Vert d’Absinthe: Absinthe in Paris

Paris is always full of little surprises, like any major city. It’s always fun to poke around and find something new and unusual. And there’s plenty of the unusual in a big city like Paris, as I often report. I think of Paris as a big village, full of colorful characters with lots of stories to tell and unusual offerings. And getting the know the people in your neighborhood, especially the vendors selling fine foods and drink, can be especially rewarding since often if you stay for a while and talk to them, there’s always something fascinating to learn.And, of course, taste!

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Getting ready to prepare a glass of absinthe, French-style, of course.

I’ve been meaning to take you to visit one on my favorite shops in Paris for quite a while: Vert d’Absinthe. This little shop is located in the Marais, but a bit removed from the busy tourist streets, just off the Place St. Catherine. Owner Luc-Santiago Rodriguez tells me his shop was the first boutique anywhere dedicated just for the purpose of selling absinthe, that wickedly suspicious elixir that’s recently been getting a lot of attention lately.

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Luc-Santiago Rodriguez of Vert d’Absinthe in Paris.

Although the drink was originally produced as a cure-all medical tonic in 1792, Absinthe became a rather popular drink amongst Parisians in the late 1800’s, mainly with hedonists living in Montmarte who would sip it in cafés and clubs, like Le Moulin Rouge, before it was ultimately banned by the French government in 1915.

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Dishes with numbers were to let patrons know how much their glass of absinthe cost. Think of all the paper they saved!

Although experts are as unclear as a cloudy glass of absinthe on exactly why it was banned, the most colorful theory was that people went mad drinking absinthe due to the rotten wormwood used to make the drink. It was dubbed le f&eacute’e verte or ‘the green fairy’, since it was said to inspire hallucinations as well.

(Absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, and so far, it’s still technically illegal to import into the US.)

But nowadays, most people, including Luc-Santiago, agree that the powerful French wine industry at the time was upset that people, especially the artsy bohemians who lived in the north of Paris, were drinking cheap, hi-test absinthe (at 70% alcohol) instead of pricey wine (around 12% alcohol), in an attempt to get a better buzz for their buck. Since the French wine industry had suffered a severe set-back from the phylloxera infestation which killed most of the grapevines in France, the price of wine had gone up enormously. So it’s thought that the wine industry pressured the French government to put the kabosh on absinthe production.
And that was that.

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It’s my one-stop shop for all things absinthe!

In 1988 absinthe made a comeback and the French government once again made it legal to sell and drink the anise-scented exilir, absinthe attaining a bit of a cult status in the process. With all the ceremony of pouring something previously forbidden in a fancy glass, pouring water over a sugar cube to make it cloudy (called louching), then slowly sipping it while staring into space in a deserted café…how could anyone not be entranced by the romance of absinthe?

If you come to France and want to try or purchase absinthe, be aware that not all drinks that look and sound like absinthe are indeed absinthe. You’ll come across ‘absente’ (missing the ‘h’), which has a bleary picture of Van Gogh on the packaging (it was said he went mad drinking absinthe and cut off his ear because of it, which to me is a rather iffy marketing move), but these impostors use a wormwood that’s different than the variety of wormwood (artemisia absinthium) used in true absinthe.

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The true herbs of absinthe.

The wormwood used to make true absinthe contains thujone, the most important compound in real absinthe.

Anyone interested in absinthe should make the trip to visit Luc-Santiago’s little shop Vert d’Absinthe, where 25 different kinds of absinthe are stocked. All are French except for one, which is made in Switzerland, and most of the French absinthe varieties are made near the Swiss border. Monsieur Rodriguez stocks all the proper paraphernalia for properly preparing and drinking a glass of absinthe, from vintage to contemporary; spoons, glasses, fontaines, and, of course, the bottles themselves.

And perhaps you’ll get a demonstration and a taste-test. Although drinking absinthe French-style means louching the drink by pouring water over a sugar cube through the special spoon before it clouds up the absinthe, the more flamboyant Czech-style method involves lighting the cube of sugar dramatically on fire, which I’ve yet to see him do.

Vert d’Absinthe
11 rue d’Ormesson
Paris
Tél: 01 42 71 69 73
Open daily, from 11am to 8pm (closed Monday)



Related Links

Absinthe Cake Recipe

Chubby Hubby: The Green Fairy

In Absinthia

The Wormwood Society

La Fée Verte



A few unusual places for absinthe in, or near, Paris:

-Hotel Royal Fromentin (11 rue Fromentin, Paris, tel. 01 42 81 02 33) serves absinthe at their historic bar, a former cabaret at the foot of Montmartre.

-Musée de l’Absinthe (44 rue Alphonse Calle, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, tel. 01 30 36 83 26, about fifteen minutes outside Paris) is open on the weekends and holidays and sports all sorts of memorabilia and paraphernalia from absinthe’s heyday. Take the train from the Gare du Nord.

-Cantada is a heavy metal bar, and one of the few bars in Paris to serve a wide selection of absinthe.

-La Fée Verte (108, rue de la Roquette), is a neighborhood café with absinthe on offer.


13 comments

  • The url is http://www.vertdabsinthe.com/ with a “d”. The url in the blog does not work :(

    I can’t wait to walk over and check them out, though I think I saw a peek of it on my way back from L’As du Falafel last week!

  • Brain Freeze – Sorbet in the membrane. I believe this post may prompt me to keep my neighbor’s sorbetiere much longer than expected.

  • Link fixed…thanks Cathy!
    (It’s 100 degrees here…I think my brain is m-e-l-t-i-n-g…)

  • So drinking absinthe doesn’t make you mad. I’m glad your article has put the record straight, now I feel confident enough to go out and down a few demi-verres. If I see the green fairy I’ll let you know.

  • David,
    The most important questions: what does the stuff taste like and did it give you a buzz?!
    Taina

  • David dearest….if Henri de Toulouse Lautrec did some of his finest work while under the influence of absinthe, not to mention the delicious but probably not-so-clean “encouragement” of the ladies of the Moulin Rouge and other salubrious/lubricious places (draws breath)then do you think your culinary skills would be even further enhanced (if that might be possible) by the green fairy’s touch? Do you, huh, huh?

  • When a student at the Sorbonne in the mid 70′, we “imported” absinthe from Spain, where it was legal. While drinking it ( awful taste, i never liked it.) we imagined ourselves being like those bohemian artists in Montmartre in the early 1900′. We were kids… but your post brought some memories from those far away wonderful times..

  • I LOVED LOVED LOVED seeing the herbs in their pre-absinthe state. And what a facinating entry, as always. I must come visit, and I do hope you write about a dessert with absinthe. I’ve always wondered if you could use it the way you’d use Pernod.

    wearing chaps,
    matt

  • Absinthe was also supposedly an aphrodisiac, which of course led to the expression: “Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.”

  • Off subject. Way back. I just wanted you to know that I made (and I am bringing for a mini-holiday weekend) your lovely Salt Roasted Peanuts for our friends who also love to cook as do I and your blog readers. These are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

    http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2006/05/#000258

  • Thanks for a great post, David — I always enjoy reading your insights. Thought you might enjoy the New Yorker article from a few months ago about absinthe. You can read it here.

  • Actually, Dowson’s comment was “Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder.”. And I hate to see such a big deal made of thujone, which is present in miniscule quantities in any “good” absinthe. It’s a delicious drink, high in alcohol so it must be used in moderation.

  • Yes, I like Luc’s shop too. By the way, both your links to where you can buy absinthe seem wrong. They should be:-

    http://www.eabsinthe.com

    and, for La Fée (note spelling)

    http://www.lafeeabsinthe.com