“Welcome to The Captain Daniel Packer Inne” a local said to us as we sat down at the bar. The unofficial welcome wagon warmed up an old bar in Mystic, Connecticut on a rainy October afternoon. Captain Daniel Packer was a square-rigger captain and purchased the property in 1754 on Water Street on the Mystic River. In the 1700s, the Inne was a necessary stopover for wayfarers traveling between New York and Boston. Capt. Daniel Packer operated a ferry across the river by way of a pulley system (the foundation and hitches for which can still be seen outside of the bar to this day). Travelers would load up their stagecoaches onto the ferry and the pulley system would shuffle them across the river. It seems only fair that dear Daniel would offer his passengers drinks after convincing them to load their horses onto a raft and literally pull them across the river. Don’t worry folks, load up, there will be alcohol at the end. What could possibly go wrong? I’d need a drink after that. Capt. Packer must have been an excellent salesman.
Over the course of two days, we chatted with bartenders about the history and current happenings at the bar. According to our bartender, Water Street used to be the street with the active nightlife, and perhaps, hosts to houses of ill repute. Today, The Captain Daniel Packer Inne (DPI) has been restored to its previous luster by the Kiley family and operated by the family since the late 1970s. You walk into the bar and feel as though you’ve stepped back in time – in a way that gives you a sense that you are having your beer around the same hearth that travelers have had years before you. The bar is constructed around the original foundation and the dining space is centered on a large fireplace with a gun from the 1870s. There is a pillar in the bar that patrons have carved their names into to commemorate a good night. You’re not getting a drink list, but if you ask, you can get their specialty drinks of hot apple cider and whiskey or espresso martinis.
As you’d imagine, when you combine a few drinks and a centuries-old tavern, there are ghost stories. The bartender rustled up a few notebooks full of handwritten ghost stories from guests for us to peruse over a few beers. Most of the tales are about a ghost of a little girl. Our bartender said that her name was Ada and that she died of scarlet fever during the time that Daniel Packer operated the inn. Not that correlation indicates causation, but, the scope of the ghost stories expands or contracts in accordance with the amount of alcohol consumed. For the record, as quarterly visitors to DPI, we have never run into said ghost. One of the most compelling stories was from a guest who writes that she was sitting in the dining room and “had a weird sensation that a little girl was watching me. I kept looking because I knew she was in the stairway. I could see her playing in the stairs…I got the feeling she just wanted to be recognized.” Another guest recounts an equally chilling story:
“Over the course of a half hour…[I could hear upstairs] tables moving, chairs sliding, plates dropping. After 10 minutes of this noise and chaos, I asked the bartender if there was a banquet upstairs. Her response was “no, we are closed upstairs.” I asked her what the noise was. She blankly stared and said “it happens sometimes” I went upstairs to examine…I found a dark, still, and quiet dining room. No tables moving, no chairs sliding, and no plates dropping.”
DPI is a staple for us in Mystic, CT. We’ve gone here for years and have long had it in our sights as the first bar we wanted to visit after getting the bright idea to write about old bars. It is a place that hosts all walks of life and allows you to take part in history for an evening. There is live music every night the showcases 2-3 piece bands, which is a rather quizzical undertaking if you’ve ever been inside the bar. The corner for the bands would give hipster tiny houses a run for their money. Sundays are Reggae night; Thursdays jazz night; other nights, everything in between. On cold nights New England in the seaside town, the fireplace will be roaring and the tables cleared away to make room for musicians in roughly 500 sq. ft. When conversation lulls, you’ll find yourself pausing for a moment, glancing around the small room with its stone foundation, posts, and beams, and picture sailors trading tales from their time at sea. If you have enough cocktails, you may even run across a few ghosts or anything else you could imagine. As the bartenders say, “it happens sometimes.”
Big thank you to Allie, Shawn, and Paige for their willingness to be interviewed. We appreciated their openness and hospitality!