The woman wears a tousled red topknot and slipping neckline, and holds a glass of absinthe in one hand; with the other, she restrains an older man in the long robes of a doctor.
In this 1894 ad for a Parisian distiller, they're flirting with a bottle of absinthe, labeled "santé" (a nod to French troops who, deployed to Algeria in the 1840s, drank absinthe to ward off malaria and dysentery). The ad's tag line? Loosely translated, it's something like "Drink [worm] wood, and you'll see, after".
Those early, modern absinthe ads remain some of the industry's sexiest - and in some ways, startling - ways to sell spirits. Bohemian women dance in ecstasy with bottles, while more sedate (read: upper class) couples sip it in cafés; devilish green fairies tempt, and in Picasso's 1902 painting, a woman wrapped in a blue shroud of a blanket sleepily contemplates her next sip. Soon after, absinthe would be banned in the U.S. for nearly 100 years.
I've since made up for lost time, and my latest tasting of absinthe came at Meauxbar Bistro, which runs a capable service bar but also features a small list of specialty cocktails. I took mine at their steel-topped bar - absinthe paired with silky pear vodka and pear purée, which has such great crunchy texture that it can almost stand in for ice.
Bartender Mitchell Dandrea had to play with the balance - absinthe is notoriously strong-willed - and gets it right in this L'Absinthe Martini, which is elegant, low-key, and almost floral on the approach.
As I enjoyed it, I pictured another painting: a French cigarette girl after a hard night's shift, legs propped on a chair, enjoying a smoke and absinthe with a friend. Painted by Jean Beraud in 1909, it shows the liqueur stripped of all mystery and danger, and simply as a mint-tinted way to unwind.
Meauxbar Bistro, 942 N. Rampart, 569.9979
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