The Old Absinthe House – 200 years of New Orleans History

One of the top historical stops in the French Quarter is the Old Absinthe House. This landmark is located at the intersection of Bourbon and Bienville, 16 min from our New Orleans bed and breakfast. The bar was named the Absinthe Room when drinking absinthe grew in popularity in New Orleans.

Despite its nasty side effects – delirium , kidney failure, hallucinatory fugues and death – absinthe was hugely fashionable among  Victorian Orleanians and especially favored by  the musicians, madams of Storyville, the poets and artists in the French Quarter. The Absinthe Room was the epicenter of the absinthe fad , and its infamous cocktail attracted famous patrons. Oscar Wilde, Mark twain, Robert E. Lee, Sarah Bernhardt and Walt Whitman were among those that stopped in for a taste. Mixologist, Cayetano Ferrer created the absinthe frappe, a mind numbing mixture of absinthe and anisette poured over ice.

Absinthe is a strong, usually green in color, licorice-flavored alcoholic beverage made from wormwood, anise and fennel, and diluted with water and sugar. In 1912, absinthe was outlawed in the United States because of its allegedly narcotic qualities.

Local lore has it that Andrew Jackson met with pirates Pierre and Jean Lafitte in the rooms above the bar  ( then a corner grocery) to plan`the city’s defense against the advancing British fleet.

Today, the building now houses the Old Absinthe Bar, Tony Moran’s restaurant and the Jean Lafitte Bistro. The original 200 year old wooden bar with its dented copper top is found alongside some of the original marble fountains used to drip cold water over sugar cubes into the glasses of absinthe.

Absinthe was served by placing a slatted or serrated flat spoon is laid over the glass. A sugar cube is perched on top of the absinthe spoon, and ice cold water slowly drips onto the cube, dissolving the sugar, and turning the green absinthe a milky white color known as louche, cutting the bitterness of the absinthe and readying it for drink.

Today  the Old Absinthe Bar makes a good facsimile of the traditional cocktail using the locally manufactured spirit Herbsaint, whose label features an etching of the bar itself. They to go through the whole painstaking process of dripping the cold water over the ice cube.

Definitely worth a visit to try the cocktail and enjoy the buildings infamous history.

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