Absinthe: is it a nectar from heaven or pure evil? While the debate as to its value goes on the question of its popularity in European history does not. Though its origins are still unsure it seems that a Major Dubied with a special recipe started a distillery in the late 18th century, and thereafter turned it into one of the most popular drinks in France.
Some of the most famous names in French literature and art lived it up on Absinthe, including Manet, Picasso, Baudelair and Van Gogh. It is true that it was the icon of the bohemian movements, but it also was enjoyed by the bourgeois at Parisian cafés between the hours of 5 and 7pm, called the ‘green’ hour ( L’heure verte ).
Where is Absinthe from? Why a plant! The herb Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), which has a chemical called thujone, is used to make it along with a host of other ingredients. It is this chemical that is reported to cause the delirium associated with this aperitif.
Competitors rose up to make their own cheaply made versions that did no properly remove the impurities and toxins, and mental illness and other physical ailments were the obvious result. The wine producers, feeling ever threatened by it popularity, jumped on that band-wagon and helped initiate its ban.
Today you can try absinthe in a variety of places, though it is not a hallucinogenic as many mistakenly believe. So do not make a fool of yourself when you have some, dancing on the tables to catch the green fairy you claim you can see. People around you are likely to think you are just nuts. It is, though, a strong alcohol so watch how much you have. If you enjoy drinking Pastis you’re likely to gain a hankerin’ for absinthe too as they have very similar tastes.
There is quite the method in the drinking. You start with ¼ of your cup in absinthe, which will have a greenish-yellow to very bright-green color. Then you place the special holed absinthe spoon with a sugar cube over the glass. Finally, you slowly pour water over the sugar and let it dissolve into the cup, filling the cup.
Now you drink it, sit back, and enjoy your evening.
So where can you try this delectible delight?
You can learn all about it here: The Musee de l’Absinthe (44 rue Alphonse Calle, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, 01 30 36 83 26). Not far from Paris this is a fun place to check out!
Vert d’Absinthe in the 3rd arr (the Marais: 11 rue d’Ormesson, 01 42 71 69 73) is also well known, and David LeBovitz mentioned in his piece on the green good time.
Heather, of Secrets of Paris, (another lover of alternative Paris), showed me the cutest little hidden place to try it, and considering its prohibition-past the speakeasy ambiance of this bar is the perfect place to try it. During one of her Secrets in Paris events we were allowed to try three different kinds, and then they threw in a fourth at the end of the night. My favorite is pictured above. Place: The Curio Parlor (16 rue des Bernadins, 5th).
Mr. LeBovitz mentions a place to have a taste, as well as a list of wonderful links to ‘learn more’ at his article: The Hotel Royal Fromentin (11 rue Fromentin 18th, 01 42 81 02 33). Apparently a former cabaret-now-café at the bottom of Montmartre.