Alone at the Carousel, I tried to figure out if the bar was revolving again or if I had one too many absinthes.
A reservoir glass of Oz green liquid sat in front of me. A silver filigree spoon, balanced across the rim, held a glimmering sugar cube. A carafe of ice water was within arms reach, necessary to pour over the sugar, taming the Green Fairy.
With practiced skill, I lifted the spoon off my glass and slowly stirred, my absinthe turning into a familiar opalescent louche. I refused to let the bartender burn the cube. My belief was the charred sugar was what drove early New Orleanians mad, not tainted anise liquor.
By number four, the hallucinations began.
*The Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge, at the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street in New Orleans, is a French Quarter landmark. The bar features a working carousel, revolving a full turn every 15 minutes. I had my first properly prepared absinthe at the Carousel. A NOLA friend took me there for this monumental occasion. It was made abundantly clear that if you want to have an authentic experience, you NEVER allow the bartender to burn the sugar cube. It is all for show. Absinthe, a highly potent potable with an alcohol content of 55-75 percent, is diluted with water in a ritual preparation. A 100-year U.S. prohibition on the licorice-flavored drink was finally lifted in 2007. Based on anecdotal evidence, the liquor was believed to cause hallucinations and render seemingly normal people quite mad.