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The Roman vault and the absinthe 'exhibit'

Finding “the Green Fairy” in Antibes: Visit the Absinthe Museum

The Roman vault and the absinthe 'exhibit'
The Roman vault and the absinthe ‘exhibit’

Many visitors of the French Riviera found a fairy where they commonly hide. Of course, in an almost hidden location. But fairies are mythical or legendary beings in European folklores. They are thought to be some sort of spirit and for some time had the equivalence to “enchantment” and “magic.” Adults can be quite sure that they don’t exist in the real world except in modern Disney cult animations. Yet in the French Riviera, specifically in Antibes, one can have an encounter to this “enchantment” or, if we can say, “magic,” a “spirit” in the form of green liquor. And to find it one needs to go to underneath a market in a cellar with an ancient Roman vault.

The Green Fairy

Absinthe is a very controversial yet famous drink in France. It has its nickname: La Fée Verte, or the Green Fairy. A highly alcoholic beverage, it consists of green anise, sweet fennel, and of grand wormwood (artemisia Absinthium), where it got its name. It can make one feel ‘enchanted’ if one does not prefer the word hallucinated due to its very high alcohol content (90-148 US proof!). The proper way to consume it is diluting the pure spirit with water.

Because of the presence of ‘thujone,’ a chemical compound present in trace amount in the spirit, it was believed to have harmful effects. But thujone is also present in many herbs, including sage. Numerous exaggerations of the studies regarding absinthe exist prior to the 1990s. Many countries imposed a ban on its consumption. It turned out that some of the suppliers added copper slats to enhance the color and produce low-quality absinthe. Bad publicity also contributed to it becoming branded as a harmful drink.

Loved by the artists and the eccentrics

van Gogh in an absinthe advertising memorabilia
van Gogh in an absinthe advertising memorabilia

The bohemian population during the late 19th century so loved the drink that they made it a symbol of their transformation. It is “The Green Fairy”. The bohemians had it as their trusted guide to artistic innovation. It was their symbol on the quest to escape the conventional reality of their time. That is how the nickname sticks to the drink afterward, beside the other nicknames it had. So popular it was that the 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the happy hour in France was referred to as ” l’heure verte,” or the green hour. This after-working-hours is when they enjoyed their favorite green spirit.

Many writers and artists found inspiration with this drink. Picasso made a sculpture depicting a glass of absinthe, showing the traditional method of preparing it. Ernest Hemmingway alluded to it in his works. Vincent van Gogh consumed unholy amount, but he also drank other alcoholic liquors and even some painting materials like turpentine. This can rule out the rumor that absinthe might have a contribution to van Gogh’s delusional problem.

Where to find the green fairy

The most popular place to enjoy absinthe is in Antibes. On its Le Marché Provençal, alongside the restaurants in Old Town, one can notice an olive oil shop. At its basement is a place called La Balade en Provence, but its most familiar name is the Absinthe Museum. It is more of a bar than a museum. A genuinely atypical setting, it is a lively cellar with bits of Roman masonry and an original 1860 zinc bar. Around are a few tables with accessories such as water fountains to use in preparing absinthe. The vault is of 9th century, on the edge of a Roman well. It has a capacity of 40 people. The Absinthe Museum started serving local and tourist clientele in 2003. It currently employs seven lively crew that serves and entertains the guests.

Poster decorates the walls of the Absinthe Bar
Poster decorates the walls of the Absinthe Bar

Absinthe advertising posters and memorabilia decorate the place. There is a unique collection of different cool hats that everyone can try on and pass around after a round of drink. There’s also the friendly, warm, and welcoming crew who entertains the frequenters and new ones in such a lively manner. The bartender is especially helpful in setting up the drink and explaining its unique history. He also explains why there are so many hats and what they are doing there. One should wait until the night for the time when a guy plays the piano.

How they serve absinthe

The traditional method of preparing absinthe
The traditional method of preparing absinthe

You have to experience it first-hand, of course. But to give a preview, let us look at the traditional method. Note that there are many varieties of the drink and it does not only come on green color. To prepare absinthe, one needs a glass, a spoon of a sugar cube, and freshwater. It is usual to serve it with one part pure absinthe and five parts water. The absinthe in the glass will mix in the sugar on a slotted spoon as the drip of cold water from the fountain melts it. It will then form into “la louche” where the mixture becomes a cloudy substance. It has a licorice flavor on it.

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Absinthe Bar/Museum entrance
Absinthe Bar/Museum entrance

So, when visiting Antibes, enjoy a unique and pleasant night and experience what van Gogh and Picasso, without the ear-chopping, of course. Chase the “green fairy” in the old Roman basement of a shop in the middle of the market. Drop by the Absinthe museum to enjoy the night with the drink and good company.

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Please visit the Absinthe Museum ‘s Facebook page.