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With images of Bohemian poets and artists in mind, friends and I ventured to a bar in Sydney’s Surry Hills neighbourhood to experience absinthe, a toxic-looking beverage made with wormwood, fennel and green anise.
Absinthesalon, a Sydney small bar with only this mysterious spirit on its drinks menu, is one of a kind in Australia. The bar is home to 24 green and white absinthes of French or Swiss origin (where the drink was created in the late 18th Century), ranging from mild to strong (45 to 74% alcohol) – perfect for both the absinthe enthusiast and the absinthe curious.
Though inconspicuous from the outside, the interior of Absinthesalon seems to have travelled back in time, to a small bar in France during La Belle Epoque period (the late 19th to early 20th Century). Up to 30 guests can be seated at the room's dozen tables, each adorned with crystal glasses that circle the reproduction absinthe water fountain at the centre.
A menu lists the various styles, tastes and alcoholic levels of absinthe, but since it was our first time, one of the owners, Joop van Heusden, gladly explained the lengthy process. After being served a measure, we smelled. We placed the decorative absinthe spoon on top of the glass, a sugar cube on top of that, and let the fountain drip ice water over it for several minutes. We watched the drink become cloudy as the cold water reacted with the herbal oils -- a process known as "louching" -- then smelled the newly aromatic concoction again and finally, took a sip.
The bar's policy is no more than three pours of absinthe in an evening, but the amount of time it takes to prepare and drink the spirit, along with its high alcohol content, means the limit is rarely an issue.
Absinthesalon was opened as one of the first bars made possible by the small bars bill which supports an alternative night culture to bars with poker machines and televised sport, and is the same bill that has brought Sydney such unique hangouts as Island Bar and Tio's Cerveceria. Reservations are recommended on weekends.
Brooke Schoenman is the Sydney Localite for BBC Travel