Our community is absolutely devastated by the tragic fire that occurred at John A. Lau’s Saloon on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The 134-year-old building was rich in history and memories. 

John A. Lau Saloon, (also known as “The Lau”) was one of the oldest buildings of historic downtown Alpena. Known for its ghost, Agnes Lau, former wife of the owner John Lau (1892), the restaurant attracted multitudes of people looking to hear stories. Artifacts from 19th century Alpena adorned every inch of the Saloon walls. Many enjoyed a Michigan brew while taking a step back in time.

The Lau was built in 1885 in downtown Alpena. It was originally owned and operated by Irish immigrant Peter Owens. Before it was John A. Lau Saloon, it was a funeral parlor and furniture business where Peter made and sold picture frames along with various other items made of wood.

John A. Lau 1895

Local legends claim that at one point in time, the business temporarily closed during the Prohibition Era, but then re-opened as a soda pop shop, but also sold bootleg liquor. The saloon was permanently shut down once federal officials found out about the illegal alcohol they were selling. Throughout the years, part of the building was used for other purposes such as junk and antique stores.

The Lau Family

John A. Lau, originally from Germany, became the owner of the building in 1892 and named the saloon after himself. In June of 1900, John married his wife, Agnes, in Sacred Heart Church in Detroit. Agnes and her family were also immigrants from Germany. John and Agnes raised their family, living above The Lau in Alpena. Their first child, John A. Jr. was born a year later, followed by his siblings, Alfred (1904), Magdeline (1907), and Agnes (1909). Sadly, baby Agnes passed away at 5 months old due to gastroenteritis.

John’s wife, Agnes, passed away in her late thirties on June 24, 1913. There are several speculations as to the cause of death with the most investigated being that she died of tuberculosis. Other stories claim that she could have died in child birth or in a boating accident near the Saginaw area.

Previous owners and employees of the John A. Lau Saloon have witnessed supernatural activity occurring around the restaurant. They believe the building is haunted by the ghost of Agnes. Employees said that sometimes she will tip their trays over and play pranks in the cellar. Diners have also captured the ghost of Agnes on film. Mid Michigan Paranormal Investigators came to visit the building and launched their own investigation on several occasions with rather interesting results.

John A. Lau interior

Main dining area inside John A. Lau Saloon.

During its time, John A. Lau Saloon was Alpena’s oldest surviving restaurant establishment. A historical building, where locals and tourists gathered to eat, drink, and have a wonderful time. Many tourists came to the Alpena area specifically to step into the beautiful restaurant, have a steak dinner, and try to catch a glimpse of Agnes. We will always remember the memories.


Featured photo by: Kingsli Kraft