Do you take your ‘Tea’ with sugar?

And now dear fellow Libertine, a tale of absinthe’s infamous past. First published in the “Boston Herald” in 1888, then reprinted in New Zealands “Bruce Herald” the same year, it reveals that a novel kind of ‘speak easy’ bar for possibly illicit and unlicensed consumption of alcohol was a favourite of the socialite set and certain ladies of distinction (as was the local Chinese Opium den!).

Pour a glass, relax and read on….

Bruce Herald, Volume XIX, Issue 1925, 20 January 1888, Page 5

I used to discredit the sensational stories that the patrons of the fashionable modistes repaired to those places so frequently, under the pretence of trying on a dress, because of the attraction of the buffet offering the choicest liquors and wines, writes a New York correspondent, until one day a lady friend confirmed the reports by narrating her experience, frankly confessing that at several modistes she named it was customary to serve drinks to the regular or recognised patrons.  The dressmaking, like the fruit store in front of the sample room, was merely part of the business carried on, and there was a regular charge for the liquors, covered in the bill by ‘trimmings’ and “attentions.”

And I know from personal knowledge that some very well known ladies used to resort to the better class of uptown opium joints several years ago, when such were not subject to police raids for the purpose of ‘hitting the pipe’ in the most approved style, because I once assisted a husband in rescuing his wife from one of these places within an easy walk of Madison Square.  And the doctor will or can tell you that the morphine habit – by hypodermic injection, easily administered after practice –has ruined many a previously domestic circle by claiming the mistress as a victim and condemning her to a dream-life, all the more miserable because of the terrible awakening, resulting in insanity and death.

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All this by the way of prelude to the discovery that a certain confectionary or “ladies restaurant” in a fashionable quarter is much frequented because the proprietor is in the habit of serving that fascinating and soul destroying liquor absinthe, to his patrons at “tea”.  There is a front room following the counters, containing the display of confectionary inside the door, to which gentlemen are admitted with ladies.  Portieres that reveal an elegant salon, separate a near apartment, which is for “ladies only”, where, beside the decoction, ices flavoured with liquors are served to the initiated.  The loud talking that is heard proceeding from this room by the gentlemen customers in the front section is frequently correctly conjectured to emanate from the inebriates, thick of tongue and incoherent, not to say idiotic, in speech, but that they have visited the place for the purpose of obtaining skilfully decocted absinthe is probably little dreamed of.  A side door for exit is accessible to those who have too much respect to stagger through the main room to the street, and I am informed that there is a Parlour upstairs, also convenient to the side door, where those too much under the influence of the intoxicating draught can sleep off the effect on sofas provided for the purpose.  The mistake of the opium joints in permitting a mingling of the sexes, which led to their discovery and eventual closing by the police authorities, is not made here, as none but ladies are permitted in the rear of the inner room, and as the outer room is pleasant and comfortable, only the initiated seek admission beyond the portiere, where in an elegant interior, they are served by the lady attendants with the soul-destroying distillation of brandy and wormwood in delicate china cups.  The liberal patronage is evidence that the initiated are numerous, and the flushed and leering faces of those who are able to leave by the front door leaves little doubt that many imbibe more ‘tea’ than is good for them.  It is no uncommon spectacle to see well dressed ladies leave the place perceptibly under an influence that unsteadies the gait and bewilders the brain; and I hope the day is not distant when a scandal will lead to the closing of the place.

Absinthe is drunk by the ladies because they enjoy its aromatic flavour and dreaming exhilaration.  Absinthe is as ruinous to the health and brain as the opium or morphine habit.  The wreck, mental and physical, is inevitable and complete, especially as it is so insidious and subtle in effect that the victim is taken unawares. – Boston Herald, 1888.

Jonathan Sep 6th 2009 09:47 pm Bars,Culture,History No Comments yet Trackback URI

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