Place: Time Whiskey Bar
Address: 1315 Sansom Street
Rating: 2.5 out of 4
Bottom line: The ideal choice for a few pre-dinner beverages or a boozy but low-key catch up. The absinthe is best enjoyed with a veteran drinking buddy or two. The venue can feel a bit hectic at times given the multiple rooms and booming but spirited live jazz.
Absinthe is the comeback spirit of the liquor world.
The anise-flavored green substance originated in the hills of Switzerland in the late 18th century and quickly rose in popularity by the end of the 19th century in France. French soldiers used absinthe to treat malaria and soon developed a quench for it recreationally. Embraced by famed bohemian artists such as Hemingway and van Gogh, absinthe earned a particular ire of the temperance movement – often derided as an addictive drug inspiring hallucinations such as the famed green fairy. Vilified successfully, absinthe was banned by several countries in the early 20th century. But in the 1990s, due to a loophole in British law, British company BBH began to import absinthe from the Czech Republic and so began its global resurgence in the late 20th century.
Time Whiskey Bar has helped cement absinthe’s revival in Philadelphia. Located near 13th and Sansom, Time’s red brick façade is decidedly nondescript. Its oddly-sized and lopsided lettering serves as the only hint at the absinthe-inspired escapades inside. Upon entry one can enter the jazz lounge or the whiskey bar – either serves its absinthes and feature beverages. The whiskey bar is a bit more subdued, with echoes of a live jazz performance poking the background of the ‘90s grunge and alternative soundtrack.
Time’s bartenders are highly knowledgeable – bringing a level of sophistication to a spirit that is notoriously associated with eager college euro-trippers lost in the madness of Prague. Time serves its absinthe the French way as a nod to the authentic late 19th century method of preparation and consumption. Rather than caramelize sugar and mix it with a shot of absinthe – something done in Eastern Europe – Time’s bartenders drip ice water from an absinthe fountain over a sugar cube resting on a slotted spoon. The water and sugar should – if done correctly – bring absinthe’s subtler aromas to the fore. Per the bartender’s advice, newbie absinthe drinkers should start with Pernod ($15), the original absinthe of choice, to cultivate a sense of the spirit’s quirky flavor. Time offers four other absinthes ($15) – three of French origin and one from Philadelphia (Vieux Carre).
For those looking to further expand their absinthe palette, Time’s Sazerac is a great tribute to the pre-Civil War New Orleans drink. The whiskey still pervades the flavor, but one can appreciate the hints of anise every few sips. The bartenders also do make off-the-menu absinthe cocktails such as the Hemingway creation “Death in the Afternoon.” A legendary boozehound, Hemingway cheekily writes in his 1935 cocktail recipe book So Red the Nose: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness [sic]. Drink three to five of these slowly.” And for those still recovering from a lingering 2YD hangover or general business school hijinks, the cognac-based “Corpse Reviver” is given a twist with a dash of absinthe instead of vermouth. Hair of the dog indeed.
Time quietly but consummately tips its hat to the bohemian culture of early 20th century France. For those seeking their own whimsical Midnight in Paris – filled with jazz and boozy ruminations – Time can surely play the part. Perhaps you’ll even catch a glimpse of the green fairy.