“Listen to them. The children of the night. What music they make!” – Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula to Dwight Frye as Renfield in response to the howling wolves outside the Castle Dracula from the 1931 horror classic, Dracula.
The Ultimate Vampire Weekend:” Now that’s a neat little package that could put some bite back into any marriage that seemingly has lost its zing: A carriage ride to the haunted sites of the French Quarter begins the evening, while sipping a nice blood-red cabernet sauvignon and listening to ghost stories; then a windowless room at a swanky French Quarter hotel; a séance; party all night; and in bed before sun-up (mandatory, of course); custom-made fangs for the mister and the missus … and so it goes. Two days and two nights that would be the envy of any bloodsucker from Romania. All for only $3,000.
Sound like something you’d like to sink your teeth into?
“Where else but New Orleans,” says Marita Jaeger, the 6-foot-tall “Queen of New Orleans Vampires,” whose Boutique du Vampyre is fast becoming the Macy’s of all things netherworld. The destination stocks vampire dolls, things with which to cast spells to vampire detectors, bat salt and pepper shakers, Vamp N.R.G. – the “energy drink for when the sun goes down” – as well as posters and books covering all things vampire, including “Demons forced Mark David Chapman to Kill John Lennon.”
“We even have our own line of condiments,” Jaeger says. “A hot sauce made in Transylvania, La. Here! Have a ‘love bite,’ they’re peppermint.”
When Jaeger, a native of Munich who landed in New Orleans eight years ago on Halloween isn’t tending to her vampire emporium on Orleans Avenue behind St. Louis Cathedral, she’s the manager of Johnny White’s Sports Bar on the other end of the block.
“I’m either at the bar or I’m here at the vampire boutique,” says Jaeger. “I work at the bar because it’s fun. I love that place. I love the people who come in there. None of this is really work.”
If splitting time between operating a sports bar and running a boutique for ghoul wannabes sounds like it has the making of a hippie’s bad trip, think again. Before coming to New Orleans, Marita Jaeger was much in demand as a corporate marketing whiz in Los Angeles for Coldwell Banker for five years before she was lured away to become president of marketing for Home Savings of America. Next, she was director of marketing for a giant conglomeration of corporations that manufactured products for international distribution.
“I came here to New Orleans on business a lot,” says Jaeger. “Every time I left my heart just sank. I knew it was just a matter of time. Finally, I got a little apartment on Royal Street just so I wouldn’t feel so sad when I left. I’d feel like New Orleans was really my home. But that didn’t work. I ended up selling my house over the phone and I went and got my dogs, said goodbye to the corporate world and here I am. I decided I was going to work in the music industry.
I created a CD called Blues 2002 that had on it six bands that all played on Bourbon Street. Each band gave me two of their original songs … then I put a little map inside the CDs that made it a treasure hunt. It really caught on. NPR (National Public Radio) picked up on it. It really went over big. From that I emceed a mini blues fest. That was a success also.”
Jaeger also picked up a marketing gig for Vampire Wines, which from the Web site she figured was a product of Romania or some tiny burg in the Carpathian Mountains. Turns out the wine was a product of a man in Beverly Hills.
Jaeger approached the man, and what started out as a job marketing the wines in New Orleans turned into an international campaign. It was a natural progression from Vampire Wines to a vampire boutique. One of her marketing brainstorms that pushed Vampire Wines from the edge of oddity into the mainstream was a vampire party on Halloween called ‘Endless Night.’
“It turned out to be great,” says Jaeger.
“I’ll tell you what, though, I was really tested when I first got to New Orleans. It was during Endless Night. I had no furniture and only one suitcase and a sleeping bag. My landlord forgot to turn on the electricity so I had to shower in the dark, in the freezing cold. After [Endless] Night I asked this man who was helping me who had left early if he could take some of my stuff with him so I didn’t have to carry so much home. Well, he took my keys with him too. I had no way to get through the gate. I went over to the Clover Grill and ate and sat there drinking coffee until around 5 in the morning. Then I went over to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and hung out with some people there until around 7, when I could get somebody up to let me into my apartment. Welcome to New Orleans!”
But that was then and this is now. Though every now and again, some off-the-wall Gothic character with shoe polish black hair and a face full of piercing and iron will come in wanting to sleep in a casket “the way the Master did,” Jaeger is quick to point out that she doesn’t take any of this seriously.
“The gargoyles, the charms, the candles, the costumes and fangs – it’s all in fun,” she says. “Mostly everything here is done by local artists and the visitors and tourists like that. They see a little bat made of stained glass by a local artist.
They love that. They don’t want to come to New Orleans and look on the bottom of a souvenir or something that catches their eye and see, ‘Made in Japan.’ People come to New Orleans for the romance and the mystery and the offbeat. That’s what we have here. The haunted. The unusual. This is pure romance. The stuff of which Anne Rice novels are written. Still, every now and again, we get somebody in here …”
Jaeger takes a purposely faded and aged photo of herself, her boyfriend and her first employee down off a shelf. The photo is labeled “Boutique du Vampyre, established 1803.” She breaks into a chuckle.
“A woman comes in and looks at this photo and she screws up her mouth and says, ‘Hmmmmm! 1803. Have you been open that long?’”
The rain is pouring down outside the little shop. Turbo Dog, Marita Jaeger’s huge German Shepherd, is lying in the doorway sleepily watching as the lake outside ebbs and flows up to the curb with each passing car.
A soaked senior couple duck in out of the rain and make nice with Turbo Dog before walking around the shop, their mouths open in awe.
“Nos …Nos …Nos …” the man struggles with the name on the poster.
“Nosferatu, the vampire,” the wife is quick to point out. “I swear Alvin, what you don’t know about the real world would fill an ocean.”
Marita Jaeger arches an eyebrow and smiles.
Boutique du Vampyre Web site: feelthebite.com.