By Kevin Redding
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood bar, chances are you’re at Katie’s on West Main Street in Smithtown — where ghostly happenings are just as normal as ordering a drink.
The two-floor pub and live music venue, which sits on the grounds of the old Trainor Hotel that burned down in 1909, has long been a hotbed for spooky sightings and experiences according to its staff and patrons. The bar’s high level of spectral activity has even been featured on episodes of popular paranormal shows like Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” A&E’s “Paranormal State” and the Biography Channel’s “My Ghost Story.”
Dominique Maciejka, a former bartender at the establishment, said she had her fair share of brushes with the bar’s spirited regulars.
“I was by myself closing up, the music was off, nobody else was around, and a beer bottle cap went flying from one side of the bar to the other, like, sideways across the room,” Maciejka said, recalling one such freaky occurrence at the end of a night shift in fall 2011.
“I was the only person around so there was no explanation, nothing that could’ve triggered that … other than something supernatural,” she said. “On the way home, I called my mom and asked her to stay on the phone with me.”
She was also working when a soda gun behind the bar seemingly flung out of its holster on its own and dropped to the floor, an incident captured on the bar’s security cameras.
Gary Bates, from Smithtown, said he once saw what he described as “a big, gray, seven-foot tall” figure walk from one end of the bar counter to the other.
Another time, Bates said he was walking in the empty bar and felt the sensation of stepping into a large spider web even though there was no physical one in sight, and was then suddenly poked in the arm.
“There’s definitely something weird going on there,” Bates said of the Smithtown nightspot.
Over the years, folks who frequent Katie’s have reported a wide range of eerie activity: distorted faces taking shape in the bar’s mirrors, hearing voices in empty rooms, feeling like they were being watched by unseen presences, seeing transparent children in the background of selfies and group pictures and having whatever may be haunting the place follow them home.
None of these reported occurrences come as a surprise to Katie’s owner.
“The whole place is active,” said Brian Karppinen, 53, who has owned the bar since 2000. He pointed out that while the bar’s lively upstairs tends to be occupied by mischievous and relatively harmless ghosts, the basement billiards area is where he thinks more sinister ones roam. “Down there is a darker feeling, a heaviness — not as fun. You feel, spiritually, like something is not nice down there.”
Karppinen recalled a night in which a tough biker went downstairs to confront one of the malevolent spirits, stood in what was considered the basement’s most active spot by the pool table and was violently punched in the stomach by an invisible force.
“If he faked it, it would be amazing, but that seemed real,” Karppinen said, making clear he takes a lot of people’s reports with a grain of salt. “He hobbled out of here and I’ve never seen him again.”
While there are a number of theories from various paranormal and psychic groups that have explored the bar hoping to identify the ghosts, Karppinen said little concrete evidence has emerged from such explorations.
Some say the ghosts are past Smithtown residents who may have died in the Trainor Hotel fire, while others are convinced the more evil spirits could be Jinns, a Middle Eastern poltergeist that has purportedly existed before any religion.
However, one of the more mischievous ghosts that has become a sort of celebrity at Katie’s is widely thought to be Charlie Klein, a Prohibition-era bootlegger and part owner of the Smithtown Hotel in the 1920s, which is now Croxley’s Ale House.
According to members of the Smithtown Historical Society, Klein shot himself in his house in 1933 after serving a prison sentence. Klein’s house, Karppinen said, is directly across the street from the bar.
Brad Harris, the historical society’s president, said even though he’s never personally experienced any of the bar’s hauntings, he doesn’t think they’re made up.
“I don’t think it’s a figment of anybody’s imagination as there does seem to be strange occurrences happening there,” Harris said. “We have always had problems trying to explain why Charlie Klein’s ghost would be disturbing the bar, as he didn’t kill himself there, but it’s a strange world.”
Even stranger, Karppinen said, was when members of the Pennsylvania State University “Paranormal State” group were investigating the basement and one of them pointed to the end of the bar and said, “that’s where your ghost died — right there.”
“I said, ‘no he didn’t, he died across the street, he killed himself,’” Karppinen recalled. “And he said, ‘no … I used to be a DJ here in the early ’80s and there was an old timer who used to drink and would fall asleep at the bar. We would wake him up, get him a cab, and we would send him home every night. One night, he didn’t wake up and he died at the bar.’”
Karppinen said weird and unexplainable occurrences have surrounded him all his life and “it really seemed like I was called here.”
It was when the Lake Grove resident was driving to his girlfriend’s house one day, he said, that something told him to go visit his friend, Rich, who owned a struggling bar called Wolfgang’s Pub.
Sure enough, his instincts were right and Rich was in rough shape, depressed that his business was losing money and claiming the place was “cursed.” He asked Karppinen to be his partner and help out. Rich retired from the bar business soon after and Karppinen renamed the place after his grandmother, Katie Dunagan.
Naturally, for Karppinen, it didn’t take long before things got phantasmic.
Once, while jostling with a rotted door at the top of a steep stairwell in the bar, Karppinen lost his balance and felt himself teetering backward when, he said, “I felt two things grab my shoulder blades and upright me. I was like, ‘wow, whoever that is, thank you.’ I got the vibe it might have been my dad or a passed away family member. It was not a spooky vibe at all.”
“I think it’s some kind of a package deal that maybe this place was active and they wanted me here,” Karppinen said, laughing. “[I think] the darker thing attracted me and likes that I never really thrive. There’s times when I’m behind in bills and I’m like ‘I’m selling the place’ and then something comes through and suddenly we have money for bills again. It almost seems like they love the torture, but don’t want me to leave.”
Unless you own a corporate bar, Karppinen said, the bar business is a dying industry, but the ghosts have helped bring traffic to Katie’s.
“People love to talk about it, people know us all over, it has definitely helped,” Karppinen said. “That and our live music. Sometimes people are jerks and they’ll come in drunk from another place, like, ‘I wanna see the ghost!’ and, spiritually, I have no idea what’s going on here … so I try not to let that happen. I don’t want to torture these [dead] people more.”
Asked what he would say to any skeptics out there, Karppinen said, “I would tell them I’m not here to debate you. I don’t believe a lot of the [stuff] people say happened here, but some of it is very hard to explain.”