There is a demonic gargoyle on the bar at the Absinthe Salon, a poster of Marilyn Manson on the wall and our waitress is wearing a tight, leather corset. The bar itself, just beyond the bottle shop you pass through upon entering, is aiming for La Belle Époque – French-style café seating, a green fairy splashed across one wall – but the overall feel is a little more Rob Zombie than Moulin Rouge. And we can get down with that. Especially when a pre-dinner drink at the Absinthe Salon is so much fun.
Once you're seated, one of the waitresses working the floor will float over and explain what absinthe is (anise-flavoured spirit, highly alcoholic, made more complex with different herbs); what absinthe isn't ("it is not a hallucinogenic, but it will make you feel amazing"); and how to drink it. Here, she will demonstrate: ice is placed in the lamp-like absinthe fountain on your table, along with water; a cube of sugar is sat on an absinthe spoon above your glass; and a faucet on the fountain is turned so that water drips onto the cube, slowly dissolving the sugar as it trickles down into your glass of absinthe below. The green liquid grows cloudy and you begin to smell the herbs.
It's an elaborate process, so reserve time if you're popping in. And do take their advice: while the more potent absinthe varieties here are more interesting and complex (up to 75 per cent proof), start with something milder (like the Francois Guy, from Pontarlier, 45 per cent proof) if, like us, you're a beginner. There's a three-drink maximum, but one glass in and we could have sworn we saw that gargoyle blink.