Previously a spirit somewhat feared by the average drinker, absinthe is now having its moment in the emerald-hued spotlight. With National Absinthe Day coming up on 5th March, we’ve highlighted some of the capital’s top spots for sampling ‘la fée verte’
By Cheryl Caira
Camden has really been upping its bar game recently, with Lost Boys being one of the neighbourhood’s latest openings. Launched off the back of its already successful Archway pizzeria, you’re greeted with a cracking 80s soundtrack, some vampire-themed décor a la the cult film with Kiefer Sutherland and their signature black charcoal pizza.
It’s excellent fare (the ‘Fangs for the Memories’ with chorizo, peppers, onions and chilli flakes is our personal favourite) so line your stomach with copious slices before heading down to the atmospheric Croque Monsieur drinking den. With absinthe fountains on each table and an art-deco, speakeasy vibe, the bar’s aim is to make absinthe supping less of a daunting prospect, with ‘absinthe experiences’ available to educate and guide you through the best way to approach the potent spirit. There’s a selection of both established and boutique brands, from France, Belgium and even the UK, and cocktails that include the enticing ‘Spiced Plum Mai Tai’ – with almond and absinthe spiced plums, star anise & gold rum – and ‘Death in the Afternoon’, a classic and potently tasty mix of absinthe and champagne.
The illustrious history of this London landmark needs little introduction, with a roll call of rockstars and royalty as past (and current) clientele. No doubt many a writer (Oscar Wilde included) has imbibed here over the last century seeking inspiration from the fabled emerald potion, and when the hotel reopened in 2016 it payed homage to its cocktail heritage with a bar specialising in absinthe. Inspired by the Café Royal Cocktail Book, written by W.J. Tarling in 1937, the drinks menu focuses on the 1920s and 1930s with a selection of absinthes to enjoy neat, and cocktails that include Czech absinthe La Fée Bohemian, served with Fever Tree lemonade, lemon, fresh mint and lemon juice.
If you like your cocktail drinking with a side of boules, then Baranis provides a unique setting for absinthe sampling and French pursuits. The Provence-inspired bar has the UK’s only indoor pétanque court, so in between nibbling charcuterie, cheese and crostini from the bar menu, you can test your ball throwing skills. The bar has a variety of absinthes on the menu, with a signature cocktail described as “an iron fist in a velvet glove” with Pernod Ricard absinthe, orgeat syrup and chilled water. One to try if you like your tipples ‘punchy.’
An east London cocktail stalwart, descend the stairs to this 1920s-style den of iniquity (but make sure you’ve booked) and you’ll discover a large collection of premium absinthes hailing from France and Switzerland. If you’re keen to follow in the footsteps of bohos past, you can louche your own absinthe from a fountain at your table. If you definitely want to keep things mixed and not straight up, the absinthe-infused cocktail options are varied and superb: options include an absinthe martini; a ‘Fiery Fairy’ with Enigma blanche absinthe, ginger beer and mint; and a ‘Tremblement de Terre’ (originally created by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) consisting of half absinthe and half Cognac or Armagnac.