Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Old Absinthe House - New Orleans, LA (The Green Fairy)

240 Bourbon St.
New Orleans, LA 70112

            Let me be the first to admit, I like to drink! I'm not quite sure if it is the Cajun in me or what, but what you may call a six pack, I call it group therapy! I'm a particular fan of a good whiskey or cognac during the winter and a top-shelf Anejo tequila during the summer. Make no bones about it, this doesn't mean I will turn down much of anything else but possibly my collar. However, one alcohol that intrigued me for years, due to its notorious nature, would eventually remind me of the old saying, “All that glitters is not gold!”
La Fee Verte, or the Green Fairy.
            For years, I had often read up on the infamous alcoholic drink known as absinthe. Although it originated in Switzerland in the eighteenth century, it did not really become popular until the 1800's in France. Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of the grand wormwood plant. Due to its combination of ingredients, the liquor is bright green in nature, giving it it's signature name la fee verte, or the green fairy. The drink is already potent enough, being around one hundred to one hundred and forty proof, but the icing on the cake is in the wormwood ingredient, which contains thujone, a chemical said to be similar to THC. It is this chemical that is said to make traditional absinthe highly addictive, giving its consumers a hallucinogenic effect. Studies have shown that this can be debatable but this hasn't stopped the popularity of this licorice-tasting beverage. For years, famed artists and writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and Vincent van Gogh were regular drinkers of absinthe, claiming that the drink enhanced their creativity.

            After all of the reading that I did, I was determined to try this liquor. However, at the time, legitimate absinthe with the appropriate amounts of wormwood were illegal in the United States.
Two glasses of absinthe being served Bohemian style.
After much surfing, I was able to find a distributor in France that sold the real deal. They noted that they did ship to the United States, but they were not responsible if the bottle was confiscated by customs. I took my chance, paid my two hundred bucks for one bottle and anxiously waited for the green fairy to arrive! There are two traditional methods of drinking absinthe. One is the Parisian method, which consist of mixing one part absinthe, one part water and a sugar cube. The other method is known as the Bohemian method and entails that you place a specific slotted absinthe spoon containing a sugar cube over a glass. You then pour about an ounce or so of the absinthe over the sugar cube. Next, you light the liquor-soaked sugar cube on fire. As it burns, you dump the sugar cube into the alcohol, allowing it to burn for a few seconds. You then stir the mixture and enjoy!

            The moment arrived where my little bundle of illegally-imported drink showed up at my doorstep. After all of the planning and meticulous research, I prepared my first drink, Parisian fashion. As soon as the anise and fennel-flavored alcohol touched my lips, I soon remembered how
Artist's depiction of an encounter with the Green Fairy!
much I not only hated, but despised, the taste of black licorice. It sent me into an instant flashback of when I was in kindergarten and my teacher gave me a black jelly bean. Thinking it was grape flavored, I started chewing it, only to become engulfed with an immense nausea that made syrup of ipecac taste like crème brule! I quickly spit out the jelly bean onto the floor which caused the teacher to paddle me with a yard stick. Yes, this was in the days where you still got whipped in school!

            So, there you have it! Four paragraphs of me lecturing about a horrible tasting alcohol, just to lead in to our next location, which gets its name from this beloved beverage. The Old Absinthe House sits on busy Bourbon Street and is a favorite of tourists and locals alike. Ironically, despite the name, true absinthe is not sold here, often disappointing first-time visitors who are as naïve as I was the first time I was determined to try the drink. Any drink here that is supposed to contain absinthe, is substituted with a New Orleans-based drink, known as herbsaint, which taste almost identical.
            The building was constructed in 1806 by two brothers; Pedro Front and Francisco Juncadelia of Barcelona. The two embarked on establishing an importing company that sold food, tobacco and illegal alcohol. In 1815, the first floor was turned into a saloon known as "Aleix's Coffee House" and was run by the nephews of Senora Juncadelia. Saloons of the time were often known as coffee houses, as the selling of alcohol was prohibited, forcing consumers to walk around with mixed drinks in coffee cups to mask their content's identity.  In 1874, the name of the bar was then changed to "The Absinthe Room" when employee Cayetano Ferrer created the famous Absinthe House Frappe, which is still served here today.
Photo of the building taken in 1900.
            It is rumored that prior to the War of 1812, the Old Absinthe House is the site where Andrew Jackson and our beloved pirate Jean Lafitte secretly met to discuss their soon-to-be alliance against the British Army. It is here that Lafitte and his men agreed to partner up with Jackson in exchange for a full pardon. Three weeks later, Lafitte's men and their impeccable artillery skills easily deterred the British fleet in advancing up the Mississippi River.
            As the 1920's approached and prohibition was in full effect, attempts were made to destroy the massive bar of the Absinthe Room as a symbol of the end of alcohol. Local patrons quickly dismantled the bar and were able to stash it away in a nearby warehouse. Years later, the bar would be returned to its rightful home and the current Jean Lafitte's Old Absinthe House would be born, paying homage to both the New Orleans savior and the popular drink.
            Despite the world-renown drink, absinthe would not be the only spirit regularly encountered at this two hundred year old establishment. There are quite an eclectic number of opinions as to who exactly haunts the building. Historic celebrities from Andrew Jackson to the famed Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau are rumored to haunt here. The most notable of spirits is said to be Jean Lafitte himself. That belief must be taken with a grain of salt, as half of the locations in the French Quarter are supposedly haunted by the pirate. I guess it makes for more interesting story telling to say that a pirate haunts a location, as opposed to old dead Uncle Fred! Regardless of the true source, staff and guests alike all agree that there are tons of strange events that take place here. Tons of poltergeist-like activity such as doors opening and closing by themselves, moving glassware around the bar area and chairs reportedly moving on their own when no one is present. Visit this historic bar and judge the hauntings for yourself. Just be sure, if you do not like licorice, don't even bother trying to broaden your cultural intellect and just stick with a good old beer! The Green Fairy isn’t for everyone!

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