The Old Absinthe House
The 200 year old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street has been a staple of New Orleans celebrities since its founding in 1807. Originally built by two Spaniards from Barcelona it blossomed into a famous bar known for its absinthe frappe (essentially absinthe with sugar water). It has hosted many notable patrons, from Mark Twain to Oscar Wilde and Robert E. Lee. It is still operating today, with some of its original artifacts on display.
Backstory and Context
Under the Aleix Brothers the store changed roles many times, it went from a shoe shop in 1838, to a grocery in 1843 and finally a coffee house in 1861, this final iteration began the progression towards its eventual fate. IBID
In 1870 the Aleix brothers hired Cayetano Ferrer, a bartender who had become famous while working for the Old French Opera House. In 1874 Ferrer created the drink which would make the Absinthe House famous: Absinthe Frappe. This mixture of absinthe, sugar and water struck a chord with the high society of the time and made the small former grocery a famous institution and by 1890, it was being called the Old Absinthe House. But this absinthe craze was not to last. Rue Bourbon
By the turn of the 20th century it had become clear that the wormwood used in absinthe production contained hallucinogenic and narcotic qualities and it was eventually outlawed in 1912. When prohibition was put on the books in 1920 it was decided that the bar in the Absinthe House would be destroyed in order to send a message to anyone who’d think to disobey the new laws. But the bar, and the original bar fountains, which were the first in the country, were smuggled out in the night before they could be damaged. They were hidden in a warehouse which then became the “Absinthe House Bar” until 2004 when the bars were brought back to the original building. Ibid.
Today the Old Absinthe is back up and running, though Absinthe is still illegal to import or produce in the United States so substitutes have to be used. The bar also has a plaque commemorating the rumored meeting between famous general Andrew Jackson and the pirate Jean Lafitte shortly before the battle of New Orleans. Lafitte’s men would play a pivotal role in that battle acting as Jackson’s artillery. Casey