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The Brooklyn Paper

LeNell’s, a year-old wine and spirit boutique in Red Hook, educated customers about the charms of Versinthe - a legal version of absinthe, the hallucinogenic aperitif popular in late 19th century Paris - with a tasting on Aug. 7.

Glorious tributes to the Green Fairy-inducing liqueur have been projected on the silver screen in two popular 2001 films: Baz Luhrman’s "Moulin Rouge" and the Hughes Brothers’ "From Hell." A new book by Jad Adams, "Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle" (University of Wisconsin, $24.95), was released just this year.

The attraction to contemporary absinthe aficionados seems to have as much to do with the taste of the anise-flavored drink as it does with the ritual of making it palatable.

As demonstrated at LeNell’s, making a glass of Baron Francois Ltd.’s Versinthe is an elegant production. A fountain with silver spigots is filled with ice water. The spigot is twisted to release chilled water over sugar cubes poised on a slotted spoon. The sugar water runs through the spoon and into a glass of Versinthe. (The drink is made with six parts water to one part Versinthe.) The sugar water cuts the golden liqueur, turning it opaque.

The Versinthe is not absinthe-green because the company does not use artificial colors, explained LeNell’s proprietor Tonya LeNell Smothers. Nor does it have the agent blamed for absinthe’s Green Fairy-inducing daydreams, wormwood.

"The high alcohol content - 60 percent and higher - of the old absinthes was more to blame than wormwood," Smothers believes. "And overindulging!"

At LeNell’s, the fountain is sold for $40; a 750 milliliter bottle of Versinthe is $33; and a 750 milliliter bottle of Versinthe with two glasses and two spoons is $40. But this isn’t your grandfather’s intimidating, warehouse-like liquor store. Buy anything from the boutique, replete with chandelier and a bathtub full of - what else? - gin, and it will be packaged in one of the shop’s leopard print bags.

LeNell’s is located at 416 Van Brunt St. between Coffey and Van Dyke. For more information, call (718) 360-0838 or visit

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