According to San Francisco legend, the titular “interview” of Anne Rice’s novel, Interview With the Vampire, was held at a stately Victorian on Divisadero Street. Since then, the fantastical tale has been made into a new AMC TV series, reviving interest in the franchise and its 1994 film adaptation.
These days, even as local rent prices may be scaring away the living, the city remains a stronghold for the undead, according to Mariposa playwright Kitty Burns-Nasarow, who’s been leading vampire tours of San Francisco for the last 21 years.
On the once-monthly tours, Burns dresses up as Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and takes mortals on a tour of Nob Hill, which she claims is the preferred neighborhood for SF-based vampires. On her tour, she stops at historic haunts such as Grace Cathedral, the Fairmont Hotel, the Pacific-Union Club, the Nob Hill Cafe and the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel—weaving lots of local lore and some gory yarns into her tall tales.
“I always tell people that the tour is about 85% true history,” Burns quipped. “The other 15%, you're just going to have to take my word for it.”
The following is a condensed and summarized interview of The Standard’s conversation with Burns-Nasarow as her alter ego, Harker. We decided to route this story around our fact-checker’s desk, so we advise you to take the claims made herein with a grain of salt (and plenty of garlic).
You can hear more of Burns-Nasarow’s vampire-inspired urban legends on her next tour, scheduled for 8 p.m. on Halloween.
Underground Tunnels Make Nob Hill a Vampire Haven
Thanks in part to Harker’s tour of the “historically scary Nob Hill neighborhood,” SF was recently ranked the country’s fifth best city for vampires.
In explaining why Nob Hill is a popular neighborhood among her kind, Harker rattled off a list of perks: Huntington Park is “gorgeous,” she said. But the undead also have a special connection to Nob Hill Cafe and appreciate the historic French Gothic architecture of Grace Cathedral—crucifixes notwithstanding.
Nob Hill’s most vampire-friendly amenity, however, is the warren of secret tunnels that shield SF’s supernatural citizens from the sun.
One such subterranean passageway reportedly connects the Pacific-Union Club to a pretty little townhouse across California Street known to locals as the “Jewel Box.” It is rumored that the tunnel was used to shuttle real estate mogul Herbert Law’s mistresses from the posh members’ club to his bachelor pad across the way.
“The vampire community resides—I can't say ‘lives,’ because, of course, we're all undead—but resides under the streets,” Harker said.
As an added bonus, she and her peers, “don’t have to worry about the cost of living” in the nation’s third most expensive city—because they’re undead.
How the Nob Hill Cafe Became a Feeding Frenzy
As Harker tells it, the Nob Hill Cafe was once the go-to watering hole for local vampires looking for a very fresh meal.
In her telling, Choker Barnes—better known as the murderous mystery man Jack the Ripper—and his devotees established a late 19th century restaurant on Nob Hill cheekily named Feeding After Dark where the Nob Hill Cafe stands today. Unbeknownst to mere mortals, however, they were on the menu.
During normal business hours, when the restaurant was serving humans in the main dining room, the eatery’s bartender would keep an eye out for patrons dining alone. Whenever a solo diner headed to the loo, a devious trap would be set in motion.
“The bartender would pull the lever, and the floor beneath the person in the bathroom would open up, and they would fall down into the tunnel below.” Harker explained. “That's how we got our meals.”
“And it worked beautifully for years,” Harker lamented. But unfortunately, a massive battle between humans and vampires destroyed Feeding After Dark in 1959. But Harker maintains that 50 vampire coffins remain below the cafe and that their corpses will regenerate in 140 years.
Spying a Mark From Top of The Mark
Locals love the Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins for its beautiful views, but vampires love it as a spot to find their next victim. Harker used to regularly go to the high-end cocktail lounge for a drink with Jack the Ripper to scope out her next meal.
The Garlic Myth Is Bunk
While Hollywood has convinced scores of gullible humans that garlic can ward off a vampire attack, Harker insisted that she has no issue with the potent bulb.
In fact, Harker recommends that tour-goers actually dine at the Stinking Rose before meeting up with her, as garlic is no more harmful to vampires than any other common kitchen ingredient.
“So what, are ghouls supposed to be afraid of oregano?,” Harker asks incredulously.
The Fog is a Vampire’s Best Friend
Contrary to popular belief, Harker maintains that her fellow creatures of the night are not afraid of the sun nor hate it, but are simply highly allergic to the sun’s rays.
“It’s a horribly intense allergy,” Harker said. SF’s foggy layers are a welcome protectorate against sun exposure.
“Oh, yeah, we love the fog,” Harker said. “And foggy nights are the best for the tour.”
California & Taylor Streets across the street from Grace Cathedral
Monday, Oct. 31, 8 p.m. | $30
Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected]