New haunt? Historic Kennett tavern offers food, drinks and a ghost
The latest haunt in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania's downtown area not only exudes an air of dignified history, it is said to be the home of a resident ghost who likes to make her presence known.
Consider this a new restaurant offering small plates, sandwiches, vegan mushroom soup and gluten-free options along with a side of spooky chills.
Letty's Tavern and a liquor store/lounge known as Letty's Bottle Shop is now occupying the landmark site at 201 E. State St. that had been known for almost 45 years as the Kennett Square Inn.
After the inn closed in late December, Jacob Short, Dan Daley and Matt Killion, who operate Saucey’s, a pizzeria in West Chester, Pennsylvania, purchased the 10,239 square foot building on the corner of Broad and State streets.
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The pub and lounge opened April 9 smack dab in the heart of Kennett's Historical District.
While Short said he heard the nearly 190-year-old building known as the John and Susan Love House was haunted even before he and his partners purchased the restaurant, he didn't give it a second thought.
"I didn't really believe," Short said.
Then, after midnight earlier this year, Short, his wife and two business partners were hanging wallpaper and doing other renovations in the location when something happened that made him change his mind.
Short said they heard what sounded like footsteps running around the second floor. Then, they heard it again.
They checked all around, but no one else was in the building.
"We all looked at each other and said 'Is that Letitia? Is that Letitia,' " Short said and speculates they were visited by the ghost that previous owners had told them about who goes by the nickname Letty.
"After we heard it several more times, we were convinced Letty was here," he said.
The partners weren't scared, but excited and decided to name the pub after the friendly ghost.
Short said unexplained footsteps and running sounds are still heard inside the restaurant, usually after 11 p.m.
"She seems to be a night owl," he said.
The ghost, for those who believe, and according to local folk lore, is supposedly a precocious child named after Letitia Penn, the daughter of Pennsylvania's Quaker founder William Penn.
William Penn owned large areas of land in the region, including the colony of Pennsylvania, which were granted to him by King Charles II of England. Being a large landowner, however, did not make Penn a rich man. Penn, later in life, was imprisoned for debt in England and died penniless, according to ushistory.org.
Letitia Penn, William Penn's only living daughter, came to America with her father from England in 1699. By 1701, she was the original owner of the entire area where Hockessin now stands. She lived in Pennsylvania for a few years– a street in Philadelphia is named after her – before also returning to England.
While the child ghost of Letitia Penn makes for a good story, it is likely apocryphal.
Letitia died in 1745 at age 67 in England. By then, she hadn't stepped foot in Pennsylvania in more than 40 years and was never inside the Kennett Square building. The structure housing the tavern that now bears her name wasn't built until about 1832, or 87 years after her death.
So, perhaps, another ghost is haunting Letty's?
Or, maybe, as Short jokes, the ghost really is Letitia Penn.
"She liked the area so much, she came back [from England]," he said, coyly.
Stories of ghosts supposedly haunting local restaurants are not uncommon in the Chester/Delaware County region which is steeped in colonial history.
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For years, the former Chadds Ford Inn, an 18th century landmark now home to Brandywine Prime steakhouse at U.S. 1 and Pennsylvania Route 100, was said to be haunted by two ghosts known as Katie and Simon.
But when restaurateurs Dan Butler and Mike Majewski took over the location in 2007, they chalked up the "ghosts" to phantom vision.
"Nothing," Majewski told The News Journal when asked if he encountered any apparitions. "I haven't seen anything."
Still, in Kennett Square, the legacy of Letty's Tavern is rich with or without a resident wraith.
The site was once a popular watering hole until 1927, when, due to Prohibition, it became known as The Green Gate Tea Room.
Short said "tea room" was really code for "wet bar" and alcohol was still served there surreptitiously.
When Prohibition was repealed six years later, the building became The Green Gate Tavern.
During the Bicentennial, the tavern underwent significant restorations and reemerged in the late 1970s as the Kennett Square Inn, a homage to colonial history with American and Continental cuisine.
The building has been such a significant part of downtown Kennett, the site has been included on a historic walking tour.
Short said he and his partners Daley and Killion, who met and worked together in California restaurants, had been hunting to expand their growing restaurant group beyond West Chester.
When they heard the Kennett Square Inn would soon be available, Short said they jumped at the chance to put their own spin on the historic location.
Aesthetic changes to dining room including painting walls a soft gray and the crown molding charcoal and adding black matte and bronze wall scones for a blend of industrial and traditional design. Seating is available for 62 diners and the patio facing State Street has four tables.
The wooden floors and bar have been sanded and buffed.
Ties to the building's history remain. A vintage phone booth is tucked in a corner of the bar area and an even older crank phone still hangs on the wall near the entrance of the restrooms.
The bottle shop below the dining room, which has a separate entrance, has been gutted and remodeled with a 1970s basement lounge vibe, Short said.
It has tables and chairs, a vintage refrigerator and an old cigarette machine (not working) that came with the building.
Customers at the bottle shop can order a glass of wine or beer and get some of the same small plates offered in the tavern or purchase local craft beers and California, Italian and French wines to take home. Plans are in the works to host chef's table dinners in the shop.
The tavern fare, made by chef/partner Dan Daley, is a blend of West Coast-inspired flavors and local ingredients. Daley is serving a variety of dishes including vegan and gluten-free options.
"We want to have something for everyone. We are in such a cool place to do it," Daley said.
Dishes include 12-inch pizzas ($15-$16), mushroom toasts with whipped ricotta; duxelles and crispy sage ($8); savory beignets with Gruyere cheese ($2 each); a vegan mushroom soup ($8) with chive oil; Korean fried chicken ($14); hanger steak with housemade zhoug and smashed potatoes ($28), and scallops ($28) with asparagus and dashi beurre blanc. Short's wife Jaclyn bakes all the bread and makes the restaurant's pastries.
Short said the reception from the public so far has been good and he is anticipating an even better summer, especially as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease.
Oh, and if you still don't believe the ghost of Letty is the building, Short said, it is possible to catch a glimpse of her.
Stand across the street from the front of the restaurant on East State Street, he said, and look up at the second window from the left.
Short said you might see something unexpected peering out at you. Boo.
Hours right now at Letty's Tavern, are 5 to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. After May 1, they plan to open for lunch at 11:30 a.m. Letty’s Bottle Shop is open daily from 1 to 9 p.m. Visit lettystavern.com