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One Night, Three Bars and a Whole Lot of Absinthe

Last night, I had the wonderful fortune of attending a Pernod Absinthe Excursion, a night about town in the most stylish of ways—a caravan of old-fashioned Rolls Royces escorting an intimate group from the yet-to-open Comstock Saloon to the Michelin-starred Fifth Floor restaurant in Hotel Palomar and finally to the wildly popular rum bar Smuggler's Cove in Hayes Valley. The night's goal? To learn about the art of absinthe. Since becoming legal in the US about three years ago, the potent potion has retained its mystique and power but still has not hit the mainstream as a regular cocktail ingredient. Here to prove us otherwise were Pernod and a gaggle of SF's expert mixologists.

Oscar Wilde once said, "A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world." Poetical, maybe. Magical, definitely. I missed the tasting at Comstock Saloon, but one sip into my Arles Sunflower at Fifth Floor and I was instantly abuzz with chatter and a giddiness I hadn't felt since I was a kid. Three cocktails later (with food pairings to boot), I learned that the anise-essenced liquor can be enhanced by Lillet and Absolut Mandarin; politely masked when mixed with gin, pear eau-de-vie, citrus and grenadine; and balanced with whiskey and ginger beer. It also—much to my surprise—was a secret ingredient in the tiki drinks of yore, which were recreated for us to taste at Smuggler's Cove.

Six cocktails in and almost three sheets to the wind, I decided to call it a night. With a renewed appreciation for this oft-overlooked spirit and a desire to seek out more bars that throw absinthe into the mix, I stumbled home happy and poetically enlightened.