Bar Beat

A Chat with Karen Racine of Absinthe Brasserie

Walk into Absinthe, and it's almost guaranteed that Karen Racine will be pouring your drink. Karen, or at least someone she's related to. "I actually own the bar going on six years. My sister and I own this, and she and my brother-in-law own Bowl. We have a staff of five, and it's all pretty much family. It's me and my sister, my brother-in-law works Wednesdays, my cousin cocktails...the only one who isn't family is the guy who makes the pizza. And we're getting a new bartender; he's another one of my cousins. We do hire out, but it seems like it always just comes back to family."

As for the namesake liquor? "When we opened we were going to have more of an art bar, we were going to have a back room where people could paint, stuff like that, so we thought absinthe and artists. But then we decided to do food, and we had a kitchen back there--it's over at Bowl now--and we just didn't have any room. But we agreed on the name, we liked the concept, and we decided we'd go with it. Before absinthe was legal we would sell Absente, which has the essence of wormwood, but it's not as strong. It's been legal for about three years now, and we've got nine brands, and we're waiting for about six more. We sell a lot of absinthe. A lot of people do a shot of it--we do it with sugar and caramelize it and light it on fire. Someone sees it on fire and they're like, 'I want that thing!' It's a very distinct flavor; if someone comes in and likes it, they try all the cocktails. I pretty much came up with the cocktail menu. When we had the idea we started just ordering bottles of absinthe and experimenting. I had some rough nights," Racine laughs. "We also do lots of specialty drinks, particularly Brazilian drinks, like caipirinhas, caipiroskas, mojitos are really popular, flavored martinis. We like to switch it out. We used to make our own ginger beer in the summer. In the summer we do more of the infusions than in the winter."

After 16 years in the industry, Racine says the best thing about owning a bar is, well, getting to hang out in a bar every night. "I like it because it's kind of neighborhood, especially during the week when we get a lot of the repeat customers. On the weekends we have more of a party crowd, but I like it during the week. I like when people come in by themselves, and we kinda introduce everybody and everybody talks to everybody. So now we're all best friends. It's nice, everyone is really chatty. That's why we make sure not to have a TV, we don't want people to come to the bar and stare at the screen."

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Sarah Rufka