Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Absinthe sipping at La Fée's U.S. launch party

June 23

It seemed like La Fée really wanted to tie the image of their product to its history as being a muse for artists. The space rented for the event was a sort of all-purpose space billed for use as gallery and sometimes fashion show setting. Emerald green bottles of absinthe as well minty colored prepared versions of it stood out against the stark white setting of the place. Everything was white, the tables, chairs, linen. Except for one brightly-colored sofa that looked highly embarrassed that no one informed it that this would be a white-outfit party, the entire place was as white as a canvas with a fresh coat of gesso.

Even George Rowley, managing director of La Fée, seemed dressed for the space in a light suit with pastel colors reminiscent of sorbet.

George visited our offices last Friday to talk about the product and one of the things about the appeal of absinthe in today's market is that even with all the stories of the drink's naughtiness, it has actual historical and cultural significance and was the drink of choice for numerous artists. The brand seems to be very keen on emphasizing that particular aspect of the drink through a pretty image conscious way of marketing the product and sets it aside from other products on the market. Though La Fée produces several varieties of absinthe, from a "Bohemian" that's more of a Czech style as well as premium wine-based versions, the brand at the moment is only making La Fee's Absinthe Parisienne available in United States market to not dilute the image. The flagship product is modeled to be more like the traditional French absinthe with its beet-based neutral spirits that was formulated and approved by absinthe historian and author Marie-Claude Delahaye of Musée de l'Absinthe in France. The bottles also come with an absinthe spoon to help consumers enjoy it the way it was back in its heyday without being intimidated by the idea of not having all the necessary props. And, hey, free spoon.

The event really got into this artist imagery with five canvasses hung around the main area of the space at the event. Four of them depicted minimalist image and text related to an artist who partook of absinthe. A pedestal in front of these canvasses held the physical item depicted on the canvass giving the whole thing an even more of an installation feel. For example, one canvas showed a broken teacup, with text saying Van Gogh drank absinthe from a broken teacup. The pedestal in front of the canvas held a broken teacup. Later in the evening the canvasses got raffled off. For a second I kind of wanted one. Then I realized I don't know why I wanted one besides the fact they were offering it and raffles get me all excited. I also realized that if I really did win a canvas, I'd have to schlep it home somehow and my desire to win quickly dissipated.

On my way to this event, I took a right and Spring and as I was walking down Mulberry when I bumped into Leo DeGroff (Contemporary Cocktails) and his girlfriend Kaye Rabuy, and Pegu Club's Kenta Goto. They were on their way to the event as well and were coming from the NY Bar Show. I'd entirely forgotten that. Well, "forget" is incorrect. I was thinking about attending it, but noticed that the times and dates for the events and seminars I wanted to attend weren't working out with my schedule and I sort of put the whole thing out of my mind.

The main "art gallery" section had some tables serving up La Fée absinthe in the traditional manner, with water and sugar. They even had some absinthe fountains set up.

I said hello to Tony Abou-Ganim, then made my way into the adjoining room where the food was coming from. There were some tables and chairs set up and Damon Dyer (who mixes at Death and Co. and Flatiron Lounge) and Jonathan Pogash (The Cocktail Guru) were making Sazeracs (La Fée Absinthe Parisienne, sugar cube/granulated sugar, Peychuad's bitters, cognac), La Fée Sours (absinthe, fresh lemon juice, sugar, egg white), and Sea Foam Fizzes (absinthe, lemon juice, sugar, egg white and a touch of soda on top).

I even finally met Dave Kaplan, owner of Death and Co., putting a face to the voice.

Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay (of the drink consulting firm The Tippling Bros.) were also present. And since we're on the topic of absinthe, the recently opened Apothecary Lounge in Philadelphia, where The Tippling Bros. consulted, has an elaborate absinthe fountain on premises.

Sometimes depending on the location (and slightly depending on the product), you can guess what the crowd will be like. I figured the Soho location would lend it to some hip persons making appearances, but I was also anticipating it to be a mish-mash of cool types and I was pretty on the money. I saw some very young ladies running around in Olsen twins' gear (large over-sized flannel shirt, shorts, huge plastic rim sunglasses) as well as a whole gaggle of leggy blondes in jewel-toned variations of shiny baby doll dresses. There were some music industry types. At one point you might find yourself talking to a dude in a crisp suit only to turn around and say "excuse me" to a guy in jeans and a graphic t-shirt.

It was one of those parties where you wander in and half the faces you recognize or you just feel like you might. Though honestly, there were several people there who just had "that face." You know, the kind where you could swear he was the guy who was in that thing about this thing, but you're not sure? Over the course of the evening, several times, from different persons (including myself), the refrain "Hey, that dude over there looks familiar," was repeated.

Also I really wanted the green lobster they had sitting on the pedestal for the Dali-themed canvas. Yea, no dice on that.