North Europeans in search of the legend of absinthe are often distracted by what appears to be a plentiful offering and a rich variety of the green fairy juice in Barcelona. Usually found in the Raval area of Barrio Gotico, or down a Barcelona back alley that offers just the right mix of danger, mystique and vice.
But is it just awful hooch better employed in disinfecting the lavatory, or as dye for the next Barça away strip? Would Toulouse Lautrec have swallowed Barcelona absinthe ? Or left it to Jean Genet?….The Lizard in the Bidet looks at the hideous but freely-available absenta…
In Barcelona you’ll find many bars offering “absenta” the legendary elixir, the famous green fairy, 975º proof, state-altering, provider of hallucinations and delusions of artist-status. You may even find places offering a ridiculous bowl of sugar cubes and a spoon (for those supposedly in the know). Absinthe was the cup of tea of the 19th and 20th century Paris bohemian, consumptive but chirpy, and oh so enigmatic.
The Lizard has tried a few of these on his travels, and fell for the hype originally, experimenting with spoons, lighters and sugar cubes. There is a bewildering variety of bottles of absenta in Spain, in shades of green varying from almost black to almost colourless. It seems to predominate in cities like Valencia and Barcelona, and a litre bottle can be picked up for as little as 8 euros in many bodegas in the cities (unless you go for the one that has a nice picture of a green fairy: multiply by 5).
Do people actually drink Barcelona absinthe in Spain? Spain has long been the El Dorado of the sot, and the green fairy’s mythical status on the banned list on other countries adds to its charm (although most countries including the UK no longer ban this stuff, except the truly poisonous ones). The truth is there are many different definitions of what absinthe is and many of these high-alcohol spirits are flavoured with anisette but lack the genuine ingredient of wormwood that turned Vincent Van Gogh so charmingly doolally.
As for Barcelona absinthe, The Lizard has never met any real Spaniard who drinks this stuff (or even knows much about it), and suspects the liquor is used only for industrial purposes in remote parts of Alicante. (Just as you will frequently see bar staff in Spain use one of their lower-shelf gins or vodkas to wet a cloth and clean the bar top). There is certainly no discernible set of budding Edouard Manets, deliriously talented with blotches of oil paint, viewing charming naked East Europeans through a geen lense.
Absinthe was the big v-sign to the social conservative of the 19th and 20th century. A wonderful list of rogues, artistic heroes and bohemians have ambassadored the legend for over one hundred years: Baudelaire, Hemingway, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Modigliani, Picasso, Wilde…but they couldn’t afford a pint.
Avoid absinthe: it’s rubbish, have a Pacharán instead.
The Lizard in the Bidet is a travel blogger living in Huesca, Pyrenees. firstname.lastname@example.org