Behind the Green Door

Kreme and Jett court madness, drunkenness and death runnin' after absinthe's La Fée Verte.


At Tranzylvania, the exquisite new Goth-Romance club that pops off on Friday nights inside Palazzo, next to Amsterdam on Central Avenue, there are no murders at midnight. No women being stabbed or strangled in pantomime. But when the clock strikes 12, La Fée Verte rocks the room. See, at midnight, the black lights go on, and the already baroque, Anne Rice-like interior, with its marble floors and gargoyles, comes alive with fluorescent panels of everything from Van Helsing-inspired castles, demonic orgies and cavorting sinners in Hell to fetish femmes performing unspeakable acts. In one panel above and to the left of the bar, behind the grill of the club's second-story catwalk, is the image of a nude man dancing with a skeleton, a bottle of absinthe open before them.

"This is my ode to Edgar Allan Poe," Palazzo proprietor Steven Rogers tells us in his charming Southern drawl. "It's the work of artist Kent Mathieu of the L.A. company WildfireFX.com. I wanted to have one absinthe piece because these days I only drink either a good tequila or a fine absinthe."

Wittels' modern guide to the Green Fairy, now in its 
second printing.
Wittels' modern guide to the Green Fairy, now in its second printing.

"Nice ass," sighs Jett, referring to the butt cheek in Mathieu's painting. "Usually all I have to look at is Kreme's double-wide backside."

"Keep it zipped while Mr. Rogers is dropping some absinthe science on us," I order my skankified sidekick. "Or you'll be getting' up close and personal with the back of my hand."

Rogers continues, relating that he keeps eight different types of absinthe at home. He began with Absente, but found it distasteful, "like drinking gasoline," he says. Doing his own research, he found out how easy it was to order actual absinthe, and is now a wormwood wonk.

"There are a lot of myths," Rogers points out. "If you read Ted Breaux, you realize that it's not wormwood that's giving you that amazing clarity you get with absinthe. It's the other herbal combinations. I don't serve it in the club because that would be illegal. But it's not illegal to consume it or have a bottle at home. I drink it maybe once a week. I prefer the Swiss La Bleus as well as some of the better French absinthes."

Ted Breaux is a chemist and founder of Jade Liqueurs (www.vintageabsinthe.com), which produces absinthes in France using antique distilling equipment and recipes painstakingly re-created from samples of century-old absinthe. Breaux argues that his absinthes are the closest you can get to what folks such as Oscar Wilde were drinking back in the day. Also, like many of the more refined absinthe enthusiasts, he pooh-poohs the hysteria surrounding wormwood and thujone. We got him on the horn not long after conversatin' with Rogers.

"I can't deny what they call 'secondary effects,' but these are nothing like the effects of illicit drugs," relates Breaux. "While you can feel the effects of the alcohol, your mind stays somewhat lucid. People have said it's because absinthium contains thujone, and all these absinthes have high levels of thujone. But researchers in Germany and England have concluded what I first demonstrated back in 2000, which is that it doesn't matter how much absinthium you use, you just don't get much thujone in the finished product."

True dat. According to a bangin' article on the subject by Ian Hutton on the all-encompassing absinthe Web site "La Fee Verte" (www.feeverte.net), analyses of vintage bottles of Pernod circa 1900 have lower levels of thujone than recently produced commercial brands and privately brewed batches like the La Bleus. But even if thujone is not the scapegoat we'd like it to be, Hutton writes that "adulterants" used in cheapo absinthes from back then could have been harmful to old-school absinthe addicts. Also, Breaux suggests there are little-studied compounds in modern absinthe that might explain the drunken "lucidity" so many achieve while embracing the Green Fairy.

"If you take a look at the traditional herbs used in the production of absinthe, some exhibit sedative-like effects, some excite, so that it's sort of like an herbal speedball," says Breaux.

Breaux's Nouvelle-Orleans absinthe has many admirers, but I found it almost impossible to drink, its musty, moldy smell and taste reminding me of licking the inside of a stripper's shoe. My friend Abby (again, she prefers to go sans last name, natch), unfamiliar with strippers' fuck-me pumps, refers to it as a "swamp funk." Abby is an absinthe maven in Tempe who has devoted an entire room of her house to absinthe, absinthe antiques, art and poetry. She calls it her Green Room, as it's painted sage green throughout, with antique tables and chairs sporting green cushions. Absinthe bottles crowd cabinets, and everywhere are framed portraits of Rimbaud, Verlaine and Oscar Wilde. The door is covered by a reproduction of an absinthe poster, and the windows are shaded by diaphanous green curtains. Encircling the room are lines in French from Rimbaud's A Season in Hell.

Abby's well known in the online absinthe community, where she spends her time when not at an office job she's less than stoked about. She's traveled to Seattle and elsewhere for absinthe tastings, and as recently as February held one in her home, with 10 other absinthe maniacs flying in from all over the country for a three-day-long swilling spree. She's shared her emerald firewater with me, but she doesn't suffer absinthe fools gladly. Why do you think I went to her house minus Jett? When I tell Abby about the raunchy goings-on at Sadisco's Crime Lab Absinthian, she seems both amused and annoyed.

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