Dracula 'counting' on Romanian eatery

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Literally speaking, Romania's capital might not be Dracula country, but restaurateur and tour operator Mircea Poenaru has transformed an elegant early 20th century home into Count Dracula's Club.

What's more, the Count has his own resting place, complete with native soil, in the cellar lounge, from which he rises several times a week to mingle with his guests.

As diners sip such concoctions as Transformation, Elixir Dracula and Transylvania Night or sample continental and traditional Romanian dishes, including game specialties such as quail, pheasant and wild boar, the lights dim and the air seems to chill.

Guests in the know grab cameras and head down the narrow stairway, through a secret door (a moveable wine rack), and into the cellar chapel.

If they're quick, they might catch the Count pushing past the cobwebs covering his coffin's lid to check what's for dinner. First, he pauses at the English pub, perhaps to reminisce over pictures of the boat that brought him to England, where he met his true love, Mina.

Before mounting the stairs, he glances in the adjoining library. As Bram Stoker, creator of the fictional Count, has told us, books are Dracula's friends.

But entertaining guests is more important at the moment, so candelabra in hand, he continues toward the three dining salons.

Reaching the Medieval room, complete with armor, halberds, an iron chandelier and heavy silver-plated serving plates, Dracula greets his sometimes startled guests but declines a seat.

"I've dined already," he tells them (a la Stoker).

Moving about the room, he studies a portrait of his real-life namesake, Vlad Tepes, and speaks of this fearful but courageous 15th century prince whose father had been awarded the Order of the Dragon and thus, the name, Vlad Dracul.

Always the thoughtful host, the Count next visits guests in the Transylvania Salon.

Here, the decor, from the hand-carved wooden chairs to the ceramic plates, masks and witches that line the walls, pleases him mightily, for every detail is faithful to his home province of Transylvania.

Dracula recounts tales of his native land and his castle high in the Carpathian Mountains' Borgo Pass. At the door of the Hunting Salon, he hesitates, a wistful expression on his face.

As he listens to the howling of wolves and stares at the bear, wild boar, wolf and mountain cat pelts on the walls, the Count recalls hunting parties near his mountain home.

"Listen to the children of the night. What music they make!" he exclaims, quoting, as always, his 19th century creator.

But the tinkling of a diner's silverware disturbs his reverie. Resuming his role as host, he inquires of his guests, "Do you prefer to hunt or be hunted?"

As sentimental music wafts from an ancient gramophone, Dracula becomes distraught, for it reminds him that Mina plans to marry another.

With a swirl of black cloak and long white scarf, the Count takes his leave, in hopes that the dark streets of Bucharest will provide solace for an aching heart.

Transylvanian ambience lives on in capital club

BUCHAREST, Romania -- Count Dracula Club's 1997 opening became a Bucharest event. Radio announcers tracked the advance of Dracula's horse-drawn coach as it advanced across Transylvania toward the capital.

As the gypsy driver (true to the novel) brought the coach to a stop before the restaurant's torchlit entry, waiters removed boxes filled with Transylvanian earth and carried them into the chapel.

Soon the Count, in the person of a well-known Romanian actor, rose to join his first guests.

When owner Mircea Poenaru is on the premises, he willingly explains the significance of each object to interested guests. Clients also might ask him to recount the adventures and mishaps leading to opening night.

For example, he first found a coach belonging to a film studio, but it fell apart when the horses ran with it. Visits to area farms turned up plenty of wagons, but these were hardly proper vehicles for nobility.

Refusing to give up, Poenaru remembered the old funeral coaches, once a familiar sight.

Following leads from the city's cemetery administration, he unearthed a coach originally designed for carrying priests who led funeral processions. Thus, three days before opening night, the Count had wheels.

Clients without a coach can reach Count Dracula Club, situated at 8A Splaiul Independentei St. on the banks of the Dambovita River, by taxi. It also is an easy walk from many Bucharest hotels.

When making reservations, check if Count Dracula will be awake that evening. For English-speaking groups, he will relate his tales in English.

A three-course dinner ranges from $12 to $25.

E-mail the Count Dracula Club at [email protected].

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