Drink, interview

Art n’ Absinthe in Fitzroy

Shrouded in a veil of mystery and myth since its 18th century Swiss origins and often (incorrectly) labeled as a hallucinogenic, Absinthe, la fée verte, the Green Fairy, has long been the popular choice of beverage for artists, writers and bohemians. Much like the spirit itself, Fitzroy’s relatively new Absinthesalon is a little mysterious. Hidden behind a heavy, unassuming wooden door off Fitzroy’s Rose Street, guests are admitted only after they ring a doorbell. Once inside, they are transported down the rabbit hole to a soft, elegant and dreamlike 19th century French salon with close to 40 varieties of the spirit available.

Dark period art adorns the walls inside, the ceiling is accented with a garden of reverse tulips (inspired by Oscar Wilde’s famous quote), and the indoor / outdoor garden area is enclosed by glowing green walls. An Absinthe-lovers dream.

We caught up with Paddy Hutchinson, from Absinthesalon, where we hoped to clear up once and for all, if Absinthe really drove people mad?

How long have you been working in the Absinthesalon?
I’ve been working with the Absinthesalon six months now, basically since we opened the doors. I helped a little with the final stages of decoration, and being able to see its final transformation was pretty special… since then I’ve kind of become part of the decor.

Personal favourite from the current selection?
If pressed for a favourite I usually go for the Jade Terminus; it’s got an elegantly layered palette, a beautiful creamy texture and this underlying spice that reminds me a little of Islay whiskies. Add to that the beautiful bottle art and the fact that its connected to some of the best stories – which given Absinthe’s history is really saying something – means that I enjoy it both as a drink and I suppose, [also] an artifact.

For a first timer, how would you describe the perfect way to enjoy Absinthe?
In truth the full water treatment that we do at the Salon is the best way to drink it; diluting the absinthe in the classic belle epoch manner opens up the flavours that hide under the alcohol otherwise. Most folks like a touch of sugar to take the edge off the bitter wormwood, so I recommend that to most newcomers… though if you find yourself lacking the fountains, spoons and glassware that we have here, I advise you knife a hole in the cap of a water bottle, fill it with ice water and use that to get a nice steady drip into your absinthe glass. You know… in the event you want to do absinthe right with your post-apocalyptic marauder gang.

What is the biggest Absinthe myth you would like to dispel?  
Wow, there are a few… I suppose the one that surprised me was that some people seem to think there’s only one style of Absinthe. Even with the drink being banned for the better part of a century, you’ve got a diversity of flavours that rivals whiskey or rum and a number of radically different regional approaches. I’ve been itching to get hold of some of the new Californian ones actually, I hear there’s some very talented operators out there. We’re in the middle of a worldwide spirit renaissance at the moment, I’m pretty happy to be a part of it.

Why do you think Absinthe has always attracted creative, bohemian types throughout history?
There’s a sense of theatre that goes into traditional Absinthe preparation, and the flickering mist that manifests as part of that ritual would certainly have a draw to imaginative people. I think it’s the ritual itself that is key though; the very act of waiting for the drink to be ready, surrounded by the unusual paraphernalia that entails, create an otherworldly feeling. The whole arrangement is very social too, exactly what you need to get ideas bouncing between creative people.

Finally, is it true you are also a comedian?
I did a bit of comedy in Canberra, yeah… mostly producer-side stuff making sure that shows happened, but I spent my share of time on stage. I don’t think I really knew what I was doing at the time, we all just knew we wanted to do shows, so in the process of basically improvising a production company I learned a great deal. Mostly just doing podcasts now, with some audiobooks and film projects in the offing. Got to keep busy.

It’s also no surprise to learn that the salon is located on Rose Street, which is also home to the famous Rose Street Markets, Fitzroy’s artistic hub, one of whom we were pleased to meet during our time at the venue, and who’s art also adorns the walls of Absinthe salon.

Brettsixtysix’s art, he’s been showcasing his creations at Absinthesalon since they’ve opened their doors, and it’s pretty unique. We asked him as to the best way to describe it..
I call my art Digital Disintegration, it’s the allegorical method of portraying inner growth through personal expression and the deterioration of the former self. My work expresses the universal principles of growth and decay, the fleeting nature of mortality and the impermanence of form in the natural world. This duality is represented by vibrant colors as an expression of life and black static which tears apart the fabric of the image. It is a spontaneous expression of form giving way to entropy.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Self-reflection is my inspiration, my desire to know myself drives me to create and through creation I am better able to perceive who and what I am.

Why have you chosen Absinthesaleon in particular to showcase your work?
I chose the Absinthesalon because of its connection to the 19th century Parisian art scene, the artwork produced in that period gave me great pleasure as a child. I spent countless hours looking at the works produced by the great masters of the time and it felt perfectly right to have my first solo show in the beautifully re-created atmosphere of the Absinthesalon.

Finally, are you an Absinthe drinker?
Yes, I am, I love my absinthe and I’m a regular at Vince and Rebecca’s establishment.
Check out his work on Instagram.

Absinthesalon is the perfect spot for chilling out with the cool kids after a dinner on Brunswick Street, just grab the 86 tram from Bourke Street in the city, and get off at stop number 17. Choose your Absinthe wisely though folks, a three drink maximum applies.. you know… in case you go mad.

Where: 82 Rose Street, Fitzroy
When: Wednesday to Saturday, please check the link below for opening hours.
More information: Check out their website.

Words by Kerstyn Dance