Few spirits are as divisive as absinthe—the infamous green fairy conjures both sneers from skeptics and delight from devotees. The aromatic, herb-based elixir, which dates back to 18th century Europe, has made a resurgence in the Bay Area in recent years. But, many folks are still too nervous to try the somewhat esoteric drink. Fear not. Here are six local spots that will walk you through it.
Absinthe Brasserie & Bar
No big surprise to see this namesake at the top of the list—the Hayes Valley bar is touted as one of the country's premier absinthe cafés, with 17 different international brands for sampling. Absinthe's most popular? Emperor Norton, which is made with imported French wormwood by Treasure Island's Raff Distillerie. // 398 Hayes St. (Hayes Valley), absinthe.com
Get a taste of Paris at Gaspar Brasserie in FiDi, where there's nothing quite like a glass of Champaign (sparking wine and absinthe) or a Weeper (eau de vie, absinthe, pear, lime, allspice liqueur) to wash down your oysters. // 185 Sutter St. (FiDi), gasparbrasserie.com
Posh theater-goers might pop into Cory Lee's chic French Bistro for an aperatif. We recommend the 4th Time Around (gin, combier, Lillet Blanc, absinthe, mint). // 451 Gough St. (Hayes Valley), monsieurbenjamin.com
A classic Sazerac is an easy entree to the mysterious absinthe cocktail—you'll get just a rinse of the stuff along with your rye and Peychaud's bitters. Another favorite: the Corpse Reviver #2 (gin, Cocchi Americano, mandarine napoleon, fresh lemon, absinthe). // 1725 Haight St. (Haight-Ashbury), alembicbar.com
The Grand Tavern
The mixologists here will be happy to whip up a custom cocktail according to your personal palette, but this is also a good spot to try absinthe in its traditional preparation: diluted with a slow drip of cool water over a sugar cube. // 3601 Grand Ave. (Oakland), grandtavern.net
St. George Spirits
Go the extra distance with a tour and absinthe tasting at St. George, the Alameda institution that distills absinthe among other spirits. St. George Absinthe Verte is also available for purchase around San Francisco. // 2601 Monarch St. (Alameda), stgeorgespirits.com
Prefer to try it at home? Go with the “louching" method: Pour a shot of absinthe in your favorite gorgeous cocktail glass. Get yourself a perforated absinthe spoon. Place a single white sugar cube on the spoon and rest atop the glass. Slowly drip iced water over the sugar cube until it dissolves. The absinthe will become a milky, opalescent hue and release its most flavorful essential oils. Later, you can graduate to the fancier absinthe fountain. Bottoms up!
This post was originally published in March 2016