"L'Heure Verte": Absinthe, my first time
I took part to masquerade ball on 2019-2020 NYE; I dressed up as the Marchesa Luisa Casati and, I must say, fiery red finger waves quite suit me.
I looked forward to 2020, to the next flamboyant masquerade on Halloween night followed by a strictly Catholic Commemoratio Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum (All Souls Day) on 02nd November, reflective memento mori which is part of my mortality-embrace routine since my childhood.
The pandemic hysteria, of course, ruined my plan.
Not really convinced by the socially distant dark cabaret events in London, I did something I have been postponed for years: pay a visit to Viktor Wynd's wunderkabinett, The Last Tuesday Society.
I shall write about the wunderkabinett soon.
Another thing I have been postponed since my legal age, has been tasting Absinthe.
This desire has been further galvanised during lockdown after the release of the brilliant season II of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness and the intriguing toasts of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and the alienist Karen Stratton (played by the talented Lara Pulver).
(Image source HERE)
Although from 1990s absinthe bans have been released across Europe, absinthe is not anymore a popular choice and even modern supposed-to-be bohémiens (yes, I am talking exactly about bearded hipsters) seem to prefer artisan beer and soy coffee; so bohémian!
Absinthe can be bought even on Amazon today, its "underground" character is lost although the historical damnation, and any consequent fascination following its mere mention, remains still strong.
I could have bought the complete absinthe set, fountain included, for less than 200 quid but I had to make my first time special, which included having the cute chat with the absinthe server which sounded like "oh, it is my fist time, teach me everything".
Very few bars serve absinthe in London and even fewer looked appropriate for my first time; I am a fussy Madame, you know.
Through my research I discovered that the drinks historians & absintheurs Allison Crawbuck & Rhys Everett are the founders of the absinthe parlour and cocktail bar at the Last Tuesday Society.
So I did it: I booked a table on Halloween day at 17:45, experiencing my absinthe first time in a candlelit bar full of taxidermied creatures and visiting then the wunderkabinett hidden downstairs.
Alas, no Halloween masquerade in 2020; I did my best mixing victorian style with leather fetish, embarking then in the long voyage from West to East End London.
L'Heure Verte and the French Absinthe Ritual
The specific late afternoon booking time had the targeted purpose to ensure my first time was as much evocative as possible of L'Heure Verte (The Green Hour), the absinthe-dedicated happy hour popular in XIX century bars, cafes and cabarets across Europe.
Upon arrival, we were moved in the larger seats in the back area of the parlour, darkness illuminated by feeble candlelight.
Of course, I had my cute "first time" chat with the kindest french absinthe server, who guided me through the fountain process and helped me with my absinthe choice.
The full absinthe menu can be found in the link below:
We went for:
"Esprit Edouard, 72%
Fabulous reproduction of Edouard Pernod 72° that was extremely popular during the Belle Époque.
Anise, wormwood and fennel mix perfectly with the other herbs, including a noticeable pepper-like coriander."
The absinthe set was served, the so-called classic french absinthe ritual started.
Absinthes.com provides the most detailed explanation of the ritual:
"The classic French absinthe ritual involves placing a sugar cube on a flat perforated spoon, which rests on the rim of the glass containing a measure or “dose” of absinthe. Iced water is then very slowly drip ped on to the sugar cube, which gradually dissolves and drips, along with the water, into the absinthe, causing the green liquor to louche (“loosh”) into an opaque opalescent white as the essential oils precipitate out of the alcoholic solution. Usually three to four parts water are added to one part of 68% absinthe. Historically, true absintheurs used to take great care in adding the water, letting it fall drop by single drop onto the sugar cube, and then watching each individual drip cut a milky swathe through the peridot-green absinthe below. Seeing the drink gradually change colour was an important part of its attraction.
No other drink is traditionally consumed with such a carefully calibrated ceremony. It’s part of what lends absinthe its drug-like allure."
The unrushed iced drops' sound, the strong herbaceous liquor smell, olfactorily softer after each sugary drop, the limpid green now looking like a bilious sick milk, the taste, an impactful nauseous anise flavour, vehemently hitting throat and stomach, an uncontrollable expression of unpleasantness in my face which softened shortly, once the rich bouquet of herbs caressed my tongue.
Rather an unforgettable sensory experience, a lesson learned, for the next time, to avoid an anise-heavy absinthe as its impact flavor almost nauseated me.
I am too much of a neophyte to say I would surely prefer other flavors; I am tempted to say a licorice-based absinthe may be more pleasant for my palate or maybe I am destined to have a more peculiar relationship with absinthe, as Oscar Wilde did:
"I could never quite accustom myself to absinthe, but it suits my style so well."
My Heure Verte was a pleasant "lento", an unrushed late afternoon spent in the darkness of the parleur, the satisfaction of a long time curiosity now fully experienced, the sultry warmth from the liquor spreading within my guts, brilliant conversations coming out, all with a hint of sadness, knowing there would be nothing to look forward to as the further lockdown approached.
I shall quote Oscar Wilde, again, for his appropriateness in the present scenario:
"After the first glass you see things as you wish they were.
After the second, you see things as they are not.
Finally you see things as they really are,
and that is the most horrible thing in the world."
I will certainly come back to The Last Tuesday Society, looking to have a guided tasting (in a "normal" past, I read the parlour Directors' organised absinthe tasting events) with an absinthe "Maestro", learning how to do more aware cin cin, enjoying the infamous liquor even better.
There is a room in the wunderkabinett which captured my attention, holding, as of now, its macabre fascination in my aesthetic fantasies: inviting crimson velvet seats, a seated "modern Baphomet" (a mannequin dressed with human clothes with goat taxidermied head and limbs), sexually obscene pictures all over the room, a tremendous memento mori sarcophagus table, a caged lion's skeleton, a hanged monstruous fiji mermaid.
That would be the desirable venue to celebrate London, its life, my life, back to freedom.
I shall be back, I will be back.