“Absinthe? Isn’t the illegal?,” is usually the response I hear when I invite people to go to one of my favorite watering holes in Houston. My answer: sort of. At one time the Food & Drug Administration prohibited U.S. production and sales of absinthe (an over-proof ethereal green spirit said to elevate the mind and spirit to a higher plane) due to a broader ban on a chemical known as thujone, which some claim is responsible for the potion’s “hallucinogenic” properties. In 2007, the FDA decided a wee, wee bit of thujone (approximately 10 parts per million) was okay and since then absinthe has been available in liquor stores and bars nation-wide. Now, purists will tell you that the relative absence of thujone in the spirit labeled and sold as “absinthe” in the United States means it’s not the ‘real’ thing and that it differs substantially from the original recipe versions still very much legal in Europe. In some ways, they are right: the “green fairy” you will meet at Absinthe Brasserie has an American accent. I promise you, however, she’s still sweet and striking, and will knock you off your feet just like those other liquid nymphs across the pond.
But enough with the history lesson and on to the drinking. Finding Absinthe Brasserie can be slightly tricky. In keeping with the mellow, speak-easy feel, the owners post no sign announcing its presence. Double wooden doors, and if you go around 8 p.m. on a weekend, a full parking lot outside a small building just past the 600 block of Richmond are the best two signs you’ve reached your destination.
Once inside, you’ll see dark lighting, intimate seating nooks, a wood and wrought-iron bar, and a motley crew of patrons. A strangely comforting balance, that is to say, of sultry and friendly, strange and familiar. Tête-à-têtes and other serious meeting of minds regularly occur over absinthe concoctions such as the flaming Hallucinating Mellon and Hemingway’s Revenge, grave faces illuminated by both the fluorescent spirits and flickering candles. If, however, you eschew those stiffer drinks for the (slightly) milder sangria and red pepper and goat cheese quesadillas and end up laughing uproariously with your not-so-subtle cohort of work pals, no one will bat an eye.
For those reasons, Absinthe Brasserie is the perfect escapist bar and lounge: a transformational space where boundaries (and vision) become increasingly blurred after each subsequent round of cocktails. The consummate extrovert finds herself suddenly introspective; the timorous looker-on finds herself conversing enthusiastically with new acquaintances. It’s the magic of the green fairy.
609 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77006
Absinthe Brasserie Menu