When romance author buddy and fellow Manhattan singleton, Liz Maverick called me up last week and said, “This new absinthe bar just opened up in the Lower East Side. Wanna go?” there was really only one answer that sprang to mind.
Maybe Liz’s um…maverick spirit is just contagious or maybe it was my own residual curiosity from high school Art Appreciation Class–Degas’ painting, “The Glass of Absinthe” is well, pretty haunting–but either way I was totally game to go.
On Saturday night I met Liz and our mutual friend, Bonni at White Star on Essex Street. White Star isn’t a terribly big place, but it packs a pretty powerful presence, sort of Prohibition era speak easy meets uber cool Manhattan “secret bar.” Proprietor and yes, mixologist, Sasha Petraske patiently briefed the three of us on the history of absinthe before settling in to make our drinks.
Up until Saturday night, I was an absinthe virgin. I remember absinthe being illegal in the US “back in the day” but beyond vague allusions to blindness and brain function loss, I really didn’t know much about it. The official Webster definition of absinthe is “a green liquor flavored with wormwood or a substitute, anise, and other aromatics.”
After Saturday night, I strongly recommend Webster and Company update their definition. As it turns out, there are various types of absinthe. White Star serves the traditional green “Parisian” variety as well as a slightly less fortified clear type.
The flavor didn’t shoot me over the moon but it wasn’t bad, either, quite pleasant in point. To me, absinthe tastes like licorice only without the syrupy consisteny of sambucca. But what I really dug was the whole ritual of preparation and presentation, complete with 1930’s-esque bar gatchetry. That Sasha kind of looks like Brendan Frasier in the Mummy movies didn’t hurt, either. But I digress…
Preparing absinthe is fairly labor intensive. You do it by the glass and there is absolutely no rushing the process. Basically, about three-fingers’ worth of the actual liquor is poured into a glass. Ice water is then drizzled over a single sugar cube set atop a strainer, slowly infusing the absinthe with an almost fairylike foaminess.
I didn’t experience any Green Fairy sightings, I’m happy to say, though the absinthe I drank was the clear variety and I only sampled one before switching to a tried-and-true clear alcoholic beverage–champagne. Still, White Star stands out as the highlight of the evening.
But like intrepid cultural anthropologists, our data collection and cataloguing didn’t end there. Afterward, there was a dinner at a nearby Afro-French bistro, Les Enfants Terrible (the grilled calamari with chick peas are to die for), followed by dancing and people watching at The Cellar in the Bryant Park Hotel. The near naked chics, The Cellar’s answer to the Solid Gold Dancers, had me swearing to pull out my yoga mat and weights the very next day. I could say more but better yet, check out Liz’s blog at the Rebels of Romance for the um…unexpurgated story.
Happy (post) Labor Day,