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Absinthe: Gauguin’s Green Fairy
Absinthe is one of many potables available for order, though few can match its notoriety. Consult our exploration of absinthe to study up for a meeting with the Green Fairy.
A botanical spirit made from wormwood, anise, and various herbs, absinthe has a strong anise flavor, much like licorice or Pernod liqueur. Pure absinthe is incredibly potent and must be watered down until it’s roughly the strength of wine.
Dilution, however, can take on the character of a ritual. Traditionally, an ornate fountain supplies the water, which slowly drips onto a slotted, decorative spoon balancing on top of the glass. (Some enthusiasts place a sugar cube on the spoon to erode under the dribble, sweetening the concoction.) When the water and absinthe start to mix, the result is a spectacle: an opalescent, half-transparent cloud—known as the louche—begins to form, transforming the shot of green liquor into a swirling potion described by Ernest Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls as “opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea-changing liquid alchemy.”
Over the years, absinthe’s ingredients have been (speciously) said to inspire hallucinations, but in spite of (or perhaps because of) those claims, from the mid-19th century through the early 1920s, artists living in Paris adopted absinthe as their muse. The most famous devotees included Hemingway, Gauguin, and van Gogh, and the tipple found its way into several famous works, most notably Degas’s 1876 painting L’Absinthe.
Nonetheless, its detractors seemed to find equal inspiration, and in 1911, the head of the Pure Food Board of the US Department of Agriculture declared it “one of the worst enemies of man.” The next year, it was banned in the US—seven years before the dawn of Prohibition and nearly a century before it would become legal once again, in 2007.