Oscar Wilde searches for the best bars to drink absinthe in London

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Jessica Bailey
October 16, 2016
Our writers don the hats of famous people and recommend the best places to binge at.

Friends, I am troubled. As everyone who has made even my briefest acquaintance knows—I abhor convention. Of course, I love my little family, and I would not give them up for the world but I am sick of counsel on cutting off my connection with Lord Douglas. With my paramour so cruel a distance away I am forced to pace the miles London makes up, thinking on the well-meant warnings my friends have offered, but it is no use: I must turn to that seductive green draught of Absinthe, or else, slip into a dark corner of an Irish pub nursing my bitterness. No, it’s the green fairy I require the pleasure of, and I mean to have my fill.


Cellar Door
An underground den of seductive entertainment and sublime drinking.

There was no cloakroom, nor anyone to search me, but I entered gaily anyway and walked down the dark steps—around me was all velvet,  leather,  and no room to be alone. I later found out it was a public lavatory converted into a boudoir. I summoned the barmaid and asked for the Pernod Absinthe Von Teese Ritual. Presently, I found my tangled thoughts unknot as the large container was filled with iced water. I asked after the namesake of my tipple. The barmaid wiggled her eyebrows in a suggestive manner and recommended I find out, and that I wouldn’t regret it. I hadn’t the patience to explain that I would be impervious to such wiles, instead carefully watching the silver dripping tap dissolving the sugar cube into the waiting jade-hued mixture below. I dutifully stirred it with the appropriate spoon and took a sip. With 69% proof, the gloom of my thoughts eroded with the lining of my stomach, yet I was mollified by the sugary taste, reminiscent of illegal sweets I enjoyed as a boy. Slipping further into the arms of the bejeweled green fairy seemed fitting as a young man in a similarly studded gown took to the stage and led us all in a sing-along.

Visit: Zero Aldwych, London, WC2E 7DN | 0207 240 8842 | www.cellardoor.biz | £8.25 for the 20ml Stylish Von Teese Ritual.


Au revoir, idle work hours in catacombs.

One steps into France at Baranis. Passing through the crypt-like space, all brick and steel, I sat and ordered the Granny’s Green Beast—oh, how I had missed the French tang. Made by the fair hands of the bar owner himself, my cocktail was served in a teacup with a shaving of cucumber—only to be compared to the most natural and refreshing wellspring. Sure that the familiar electric burn that ignited the throat was no seawater, I drank like a fish. The staff educated me: I learned the legends (mostly untrue), the varying pallor and that Absinthe also boasts health-giving properties. I availed the bar staff of a shot of medicine to compare with my Beast: the Grande Absente—a vintage that came complete with an art deco label and a warning. Perturbed by the lack of lime colour in this pale alternative, I  nonetheless threw back the glass: it dragged over my palette at a distilled 69%. Pure wickedness, although my Ritual in Aldwych had more preparation, and a sweeter, fuller body. I retreated back to the comfort of Granny and watched, content, as lawyers and students shook off the workday. 

Vist: 115 Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1PP | 0207 242 8373 | www.baranis.co.uk | £8 for the Granny’s Green Beast


A botanical attic hidden in the heart of the city's Oriental quarter.

An innocuous door and a name such as Opium inspires miscreant thoughts. I mused on the long trip up the many flights to the bar: a striking change from the burrowing underground in my search for decent stops. Shuttered, gothic, and oriental in theme, it was covered in maps, mahogany wood and alcoves that beckoned to clandestine meetings. I was welcomed like family, a cluster of bartenders of all nationalities, genders and tattoos happy to meet my simple challenge of "something with absinthe". Out came the result with no name: a sour with egg white, a hint of ginger, but mainly Mescal—a tequila-like substance at 60% proof made from green agave, much like it’s fellow spirit, Absinthe. Looking between my orange cocktail and its cousin in pure green, served and put through the Ritual it became clear to me that like fine wine, different batches of the herb-based spirit vary. Such versatility. In any case, there really is nothing like an attic, especially if it’s converted to a bar like this—and perhaps an interesting painting or two…

Visit: The Jade Door, 15-15 Gerrard Street, China Town, London W1D 6JE | 0207 734 7276 | www.opiumchinatown.com | £10 for a Classic Absinthe Cocktail.


The Bonneville
A gothic hideout in the East of London.

I ought to stay away from Hackney—with salacious gossip following me around like foul odour. I visit often, for leisure or pleasure, but this time, my tastebuds seeked the mint-coloured stuff. Presently, I discovered The Bonneville. It was like entering writer Allen Poe’s bedroom, stripped and made an eatery. Heavy velvet drapes set the theme: how droll to see a stuffed, mounted raven and scull as decor! This was not at all a bad place: a pretty stained glass ceiling; competent and chatty bar staff. Low lighting inspired whispers, but I ordered another Green Beast to instill another roar within my chest. Bright young things entered, talking everything and nothing, but all surrendering to the edict of enjoyment to be had. It briefly made me wonder what my wife might be up to. I was interrupted by the arrival of my cocktail, this time complemented with lime, and a bitterness I had not expected. Even at 69% proof, the occasional citrus taste came through, clashing with the facsimile taste of sweet liquorice: another emerald triumph. Finally, absinthe-fuelled clarity of thought. Happier than I had been in months, I swept off my stool and out of the tavern, waving goodbye to my stuffed, feathered friends.

Visit: 43 Lower Clapton Road, London, E5 01S | 0208 533 3301 | www.thebonneville.co.uk | £8 for a Green Beast Cocktail.


Expert tips

  • Venues such as Cellar Door are on the threshold of Covent Garden and its famous piazza.
  • Parks, Hackney Baths, flirtation, and the Law courts. It’s all of a muchness.
  • All to be reached by bus, cab or train easily. No excuse to miss your appointment with the Green Fairy.