If there's one truth about New Orleans culture today, it's that there are a ton of tours out there, and they all claim to have the inside scoop on what New Orleans is really about. You can sample the most delectable dishes available on a food tour, imbibe locally made beer on a brewery tour, or even learn about what happened right where you're standing on a historical tour. Some of the most popular tours in the city are the spookier ones: ghost, crime, and vampire tours that happen here are world-renowned. However, of the tons of tours that one can take, there's only one that will allow you to escape into a secretive speakeasy to have a little drink when your tour is over.
Jonathan Weiss has been conducting tours for years in our fair city, but his Vampire VIP Tour will be the most sought-after nightly event as the nights get creepier throughout October. He knows the streets that he walks upon in the French Quarter far better than most; he has a reverence and respect for the true folklore of this place more than the majority of people.
As he sat sipping whiskey, Jonathan explained how he came to make his living telling tourists spooky true tales. "I was very interested in the deeply weird and deeply creepy," he said. "Quite literally, I would skip Sunday school when I was young and hang out in the graveyard behind the church. I like reading about people's lives and deaths on their stones and thinking about who they were and what their lives were like. I was just a really spooky child."
But Jonathan didn't just turn to the library and, later, the internet for his information. He relied heavily on what the people of the neighborhoods would tell him that they saw and that their deceased relations had seen. He continued, "I've always been fascinated by folklore and legends and the stories of old families. In New Orleans, we still have an opportunity to share old folklore and old legends with people. I take the concepts seriously; the traditions of people's families sometimes go back millennia. It was very serious and real to them."
Though you can catch his Dark History or Ghost Tour, the Vampire Tour intertwines factual history and true mystery. Jonathan said, "I was always interested in it because I've been studying vampire life from around the world for years and years. It's some of the oldest folklore mankind carries. When I do a tour, I focus on the old folklore, strip away the Hollywood stuff, and talk about the weird similarities in the old folklore. Murders, disappearances, just how it's been mixed up in New Orleans history and folklore for so long. When you get the right group and get it done right, it's very cool."
Jonathan took us to areas in the French Quarter that I thought I knew well. I didn't know anything about the horrors that took place right where I had stood thousands of times, but I was able to look it up after the tour and was mortified with myself for not realizing it. How could I let a character like the strange, eccentric Jacques St. Germaine slip under my radar? He was a wealthy man who lived for a time at 1041 Royal St. who loved to throw lavish parties, but may have attacked one of his female guests, causing her to throw herself out of the window and over the balcony. It's believed that he was thirsting for her life blood.
Jonathan enjoys one of his stops more than any other he passes. He explained, "My favorite part of the tour is just how strange the Ursuline Convent is. It's a beautiful building, a historic building, but it's just a very curious place. Its construction is unusual. The families that were in the area before Katrina would give me bits and pieces of folklore and family legends. They always said this place is just weird. When you understand how the building was built and put that together with the old folklore—some of the strangeness that's gone on in the area for a very long time—it starts to come together in a weird puzzle. Even though I've done this for years and told my stories thousands of times, I still get excited about it because it's just so bizarre."
As this tour sifts through the history of vampires in the city, you will find yourself saying goodbye to anyone under the legal drinking age and setting off for a little bar somewhere. I'm sorry, I can't reveal the location. But I can tell you that the decadently decorated speakeasy is fit for a vampire king. The rich purple lounge is dripping with erotic art, fresh herbs, lots of candles, and specialty drinks that will entice you like no other cocktail menu ever has. There's even a beautiful balcony where there's plenty of flesh to glance upon, and they may not even know you're there. Hint: you've probably passed it by hundreds of times. With your tour admission, you'll receive a complimentary glass of wine at this vampy bar, but beware, it could be a bloody potion meant to turn you into the living dead!
"I think that's the greatest thing that New Orleans has to offer: the mystery. The exoticism of New Orleans. People come here because this is not where they're from. To no small degree, it keeps what I do going. I say that occasionally on my tours: this is not where you're from. This is a different world. You've just got to accept that," Jonathan said about why people are drawn to the city. He's the person to see for all those questions you have about the things that go bump in the night.
Get more information on all of Weiss's tours at jonathanweisstours.com.