Red Onion Saloon & Brothel Museum – Skagway, Alaska
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Near the northern end of the Alaska Panhandle is the charming Southeast town of Skagway, home to the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum. The Red Onion Saloon was built in 1897 and opened for business in 1898. This historic landmark was once known as the finest bordello in Skagway during the famous Klondike Gold Rush. The original structure of the old “cathouse” still remains today, but times have since changed. The purpose of the operation is now of a different kind, though it harkens to its initial roots. Each summer, visitors from far and wide flock to this seasonal hot spot to enjoy the old-fashioned gold rush charm that can be found throughout the restaurant, bar, and museum. As irrefutable rumors circulate that the Red Onion Saloon is haunted, many choose to take it upon themselves to investigate the on-site paranormal activity as they tour this iconic attraction.
As summertime approaches, Skagway’s year-round population of approximately a thousand residents nearly doubles in size in order to support over 900,000 visitors that flock to the area.
Skagway can be reached by the South Klondike Highway from Canada. But many also access the area via airplane, railroad, or boat.
Conveniently located right in town on the corner of 2nd and Broadway, the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions.
Before touring the brothel museum, fuel up on delicious food and creative cocktails in the restaurant.
Visitors love the vibrant old-fashioned atmosphere and the lively waitress entertainment from the local “good time girls” (and gents).
It’s all fun and games until you get a taste of the paranormal activity. After enjoying the great service, head up the creaky staircase and to the main attraction—the brothel museum.
You’ll wind through narrow hallways lined with wallpaper and gaudy decorations that’ll take you back to end of the 19th century. Talk about a blast from the past!
Paintings on the wall represent the madams that used to work at the brothel.
The museum is filled with antiques and relics that are remaining local adornments from the gold rush. Where the light shines in the dark behind the old gowns, a ghost is said to frequently appear. It has been reported that the light will start flickering out of nowhere, and will sporadically sway back and forth. Is it an earthquake, electrical issue, or haunted brothel museum?
The madam spirit dressed in white, known as Lydia, has been known to make spooky appearances as she peeps in to investigate the modern-day brothel museum.
It is said that the brothel used the “doll system,” which means that there was a doll at the bar that represented each of the girls upstairs. A patron would choose a doll in order to determine who they would spend time with.
If a girl was busy her corresponding doll would be placed on its back by the bartender. When her customer returned downstairs this would indicate that the girl was available again and the bartender would stand her doll back up.
Don’t leave without stopping to enjoy the educational literature along the way. You’ll be sure to learn a thing or two (aka a very interesting yet slightly provocative history lesson). “A different kind of gold digger” is a read that you just don’t see everyday!
After you leave this historic saloon and brothel museum, the (slightly creepy) manikin gals will still be staring out at you through the window upstairs as you walk away in amazement.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out these 13 quirky Alaska roadside attractions that’ll make you do a double take. You’ll also enjoy this remarkably rare story of Alaska’s whimsical Goose Creek Tower. Be sure to also check out these 17 jaw-dropping Alaska airport runways that will have you on the edge of your seat.