Human beings are fascinated by ritual. Religious services, rites of passage, and – if the current revival is any indication – cocktails.
Maybe it touches on some sort of fascination with the mystical, but absinthe, with its dark mythology, milky transformation and intoxicating power, has all the trappings of a paranormal ceremony.
Human beings are also fascinated by fire. Given this, one can imagine the allure of the absinthe service at Monterey’s Restaurant 1833. As the name suggests, the space was built in 1833, and has lived several lives since its inception. It’s been a home, an apothecary, and the location of California’s first kiln. The space is also said to be haunted. Historical and slightly otherwordly? Of course it’s hot.
The original building, known as Stokes Adobe, was built by Benjamin Day and sold in 1837 to James Stokes. Mr. Stokes – or Doctor Stokes, as he preferred to be called – was a British sailor who decided to make a home in Monterey. With the medicine cases stolen from his boat, he was able to pass himself off as a physician, and even landed a rich widow and the official position as personal doctor to then-Governor Jose Figueroa…despite killing a disturbing percentage of his patients. The poor governor didn’t last a year.
Rumor has it that Stokes was the agent of his own demise, when his two sons caught him in flagrante delicto with his daughter, and he immediately took poison and dropped dead at their feet.
Stokes is said to haunt the place, and ghost stories abound about the havoc he’s wreaked on the building and its various occupants. Joining him is the spirit formerly known as Hattie Gragg, who turned the adobe into a popular social spot during her lifetime, but apparently wasn’t ready for the party to end, when her body died in 1948.
With all of that as precursor, enter the absinthe cart at Restaurant 1833. The wooden wagon is piled with up to 25 different bottles in all sorts of apothecary styles and antiqued, gothic or grotesque letters and imagery. Familiar names like St. George, Vieux Carré, Leopold Bros., La Sorcière, Pacifique, Sirène, Mansinthe, Mata Hari, La Fée and Lucid share space with so much paraphernalia. There are ornate spoons, there are antiqued metal tubes leading to a high absinthe fountain, condensation forming on the cut crystal, as waves of clear water slosh against the inside of the bowl while it’s pushed across the room.
And then the magic happens.
Tobias, a.k.a. “Toby” Peach is the beverage director at 1833, and the guru who is responsible for your journey. Sit back and relax as he or one of the waitstaff help you pick your poison, and then watch as they pour it into a snifter and rotate it over a tumbler of orange juice; coating the glass with over an ounce of your preferred wormwood potion. Then they deftly light the absinthe on fire while continuing to spin the snifter and swirl the spirit. Finally, they empty the beverage into the OJ from a height of about six inches, creating a fountain of blue flame.
The empty snifter is immediately inverted over a linen napkin to trap the intoxicating fumes, and placed on the table. Then a straw is inserted between the napkin and the rim of the glass, and revelers are encouraged to inhale deeply. They’re also told to drink the juiced OJ before exhaling, for an instant dose of high spirits.
You’re almost guaranteed what Peach describes as “a warm, licorice head-rush.” As for the legendary hallucinogenic effects of absinthe? It’s hard to promise you’ll get these from the cocktail, but who knows what you’ll see, hiding in the shadows…