No other intoxicant has so much goth cache. Perhaps it’s the ritual, a bit like high tea, a bit more like smoking opium. The slow flow of clear yellow liquid from the beau arts fountain. The sugar cube placed on the slotted, silver spoon. The cold water, and the transformation to an opaque, unnatural green. The faerie released from her liquid prison.
Perhaps it’s the history. Montmartre. The Moulin Rouge. Toulouse Lautrec. Maupassant, who wrote “Le Horla,” then slashed his wrists in an insane asylum. Perhaps it’s the wormwood. Toxic. Hallucinogenic. Said to grant visions, or cause permanent psychosis in the too frequent user. Or maybe it’s merely the fact that it’s illegal.
We are about to find out.
Up until recently, if you wanted a bottle of absinthe, you had to order it on-line from a European supplier, then hope what arrived wasn’t home-brew poison. Last year, two Old World brands successfully demonstrated their safety to the ATF, and became legal to sell. Absinthe Verte, made in California, is America’s first entry into the market. As Goth kids across the nation rejoice, I wonder what the future holds for the Green Faerie. Now that it’s legal, can absinthe stay cool?
To answer that question, let’s set the Wayback Machine for the autumn of 1994. On Friday or Saturday nights, young Tim and Dave meet downtown, where the San Diego coffeehouse scene is just beginning to jump. Our destination? Mecca Java. Sandwiched between a vacant warehouse and a gallery selling hand-blown glass lampshades, this is the home of honking big café mochas, live music, crayons and butcher paper on the tables, and a statuesque barista named Bear. Parking here means dodging car-wipers and other, more aggressive panhandlers. Those who leave their windows open a crack risk returning to a latrine. But the coffee is good, and the company is even better.
As the months roll by, you may notice certain changes. The smell of clove cigarettes is gradually replaced by the aroma of actual tobacco. And who are those people with the nice shoes and purses? Finally, there is a fatal omen. A pool table, that harbinger of death for any watering hole, takes the place of a sprung sofa. Soon after, Mecca Java closes, unable to pay the increasing rent in a neighborhood it helped to revive.
Fast forward to today. The downtown home of Mecca Java is now the Gaslamp District, an over lit avenue of pricey restaurants, bars and boutiques. Traffic is heavy, and parking your car will cost you at least a ten. The homeless, tired of getting rousted by bicycle cops, have migrated uphill, to my neighborhood. Around the county, there’s a Starbucks across from every legit coffeehouse. A walk by Lestat’s, my local java hut, shows an unspeaking crowd of caffeine addicts with laptop computers. In short, coffee ain’t cool, and it hasn’t been for a long time.
I give absinthe five years. After that, expect to see a kiosk at the mall selling slotted spoons and gilded glasses. Expect an absinthe fountain at Hooters or Dick’s Last Resort. If the Green Faerie really takes off with the disposable income crowd, we might even see a national chain of absinthe bars. They’ll probably have some horrible name like “Absinthe Without Leave” or “Martre-Mart.” Hmm… Maybe I should copyright those.