The Best Bars In The World – Absinthe Salon, Sydney, Australia – Review

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When it comes to having a glass of quality alcohol, ritual and history comes as part of the package. One of Sydney‘s first small bars, Absinthe Salon has just opened in Surry Hills and it offers a very special cultural experience. 

First up, I should let you know that this cute home away from home only serves Absinthe so if you’re not a fan this probably isn’t the place for you. I’d heard all kinds of stories of people drinking this stuff, but had never actually plucked up the courage to give it a go myself. One friend lied, telling me that it was some kind of crazy drug; another said she’d gone completely crazy with laughter and the shakes after a night of Absinthe shots. Now, I can say I have had a taste of the Green Fairy and survived to tell this story! 

You might almost not even notice the dark building as you walk down Albion St. When you do find it, ring the doorbell and owners, Gaye Valttila and Joop van Heusden will let you inside. The former house has the small salon towards the back of the building and only seats 25 which is why people must absolutely make bookings. The salon has a creative bohemian feel. One wall has small windows cut out, another with the infamous Green Fairy painted over it and a street lamp post perched right in the middle next to the bar adding a cute cosy feeling to the room. Candles line the top of the bar and soft music plays in the background – creating that feeling like we’re over at a mates house for a nice dinner party. 

My friend and I are seated. All tables here have waterfountains on top and thick crystal paragon glasses sit over very cute paper doilies. We opt for the French and Swiss Absinthes [$ 12 a glass]. Then Joop walks us back to 19th century Paris and we’re shown how the tradition works. We place a sugar cube on top of a slotted spoon which is placed over the glass of absinthe. Water is then dripped over the sugar cube so that the water is slowly and evenly distributed into the absinthe. 

I started to shake a little when smelling it. Perhaps with excitement or maybe it was fear of the unknown. Absinthe was first used in the 18th century by ancient Greeks for medicinal purposes. French Doctor, Pierre Ordinair who was living in Switzerland at the time, also produced and gave it to military troops to treat Malaria. The troops returned to France bringing their love of Absinthe with them which saw it become popular in bars and cafes. Many places even dedicated the time between five – seven pm to the drink – dubbing it ‘l’heure verte’ [the Green hour]. I think I thought like most medicines, this would taste bad and after finding out that it was made from Wormwood, fennel and anise, I expected a bitter taste strong enough to come spurting out my 

nose when I had a mouthful. Instead, It smelt and tasted like soft liquorish. Right away I could feel the back of my throat tighten, my tongue went numb and I started to feel very happy like almost being in some kind of euph oric trance. This is where the drink gets its namesake, the Green Fairy. La Fee Verte was the name given to the drink by the French – referring to the colour of the liquor. The name is also a metaphor used by Parisian poets and artists of the 1930’s to represent transformation – transformation of the drinks colour as water is added and the change within the drinkers mind. Ha, perhaps that’s why that fight I’d had with my mum seemed hilarious to me after my shot. 

While the taste of the Green Fairy wasn’t really my thing, you’ve got to give her some credit for longevity. She was banned in countries like France, the Netherlands and Brazil in the 1900’s because people were drinking so much of the stuff that it was alleged to be the cause of violent crimes. One of the most notable crimes linked to Absinthe was in 1905 when a man murdered his entire family after consuming the drink. Absinthe was made completely illegal until new labeling laws were introduced, strict analysis of the alcohol content was done and a revamped name was given to the drink. 

Absinthe Salon is one of the sweetest lil’ bars in Sydney right now. It isn’t for the faint hearted and while the Absinthe itself isn’t for everyone [me included], the ritual is amazing! Think of it as a once in a lifetime experience of which you’ll always have fond memories. You’ll walk out of there with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.

By Nastasia Campanella for The Arthouse Hotel and Function Rooms

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