The Queen Victoria’s® Brothel Madam
He slowly shakes his head no.
“She’s right there,” she says, pointing to a chair by the window, indicating the elegant woman in her long, green dress, hair twisted into a lavish Victorian knot.
“Honey, there’s no one there,” he responds.
“She was here last night, too,” she says. “She never says a word, just sits there, calmly by the window. Looking.”
It’s bright and cheery, but not without the Victorian excess that befits its name. The Queen Victoria® — the crown jewel of Cape May’s bed and breakfasts — is home to its very own Brothel Madam, as well as Doug and Anne Marie McMain.
We sat down with Doug and Anne Marie, relaxing in the sitting room of the House of Royals — a former brothel and gaming parlor — while strains of Mozart and Wagner play in the background.
The Queen Victoria® complex now comprises of four buildings — the main building was built in 1880, christened after the British monarch in 1980. Owned by the Wells family at the time, they added three more buildings during their tenure — Prince Albert Hall, the Queen’s Cottage, and the mysterious building in which we spent our late morning.
“I don’t even know what a sour beer is,” Doug admits as Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm opens the bottle of Brothel Madam.
We were there to enlighten him. We clink our glasses of Brothel Madam, and Doug takes his first sip of a sour beer as Jimmy explains the process behind the brew: souring it with lactobacillus and pediococcus, fermenting it with Brett in stainless, then racking it in our red wine barrels with cranberries and raspberries.
“I like it! It’s kind of effervescent,” Doug says. “It has a little bit of a champagne feel to it.”
“Exactly,” Jimmy says. “When this is bottled, it’s completely flat. We do a method that’s called ‘bottle-conditioning’. When we bottle it up, we add two different strains of yeast, one of which is a champagne yeast. Champagne yeast just makes tinier bubbles, so you get that effervescent mouthfeel. So, yeah — good catch there!”
“Anne Marie’s not a huge beer drinker,” Doug admits.
“Oh, it’s very smooth!” she exclaims, surprised. “It’s really good. And the bottle’s so pretty.”
Graphic Designer Courtney Rosenberg proudly shows off her handiwork, including the many Easter Eggs contained in the design: the outlines of the state of New Jersey in the gingerbread woodwork and the subtle outline of a woman in the windows.
“I can see myself sitting all afternoon drinking this,” Doug says.
“Followed by a little nap,” Jimmy jokes.
“I love hoppy beers — I love your IPA — but I don’t always love the aftertaste,” Doug says.
“There’s hardly any hops in this,” Jimmy explains. “It started out as a predominantly yeasty beer before we went and funked it up.”
Jimmy explains the concept of cellaring beer, telling Doug that he’s got a bottle in his cellar.
“You can age it for up to two years,” Jimmy says, “but I’m diggin’ this for Thanksgiving, with the raspberries and cranberries. I always do a sour beer with Thanksgiving dinner, because that super dryness and that tart note work really well with the stuffing and turkey and cranberry sauce.”
“It’s making me really hungry,” Doug laughs.
Doug was a perfect student, thoroughly interested in the brewing process and brewery life, asking Jimmy how much he loved his job. Doug spent some time as a homebrewer, primarily an extract brewer, though that has become a remnant of his past.
“It’s basically the same process,” Jimmy says, “just scaling it up to a thousand gallons at a time.”
“I made five gallons,” Doug jokes. “It was a lot of work, and messy. But I wanted to have more involvement than simply boiling it, then bottling it. Then I discovered hops. And I would try different yeasts, but I had no education and no idea what I was doing.”
“And it was a mess,” Anne Marie says. “The stove was a mess, and the floor was sticky.”
“I always wanted to do it the whole way,” Doug says, “but I was intimidated by the whole prospect.”
Our day at The Queen Victoria® was perfectly lovely — the decor, the beverage, the companionship — nonetheless, it belied the secrets that lay above.
“I’m a little ambivalent about the whole ghost thing,” Doug admits. “I think everyone is fascinated by it. They’re intrigued. They wouldn’t mind seeing one — from a distance, maybe. But, for the most part, they wouldn’t want to sleep with a ghost. So we don’t really market our ghosts.”
