Inside Harold's Haunt: the queer, witchy ‘they bar’ of Millvale, Pa.
Don't call Harold's Haunt a gay bar. Or a lesbian bar. The queer, Wiccan-owned watering hole bills itself as a "they bar," a nod to its inclusive mission.
“We talked about being a lesbian bar, because there are none in Pittsburgh,” owner Athena Flint told PA Local. “But that didn’t quite fit. I’m queer, not a lesbian, and my sibling is trans nonbinary. It’s important to me that the trans nonbinary community has lots of safe spaces, especially during this weird, chaotic time.”
With its lavender walls, vegan-friendly bar food, witchy entertainment on TV screens, and a cocktail menu that includes sober offerings, Harold’s is carving out a distinct and welcoming niche in the Pittsburgh area and beyond. So far, Flint hasn’t heard of another they bar. “So maybe it will be the beginning of something,” she said. “Who knows?”
It may only be a year old, but Harold's already feels like a cozy classic neighborhood spot. With its pop culture-themed menu items (this season's mocktails include the "Yippee-Ki-Yay Minty Frother," a Die Hard hat tip), faux-bookshelf bathroom doors, and weekly watch parties and trivia nights, it's got major cool-librarian vibes. The bar’s name channels Millvale’s eerie history and Flint’s love of Hal Ashby’s 1971 cult classic Harold and Maude.
Flint, who’s 36 and grew up in Pittsburgh suburb South Hills, has done a lot of research on the Millvale area, some of which is on display at the bar. “This area used to be the Allegheny Poor Farm,” one sign explains. “It was where the city sent all the undesirables. Destitute. Ill. And old.” The former poorhouse, Flint told Spotlight PA, is only about a block and a half from Harold’s. “This whole place is very, very haunted,” she said of the area.
The name also references a ghost that Flint says spooks her other Millvale property, the Wiccan and queer bookshop Maude’s Paperwing Gallery (also named after the Ashby film). When Flint opened the store three years ago, she and her associates sensed a presence in the back hallway, Flint says. Several medium visits and seances confirmed their suspicions, revealing a very grouchy 60-something who is stuck in a “time loop,” Flint told PA Local. They dubbed him Harold.
The specter, Flint says, isn’t a friendly ghost. “He has killed a number of our electronics,” she noted. In fact, he’s decidedly unfriendly: “He’s sexist, racist, homophobic, the whole works. He also hates Irish people. There’s currently an Irish flag back there, because Mara, the second in command here, is Irish with a capital I. She loves to taunt him.”
Perhaps to Harold’s chagrin, the bar that bears his name has a history of progressivism. In a past life, it was Howard’s Pub, Flint said. And “the people who used to own the bar, their daughter is a lesbian, and she’s the person who kicked off Pride Millvale, which started three years ago. She took it upon herself to go to every business and encourage them to hang a Pride flag.”
When Howard’s closed, Flint feared the neighborhood would lose a lifeline. “I was worried that some corporate moneybags was going to come in … then we wouldn’t have one of the very few queer safe spaces in Millvale bars,” she said. “It really felt like there was so much forward momentum happening, and I didn't want to see it backslide.”
They soon learned that the former Howard’s is also haunted, apparently by spirits less curmudgeonly than Harold. Flint’s friend Ringa Sunn, who’s been decorating the interior bathroom walls with pages of old books, has had the most brushes there with the supernatural, usually while working after hours. “The first time, they heard a voice and felt someone standing behind them, and assumed it was the contractors coming in to do work — and then turned around and no one was there,” Flint said.
Flint also got some spooky assistance at a crucial moment, noting an incident where unexpected flashing lights helped prevent a disaster.
She and friends were hanging outside the darkened bar when the flickering began. “So we came back to look — I actually have a video of this on TikTok — and as I was videoing they turned off again,” Flint said.
“But what we saw was that someone had put a cooler on the bar top and it had started leaking directly over an outlet. And the motion-detecting light inside had turned on somehow just in time for us to see it — which is the only way we realized there was this massive leak happening that could have ruined the bartop, or caused a fire.” They’ve theorized it was a previous owner, “just looking out for the bar.”
Flint and her coven of colleagues co-hosted a gathering on the winter solstice, Dec. 21, at New Sun Rising, a service organization that helps small businesses in the area. The solstice is an important Wiccan holiday, and Flint looked forward to seeing neighbors and friends. “It’s going to be an open-to-everyone potluck type gathering, and I’m going to help people make their own spell jars,” Flint said ahead of the event. “One of our local musicians is going to play. And as part of the ritual, we’re going to bless the space for them.”
In January, Maude’s will close due to the loss of its lease, but Flint hopes to find another space in Millvale and plans to open an online store in the interim. But Harold’s will continue, as will, presumably, its supernatural activity. “Before all of this, I would have said that I’m not a believer,” Flint said. But now she’s seen the light, and “it’s been told to me by enough different mediums that I’m like, OK, I guess the veil is thin here!”
Despite Harold’s off-putting personality, Flint says she plans to reach out to him when they leave Maude’s current locale. “I think I’m at the point where I will invite him if we have a new space,” she says. “But he’s not going to go to the bar, because we already have a set of spirits down there.”
90.5 WESA partners with Spotlight PA, a collaborative, reader-funded newsroom producing accountability journalism for all of Pennsylvania. More at spotlightpa.org.