“Would you care for a cocktail?”
Marian Thibault's query is a trademark at the Haunted House Restaurant, where she said she's worked as hostess, cocktail waitress, bartender and/or Girl Friday from 6 p.m. to close most Monday through Saturday evenings for 48 years. For the past 18 years — since the death of her husband Arthur Thibault — she's also served as sole proprietor.
“Talk some more. I like your accent,” many of the guests respond, along with their drink orders. “I tell them ‘I'll make you a record,'” said Thibault, a native of Germany.
Her restaurant seats 120 and employs 10, including her son and right-arm man, Joey Thibault, and longtime cook, Vidaree King.
At age 86, Thibault is a unique octogenarian and businesswoman, who rarely retires before 2 a.m. or rises before 10 a.m. It helps that her restaurant at 7101 N Miramar Blvd., near NE 63 and Martin Luther King Avenue, is only a 10-minute drive from her home on Lake Aluma.
With Frank Sinatra crooning over the hi-fi, Thibault recently sat down at one of her white linen-clad tables to talk with The Oklahoman about her professional and personal life — from growing up in Germany during World War II and the accidental death of her first husband to her start in the restaurant industry and her feelings about the ghost stories linked to her restaurant. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Can you tell us about your roots, including what it was like to grow up in Germany during World War II?
A: I was born and raised in Bochum, which is located in the Ruhr valley near Cologne. My father was in the recycling business and mother, homemaker to my three brothers, three sisters and me. I'm the youngest. My only surviving sibling is my sister who's two years older and lives in Cologne.
War is hell, and it's usually the civilians that suffer the most. I had cousins and neighbors who were killed in the bombings, and spent most of my evenings in the basement. We knew nothing about the Jewish concentration camps; after all, it was a dictatorship and you only knew what you heard on the German radio. Though it was forbidden, my father sometimes switched to Radio Luxembourg to compare the separate news sources.
Under Hitler, everybody had to work when they turned 18, and I in 1944 went to work as a Morse code operator for the air force in beautiful Vienna, which I loved. When the war ended a year later, I spent two months in an American POW camp in Bavaria, before I was discharged and rejoined my family in East Germany. After the Russians occupied the western zone, I settled in the American-occupied Marburg, Germany, where I sold “Stars and Stripes” magazines in the PX. I'd learned some English in school, but learned more of the language by reading the magazines. If I didn't know a word, I'd look it up in a dictionary.