The Intercontinental Hotel in Montreal is a little intimidating. It connects directly into Square Victoria, bastion of downtown finance, so I never know where one ends and the other begins. And there are multiple levels in the hotel, with bars and restaurants divided amongst them all. I think there’s also a swimming pool somewhere, because I keep feeling like I’m wandering up and down stairs into the wrong section and smelling chlorinated water…
But Sarah B, the absinthe bar, is right next to the main reception. At least I think that’s the main reception. Just ask someone. That’s probably easier, and less chlorinated.
It’s a small bar with banquettes (booth-style seating), high-top tables and a wrap-around bar. There’s a list of absinthes served traditionally through these big plastic water drippers that the servers set on the tables in front of you. Well, they don’t do it at the hightops because either the tables or the drippers aren’t so sturdy. Still, it’s a drink and a show.
The server sets your glass of absinthe below one of the faucets coming out of the bottom of a large receptacle. He or she sets a spoonful of sugar on a spoon above the glass, so the sugar dissolves slowly as the water drips, drop by drop, from the faucet. This makes the absinthe more aromatic, and dilutes it, both of which are important.
We had a Czech absinthe and it was a lot less pastis/anise/clove-y than, well, Pastis or Ouzo or other black licorice-flavoured liqueurs. It was also neon green. I’m not sure how normal that is, but it was fun. It was mostly just sweet, and the water dilution helped a bunch.
We skipped the tapas menu, since nothing really stood out for a snack. And the meals were pricey, maybe because it’s a hotel. But the experience was fun. We later tried a clear French absinthe. Whoa, black licorice. If you like strong flavours, it’s for you, but you can try any of the 5-8 types they have on hand. They range from ~$10-$25 and they’re high proof, so maybe don’t go overboard.
I also had an absinthe cocktail with sparkling wine. The cocktail list all looks amazing, but my cocktail was kind of bad. The soda in it made it watery and you lost all the sweetness of the absinthe. Better luck next time.
But as Montreal’s only(?) absinthe bar, it was overall a good experience.
Hours: Daily 4pm – Midnight
Address: Intercontinental Hotel, 360 rue St-Antoine Ouest