Hearts Grow Fonder for Absinthe

Hallucination stories are "a complete myth," he said. "The truth was it was a beautiful, stimulating and drunk in copious quantities."

Absinthe ranges from $57 to $74 a bottle, a price tag that feeds the demand at high-end watering holes. St. George's Lance Winters says his customers are less concerned about mind-altering properties and more about "the poetry in the glass."

At the upscale Bowery Hotel in New York City, where classic absinthe fountains adorn the bar, waiters honor the French practice of pouring ice-cold water slowly over sugar through a slotted spoon.

There, a block away from New York's Five Points glorified in the film "Gangs of New York," a cosmopolitan crowd is increasingly ordering absinthe, according to food and beverage manager James Stuart.

"These are not 23-year-old kids coming in," he said. "They are guys in their 30s, who might have a martini or a Manhattan and say, 'Oh really, it's legal now. I'll try that.'"

Bartenders, who often get calls for Sazerac, which calls for absinthe, are now "elated" they can serve it legally, he said. When the fountain arrives at the table, "Everyone gets interested."

Still, the debauchery associated with absinthe cannot help seep into the ambience of the bar.

"We try to honor the historic nature of the Bowery," said Stuart. "On one side we have a methadone clinic and on the other a project renewal. We incorporate an old-fashioned warm, honest feeling."

"Absinthe makes total sense," said Stuart. "And now that it is legal, you can have fun with it."

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