Monterey Live reinvigorates the spirit of the legendary liquor with a special cabaret show.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was known for wandering around Paris with a hollow walking stick filled with it. Vincent Van Gogh drank it heavily—and a number of his works took on its mouthwash-green hue. Pablo Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and Edgar Degas all created paintings where a glass of it was a prominent feature. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein between swigs of it, and Ernest Hemingway drank the intoxicant while penning For Whom the Bell Tolls, a legendary tale where the protagonist slurps it as well.
Some of the finest wits of the period waxed poetically about absinthe. Oscar Wilde famously wrote: “What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?” He also described its effects. “The first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things,” he wrote, “but if you can persevere you will enter the third stage, where you see things that you want to see, wonderful curious things.”
In the late 19th century there were “green hours” in France, a sort of absinthe happy hour, but by the early 20th century, absinthe was thought to cause hallucinations and seizures. The drink also got a bad rap after Jean Lanfray was found to have consumed absinthe—along with copious amounts of wine and hard liquor—before murdering his pregnant wife and two kids in Switzerland in 1905.
The Lanfray case led the Swiss government to ban it. France followed suit in 1912, the United States in 1915.
Over the past two decades, however, absinthe has seen a resurgence. Thujone, a chemical in the absinthe ingredient wormwood, is still illegal, but recently brands like Lucid and Kubler have been allowed because their recipes have wormwood but no thujone.
Locally, Monterey Live, which sells Lucid, will celebrate the re-emergence of the drink with a party this Saturday. The gathering will attempt to transform Live into a turn-of-the-century Parisian café. Some individuals will be decked out in period dress courtesy of San Francisco’s Dark Garden Corsetry.
There also will be a theatrical performance featuring Kim Boekbinder of Vermillion Lies, Avery Burke of Corpus Callosum, burlesque dancer Honey LeBang and tribal belly dancer Ariellah. Following the show will be a performance by Los Angeles cabaret rock band The Peculiar Pretzelmen.
The real star, however, will be the potent intoxicant that is 60 to 75 percent alcohol. (Whiskey and tequila hover around 40 percent.) That strength is one of the many qualities absinthe lovers champion. Some say its herbal stimulants cause a “lucid drunkenness.” Others are drawn to the ritual it often involves: using a specially slotted “absinthe spoon” to pour cold water over a sugar cube and into a glass of absinthe. There’s something poetic about watching the cube dissolve like melting snow.
Then there’s the lore behind the drink. Recent developments continue to add to the mystique created by absinthe’s aforementioned famous drinkers. In 2005, a Connecticut man named George Allen Smith disappeared during his honeymoon on a cruise ship off the coast of Turkey after allegedly consuming absinthe with his wife.
I consumed three glasses of the illegal variety of absinthe while composing this piece. Made in France, the absinthe I drank is called La Fee and is decorated with a languid green eye. I was able to get the bottle shipped to me through a company that can be found at Eabsinthe.com. For what it’s worth, I can testify that one thing said about absinthe appears true, for now: It intoxicates without clouding the mind.
THE ABSINTHE CABARET PARTY starts 9:30pm Saturday, Feb. 23, at Monterey Live, 414 Alvarado St., Monterey. $10. 375-LIVE.