters sales. It wasn’t long before the two became synonymous. So, when 1933 rolled around and Prohibition came to an end, Nelsen’s kept on selling shots of bitters. In no time, a full-fledged local tradition had been born.

By the mid 20th century, a Bitters Club had formed around Nelsen’s Hall. The Club simply began dispensing paper membership cards to anyone who downed a shot of bitters there and became an immediate success.


In 1960, Tom Nelsen died at age 90, after years of supposedly drinking a pint of his famous bitters every day. Despite the loss of its namesake, Nelsen’s Hall continued to prosper and still serves its bitters to Washington Island visitors today.

The Bitters Club is also continually popular, with 10,000 new people joining each year. In recent years, Nelsen’s has gained a new reputation as Washington Island’s haunted pub – Tom Nelsen lingering at the bar in spirit.

Is Tom Nelsen
Haunting His Bar?

Tom Nelsen spent many years running his Washington Island pub, and even died in an upstairs room in 1960, so perhaps his ghost shouldn’t be too surprising.

According to reports, Tom’s ghost likes to cause a little bit of mischief here and there, but never anything more than that. In life, Tom Nelsen reportedly thought of himself as a ladies man, and apparently his spirit thinks similarly.

Ghostly Breezes at the Bar

Women who visit Nelsen’s Hall are most often the recipients of Tom’s hauntings. Women who sit at the bar sometimes report the sensation of a cold breeze brushing across the back of their necks.

Those who have felt it say it feels like ice cold hands gently drifting across their skin. Of course, there’s never anyone behind them when they turn around.

Nelsen’s Wandering Phantom

Tom’s phantom does make himself visible at times, most often around the women’s restroom. One notable report says Tom’s ghost is known for appearing suddenly to startle women who enter the Hall’s bathroom.

Other reports say the apparition in the Nelsen Hall bathroom is that of an old woman and not Tom Nelsen. No matter who the ghost resembles, it seems you’re likely to spot them around the women’s bathroom.

Stomping Spirits & Shifting Stations

Many other reports of paranormal activity around Nelsen’s Hall are also pinned on Tom. Phantom footsteps are heard around the pub at quiet times, and doors have reportedly been closed by unseen forces. It’s as if Tom is going around shutting them.

Some workers have also reported strange and unexplainable feelings around the pub, like Tom is watching them work. Tom’s specter is also known for changing radio stations playing in the bar, often switching to his old favorite genres.

Nelsen’s Hall of Hauntings

While plenty of people have had spooky encounters at Nelsen’s over the years, most know the hall’s haunts as friendly. The ghost stories have undoubtedly added to the culture of both Nelsen’s Hall and Washington Island over the years.

Many visitors now pack the ferries to the island just hoping to have a ghostly experience at Nelsen’s. And plenty of them join the Bitters Club while they’re there as well.

After all, Nelsen’s Hall may be the best place around to taste the spirits, and encounter the ghosts of Prohibition-era America.