5 Best Places for Absinthe Service in Metro Phoenix
Absinthe at Little Cleo's served traditionally. Ice cold water from a fountain drips over sugar to dilute.
A question for the ages: Just how many abandoned absinthe fountains are out there? Disenchanted by the apparatus (tragically, just picture those heavy fountains metal-plated Lady Absinthe lifts tirelessly above her head), some barkeeps may have even banished her to the highest shelf, by the 40-year-old scotch, as I've seen her, to accumulate dust like a hockey trophy.
But unlike hockey trophies, absinthe is cool. Some would argue it's been cool. Online stores even hawk vintage four-dripper fountains to the living-room entertainer by virtue of their group-friendly design to gather 'round. Like fondue sets that come with four fondue forks, no one except an unlucky fifth gets left out of the fun.
And since 2007, when the U.S. lifted a ban on the spirit, it's been pretty easy to find absinthe in Phoenix. But even though the landscape of availability has shifted, only a handful prep it in full-ritual form.
Here are five Valley spots, from newcomers to old, to get your licorice..er, anise...I mean "star anise..." (what's the difference?)...fennel -- okay, anything-flavored-by-the-compound-molecule-anethol drink fix.
Counter Intuitive Thanks for letting me convey some false confusion. For the record, absinthe's flavor is largely owed to a triad of botanicals including sweet fennel, green anise, and wormwood leaves. These, in addition to a few other botanicals, contribute to its delightful licorice-likeness.
Counter Intuitive, with its rotating themes, may have the absinthe service with the least amount of staying power on this list. But for now, the drink is right at the heart of New Orleans Culture, the bar's current theme.
Every city has its haunt, home to centuries of writers and entertainers, and in New Orleans it's always been the Old Absinthe House bar ("The Absinthe Room," as it were) where Teddy Roosevelt and Oscar Wilde alike came to drink from the fountain of booze.
You better believe Counter Intuitive serves a proper Sazerac, too, one of absinthe's earliest cocktails. Absinthe service is $13, but who said it was cheap, anyway?
Little Cleo's Seafood Legend
Who said it was cheap? Well, Little Cleo did. And bless her soul since she convinced Sam Fox to offer up one of the best happy hours in Phoenix. I'd be all-too-obliged to eat, from the hour of 4 to 5 p.m. on most days of the week, $1 oysters and shrimp while drinking half-price absinthe service and absinthe cocktails.
Riding Seattle's carefully-sourced oyster bar trend, Little Cleo's selection is more than serviceable. Excellent, even, if you're willing to shell-out and shell-in at non-happy hour rates. More times than not, the bartender explained to me, the $1 oysters at happy hour will be the cheapest. But you'll likely find, like I did, that those oysters are the saltiest ones (the least refined, you could say), the Kumiai ones sourced from Baja. Fortunately, you may never find a better set of sea legs to balance out your subtly sweet glass of absinthe.
Get the St. George, America's first domestically distilled absinthe. Akin, on the palate, to a shot of Pastis, its pastel yellow color offers the most licorice flavor for your dollar.
Salut Kitchen Bar Tempe may be the driest town in Maricopa County when it comes to quality cocktails options, but to my surprise, Salut, "Tempe's neighborhood wine bar" (located next to a yarn store) actually offers real-deal absinthe service. And it's cheap -- $5 for the house Absinthe, NV-brand, during happy hour cheap.
Now, you get what you pay for with NV, which the bloggers of the Wormwood Society, "America's Premier Absinthe Association," unanimously dismiss for its artificiality. It's "colored with FD&C Yellow #6, FD&C Blue #1, and FD&C Yellow #5," one points out. Another says, "Why bother?" Same goes for the La Fee label absinthe.
Spend a couple extra dollars for the Kubler or La Clandestine labels that Salut carries, or go with friends and split St. George's by the bottle ($39), all of which are Wormwood Society-approved.
Lux Central Come for the pastries, stay for a cocktail. Then call a cab, because, absinthe.
At Lux the La Colombe style-iced coffee (batch brew over ice, add espresso) stops at 10 p.m., so revival may only come in the form of a Corpse Reviver #2, one of the classic absinthe-employing cocktails. It's a drink that, if you approach one of Lux's menu-less libation-liaisons with an "I like absinthe" pitch, they will most certainly recommend to you in return -- as opposed to classic absinthe preparation.
Is it the best Corpse Reviver #2 in town? Second to none and one for all, I say (at the bottom of my glass, mind you). But at that point, as you stare into the glassware at Lux with a green fairy perched beside you, you'll realize it's some of the prettiest stemware in town, regardless of what's in it.
Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails Blue Hound is the only entry on this list that doesn't serve absinthe in traditional fashion, out of the fountain with a slotted, sugar cube-adorned spoon. But the bartenders take care to emulate the process with a bit of fifty-fifty simple syrup for sweetness and a smidge of dilution from the water.
They also say that they can fix it however you like, if you're looking for more of a tall drink. Is that skimping on tradition? Sure. Is it cheating? No way -- not if it tastes just as good. The pricey Pernod ($16) is available in addition to the pervasive St. George absinthe found most elsewhere. And there's Herbsaint as well, which is technically a pastis since it lacks wormwood in its botanical bouquet.
5632 N. 7th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85014
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