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Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Thirsty.

Stylish Parisian-style S.F watering hole uses elegant menu to promote classic cocktails.

"Like a camel I can go without a drink for seven days -- and have on several horrible occasions." Herb Caen.

It's fitting that a San Francisco bar dedicated to classic cocktails -- not the technicolored vodka variations so popular today, but the real thing, culled from the saloons and bars of America's speakeasy and nightclub era of the Twenties and Thirties -- would use a quote from the city's most celebrated newspaperman and nightclubber to anchor their cocktail menu. After all, the late Herb Caen -- a widely-followed daily columnist for more than 40 years -- in many ways defined SF's modern view of itself as a serious drinking town.

And while Absinthe may be a little bit too retro-cool for his saloon tastes -- it's designed to resemble an Art Nouveau Parisian restaurant -- Caen most likely would have approved of most of the reborn cocktails that appear on the bar's plain yet elegant manila beverage list, gathered as they are just above his name and the above quotation.

Not only are the classic cocktails promoted on the understated Absinthe bar list authentic; to establish their provenance, some are listed along with the cocktail book from which barman and all-around cocktail historian Marcovaldo Dionysus gathered the drinks.

Take, for example, The Ginger Rogers, made from gin, fresh mint leaves, ginger syrup and lemon juice topped with ginger ale with a squeeze of lime, is adapted from the 1914 "Drinks," written by Jacques Straub. And the recipe for a Casino (gin, lemon juice, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters, shaken, strained and served with a brandied cherry) comes from "The How and When," published in 1938 by G. F. Marco.

The versions of other, better-known classic beverages (the Sazerac and the Sidecar) that make the list can trace their lineage back to specific bar cookbooks (the former from "Famous New Orleans Drinks," published in 1940, the latter from "Swallows" written by "Cocktail" Bill Boothby), while lesser known creations like the Bolshoi (vodka, light rum, lime juice, sugar and creme de cassis) are borrowed from the original Russian Tea Room.

Most of Absinthe's concoctions have been adapted from the prohibition-era, although some, like the Crusta, date back more than one hundred years. From behind his bar, which is chock full of with a variety of bitters, specialty liqueurs, absinthes produced in France and eastern Europe, eau-de-vies and absinthe-like creations from California's Domaine Charbay and others, Dionysus gets to play with ingredients most other bars don't even carry.

"I'm constantly talking to customers about the history of the drinks we have on our list, explaining the ingredients and how they were made, and they definitely like what they hear and taste," he told Cheers earlier this year. One visit to the spot makes the case for the retro-list, as every stool is taken and every drinker sampling one of Absinthe's signature cocktails. The combination of attractions--Absinthe's stylish look, strong wine list, good food, quirky cocktail menu and young-barstar-with-a-following Dionysus--has succeeded in keeping the bar filled late into the night with serious spirit lovers from S.F. and out of town.
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Author:Robertiello, Jack
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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