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The Absinthe of Little Paris

Sep 5, 2008
According to some authorities, absinthe as a drink originated in Algeria, and French soldiers serving in the Franco-Algerian war (1830-47) introduced the green spirits to Paris upon their return from the North African country where the drink found strong favor along the boulevards.

In time the spectacle of bearded men and demi-mondes dripping their absinthes became one of the sights of Paris. Naturally, so fashionable a Parisian drink was not long in finding its way to the Little Paris of North America-- New Orleans.

The drink, which was spelled "absinthe" in New Orleans liquor advertisements in 1837, when it was apparently first imported from France and Switzerland, was a liquor distilled from a large number of various herbs, roots, seeds, leaves, and barks steeped in anise.

It also included Artemisia absinthium, an herb known as "Wormwood" abroad, but called "Herbe Sainte" by the French-speaking population of Louisiana. In past years wormwood was been condemned as harmful and habit-forming, and laws were enacted forbidding its use in liquors in the United States and other countries.

In addition to banning wormwood from manufactured liquor, the use of the word "absinthe" on bottles of modern concoctions which do not contain wormwood, was also banned. As a consequence, manufacturers of absinthe substitutes were forced to adopt trade names.

Of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans' famed Vieux Carre, none has been more glorified in story and picture than a square, plastered-brick building at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets, known as "The Old Absinthe House."

Ancient legend has long set forth that the building was erected in 1752, 1774, 1786, 1792, but as a matter of fact it was actually built in 1806 for the importing and commission firm of Juncadella & Font, Catalonians from Barcelona, Spain. In 1820, after Francisco Juncadella died and Pedro Font returned to his native land, the place continued as a commission house for the barter of foodstuffs, tobacco, shoes, clothing, as well as liquids in bulk from Spain, and was conducted by relatives of the builders.

Later it became an epicerie, or grocery shop; for several years it was a cordonnerie, or boot and shoe store, and not until 1846 did the ground floor corner room become a coffee-house, as saloons were then called. It became a typical scene for the tables to be lined with crowds of people sipping their drinks and then resting them on their drink coasters (http://www.thirstycoasters.com/servlet/-strse-Seasonal/Categories).

This initial liquid-refreshment establishment was run by Jacinto Aleix, a nephew of Senora Juncadella, and was known as "Aleix's Coffee-House." In 1869, Cayetano Ferrer, a Catalan from Barcelona, who had been a bartender at the French Opera House, transferred his talents to the old Juncadella casa and became principal drink-mixer for the Aleix brothers.

In 1874, Cayetano himself leased the place, calling it the "Absinthe Room" because of the potent dripped absinthe he served in the Parisian manner. His drink became so popular that it won fame not only for Cayetano, but for the balance of his family-papa, mamma, Uncle Leon, and three sons, Felix, Paul, and Jacinto, who helped to attend the wants of all and sundry that crowded the place. They served millions of these popular cocktails (http://www.thirstycoasters.com/servlet/-strse-Cats-%26-Dogs/Categories) to crowds of locals and tourists.

What the customers came for chiefly was the emerald liquor into which, tiny drop by tiny drop, fell water from the brass faucets of the pair of fountains that decorated the long cypress bar. These old fountains, relics of a romantic past, remained in the Casa Juncadella for many years.

Then came prohibition when the doors of "The Old Absinthe House" were padlocked by a United States marshal, and the contents of the place went under the hammer. Pierre Cazebonne purchased the prized antiques, together with the old bar, and set them up in another liquid refreshment parlor a block farther down Bourbon street, where signs now inform the tourist that therein is to be found the original "Old Absinthe Bar" and antique fountains, and we find the marble bases pitted from the water which fell, drop by drop, from the faucets over the many years they served their glorious mission.

In these modern years the tourist yearning for an old flavor of the Old New Orleans to carry back as a memory of his visit, goes to 400 Bourbon street, not only to see the venerable fountains and bar, but to be served absinthe frappe on an absorbent coaster, http://www.thirstycoasters.com/servlet/-strse-Name-Drops/Categories, by a son of Cayetano Fer-rer, the Spaniard who established "The Old Absinthe House."

Jacinto Ferrer was an expert at preparing the drink properly for he did for well over sixty-five years. "Josh" served his apprenticeship in his father's celebrated "Absinthe Room" in 1872, and remained in the same profession at which he began his apprenticeship as a five-year-old boy.
About the Author
Sarah Martin is a freelance marketing writer based out of San Diego, CA. She specializes in the history of wine and cocktails and enjoys learning new recipes. For a great selection of drink coasters and other accessories, please visit http://www.thirstycoasters.com/index.html.
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