For good reason.
Inexplicable noises coming from empty rooms.
Doors slamming shut, disquietingly.
Lights mysteriously coming on.
Door handles turning menacingly.
And an elegant woman and her undignified companion, making appearances to those predisposed to their apparitions.
“I’ve tried to meet the girls,” Doug says, affectionately. “They have no interest in me.”
Originally built in 1876, the House of Royals — with its gorgeous thirteen-foot ceilings, plaster crown moldings, and rooms now named for Queen Victoria’s children — was home to a gambling parlor on its second floor. During a renovation in 1995, the remodelers found several gaming chips, decks of cards, and other 19th century paraphernalia of gambling, now framed in a shadowbox on the wall.
“There were several different gambling rooms,” Doug tells us. “Several of those rooms have been partitioned to create guest rooms. Several of them are still intact. There was a hidden room, a counting room.”
With several more, smaller rooms on the third floor, its use as a brothel seems to be the only logical conclusion.
And there are two women still residing up there, stubbornly clinging to their former place of business in the Princess Louise room.
Craig McManus — author of The Ghosts of Cape May — made their acquaintance while researching his book, and, apparently engaged both apparitions in conversation. At least, enough to determine their names.
“Madeline” — older. Elegant. Long hair painstakingly twisted into an ornate Victorian knot. In a long, green dress. The namesake of our beer.
“Theresa” — younger. Dressed down. Possibly a housekeeper. Enamored of the McMain’s former maintenance man, Dave.
“Craig had no way of knowing that I had a maintenance guy named ‘Dave’,” Doug says, “or that his wife’s name was Terry. Or that he had her name tattooed on his arm.”
Yet, Theresa knew.
But Madeline and Theresa are friendly ghosts — more Casper than Candyman. They’re simply looking for a long-lost suitor, not a gambler who got in over his head.
While they tend to avoid Doug, Anne Marie has not been so lucky. During a winter renovation, she went upstairs to the Princess Louise room to get some work done, but was back downstairs much earlier than expected.
The room was completely closed, she was alone, and the bathroom door slammed shut of its own volition.
They’d determined that a breeze wasn’t going to be able to slam this door shut — furthermore, the renovation was taking place in the winter, so it wasn’t as if Anna Marie had the window open. Without physically taking your hand and slamming the door shut, the door doesn’t budge.
Regardless of their non-paying guests, it’s apparent that Doug and Anne Marie adore Cape May and The Queen Victoria®. Transplants to the area, their previous lives had both been in technology — Anne Marie in training and Doug in software design and consulting. They’d always been interested in antiques, bed and breakfasts, and the beach, so fourteen summers ago, they combined their loves in The Queen Victoria®. They say they went “from high tech to high tea,” referring to The Queen Victoria®’s famous afternoon high tea.
The McMains love what Cape May Brew Co. has done for the area — guests to The Queen Victoria® get a deeper, more meaningful visit. CMBC gives visitors to the area something to do when the weather isn’t exactly conducive to visiting the beach.
“I love the Cape May Brewery story,” Doug says. “It’s the classic American, entrepreneurial story. It’s a couple of guys who were homebrewing and wanted to do this as a living.
“I tell the guests about Cape May Brewery’s first time at the Craft Beer and Crab Festival. They brought their entire production for the week and they ran out in thirteen minutes.”
“The brewery is great for tourism,” Anne Marie says, “because it’s really something that our guests love to do. It’s very popular with our guests. And it’s great for the shoulder season, too. Fall, winter, spring: it’s something different.”
“Or a rainy summer day,” Doug says. “What else is there to do? It’s fun. Cape May Brewery is a go-to thing.”
CMBC is the first company to pay an homage to The Queen Victoria® by releasing a product inspired by the establishment.
“This is a real honor,” Doug says.
Perhaps the McMains will choose to honor us by popping open a bottle of Brothel Madam at their next high tea, served with a selection of dainty madeleines, in honor of their ghostly guest.