Antibes’ Absinthe Bar
For a surreal aperitif, head downstairs into the Roman vault that is now the Bar Absinthe. But what is absinthe? What is the “green fairy” all about, you ask?
Absinthe is a very controversial yet famous drink in France. It has its nickname: La Fée Verte, or the Green Fairy. A highly alcoholic beverage, it consists of green anise, sweet fennel, and of grand wormwood (artemisia Absinthium), where it got its name. It can make you feel ‘enchanted’ due to its very high alcohol content (90-148 US proof!) The proper way to consume it is by diluting the pure spirit with sugar water.
Because of the presence of ‘thujone,’ a chemical compound present in trace amount in the spirit, it was incorrectly believed to have harmful effects. But thujone is also present in many herbs, including sage. Numerous exaggerations of the studies regarding absinthe exist prior to the 1990s, and many countries imposed a ban on its consumption. It turned out that the harmful effects were because some of the suppliers were adding copper slats to enhance the color of their low-quality absinthe. All this bad publicity also contributed to it becoming branded as a harmful drink.
Loved by Artists and Eccentrics
The bohemian population during the late 19th century so loved the drink that they made it a symbol of their transformation: “The Green Fairy”.
The bohemians had it as their trusted guide to artistic innovation. Many writers and artists found inspiration with this drink. It was their symbol on the quest to escape the conventional reality of their time. Picasso made a sculpture depicting a glass of absinthe, showing the traditional method of preparing it. Ernest Hemmingway eluded to it in his works. Vincent van Gogh consumed unholy amount, (but he also drank other alcoholic liquors and even some painting materials like turpentine, which can rule out the rumor that absinthe caused Van Gogh’s delusional problem).
It was so popular that the 5pm happy hour in France was referred to as “l’heure verte,” or the green hour. This after-work-hours is when they enjoyed their favorite green spirit.
Where to Find the Green Fairy
The most popular place to enjoy absinthe is in Antibes, but to find it you need to go underneath a market into an ancient Roman vault.
Near Le Marché Provençal, alongside the restaurants in Old Town, you’ll notice a little shop called La Balade en Provence . In its basement is the 9th-century vault that, since 2003, has housed an Absinthe bar. You can’t miss the big green neon sign, although it might look a bit blurry on the way out.
A genuinely atypical setting, it is a lively cellar with bits of Roman masonry and an original 1860 zinc bar. The cave-like interior does a good job of evoking the atmosphere of an early 20th-century drinking den. Vintage posters cover the vaulted ceiling, and rows of glasses are backlit with the distinctive color of the green fairy. There are about ten tables, all with accessories such as water fountains to use in preparing absinthe.
Absinthe advertising posters and memorabilia decorate the place, and there’s a large television above the bar that gives the place a somewhat cheesy vibe. They have live music and there is a unique collection of different cool hats that everyone can try on and pass around after a round of drinks. It’s a silly, touristy spot, but one that shouldn’t be missed.
It gets quite raucous in the evenings when they have live music, but on a quiet Sunday afternoon it can feel deliciously louche to be knocking back a 68-proof spirit.
How They Serve Absinthe
Here the absinthe is served in the traditional way. Each table has an absinthe “fountain” with 4 taps. You place a sugar cube on the absinthe spoon, place the spoon on the glass containing absinthe, and let the water drip on to the sugar, and eventually into the absinthe till it turns milky. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask the owner if he will dip the sugar cube in absinthe and light it for you. Sip it, relish it, and enjoy the aftereffects. We strongly recommend you not to drive or do anything hectic after savoring the delicious liqueur.
So, when visiting the Antibes, enjoy a unique and pleasant night and experience what van Gogh and Picasso loved, without the ear-chopping, of course. Chase the “green fairy” in the old Roman basement of a shop in the middle of the market.