The new absinthe drinkers...
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Just when it seemed like hard drinking was going out of style, absinthe is back in fashion. And the clean-living generation behind its revival is, surprisingly, Gen Z. In the UK, sales of absinthe at the Whisky Exchange are up 30 per cent while Master of Malt and Waitrose both report “strong sales” of anise spirits. London recently got its first dedicated absinthe distillery – Devil’s Botany.
Bedroom 6, an invite-only absinthe speakeasy born in a student bedroom in LA, now has twentysomethings enlisting in their thousands for a chance to share an absinthe fountain with strangers. Conceived by 24-year-old Rhys Osborne during his time at the University of Southern California, the underground club has hosted pop-ups in New York, Austin and Portland, and a collaboration with Soho House.
“I was looking around at how people were interacting in my university and it was clear everyone was feeling really lonely,” says Osborne. “And it became my mission to address the epidemic that seemed to be afflicting our generation. I tried organising wine nights but they were a total failure. Then one night we were having a party in our house and I had an idea of creating a speakeasy inside the party, in my bedroom – it was all decked out with vintage furnishings including an absinthe fountain, so I started serving absinthe. And I saw how it gave people the chance to experience something new and meet people and have a meaningful face-to-face interaction – it was magic.”
Bedroom 6 has just finished a pop-up in a back room at the LA flower shop The Unlikely Florist; in New York it’s in a space on the Lower East Side. The venues change, but the low-lit, cluttered student bedroom vibe of the original has stayed much the same. Wannabe guests make a follow request on Bedroom 6’s private Instagram account – and once a week Rhys or his community manager selects the applicants. “Our IG account works like a virtual speakeasy – only keyholders can see inside.” Successful applicants are invited to one of the Sunday-night sessions and admitted four at a time. They pay $66 for a 20-minute absinthe “ritual”, after which they’re encouraged to linger for a couple more drinks. “But we don’t serve shots – it’s not about going crazy and drinking a ton,” says Osborne. “We encourage people to take it slowly – it’s about delayed gratification.”
Osborne favours the more theatrical bohemian absinthe ritual, which involves setting an absinthe-soaked sugar cube on fire: “A lot of absinthe purists are not fans of the ritual, they say it’s not traditional, but for us that fire is transformational – it’s about burning away the bad energy,” he explains. His absinthe of choice is by the Californian craft distillery St George.
Milan’s hottest new bar, Norah was Drunk, has also made the absinthe ritual a centrepiece. “We are great lovers of classic drinks and there is no other spirit as alluring and historical as absinthe,” says co-owner Niccolò Caramiello. “That ritual is all about conviviality and loosening the atmosphere. It’s made the bar a meeting point.”
Caramiello favours the more traditional French method, which calls for a fountain of iced water, a spoon and sugar, but no fire. He lists 10 absinthes, ranging from Pernod to new-wave spirits such as Jade Nouvelle Orleans, and also does absinthe cocktails including an anise-y twist on an espresso Martini and a highball with absinthe and pineapple soda. The bar is tiny, fun and eccentric – it’s named after a poodle with a taste for mine-sweeping. The weathered furniture is by upcycling specialists Laboratorio Controprogetto; in the absence of a kitchen they’ve made a virtue of tinned snacks including octopus and lemon marinated sardines.
And in Paris a bar that will make exciting use of vintage absinthe is also on the way. Bar Nouveau is the work of Remy Savage, creator of Bauhaus London hotspot A Bar with Shapes for a Name. Inspired by the art nouveau movement, it will major on French aperitifs. There won’t be an absinthe fountain at this bar in the Marais, says Savage, but there will be plenty of anise-y pastis. And rare absinthes will be a key feature of its cocktail list: the house vodka Martini will come dotted with absinthe bottled during the art nouveau period. “I love absinthe because you can have a lot of fun with a very small amount,” says Savage. In every case, these bars make a little go a long way.