You’ve never drunk The Green Fairy?
Don Spiro grabs a glass goblet, chilled water and a nearly empty bottle of the spirited spirit also known as absinthe.
Planting his Panama hat at a rakish angle, he heads to the rooftop, a COVID-safe party space.
As he pours the amber-emerald liquid into the glass, Don, who’s wearing the ghost of a grey goatee and a vintage Cuban celadon guayabera that complements the color of the absinthe, notes that the libation hints of black licorice.
He offers a sniff; to my nose it smells like turpentine, but I don’t tell him that.
Absinthe, he explains, packs a powerful alcoholic punch – it’s 120 to 130 proof – and although some do drink it straight at their own peril, it’s customary for connoisseurs to dilute it liberally with water as he’s doing now.
“The flavors come out when it’s less concentrated,” he says, adding that “it’s a nice novelty. I drink it for the taste.”
The absinthe fizzes and froths like a mini-Vesuvius, becoming the color and consistency of mild-mannered milk. It doesn’t look as though it could knock out a newborn kitten.
Don takes a sip and smiles in satisfaction.
It’s pretty early in the day to be drinking, but he’s willing to oblige to demonstrate The Green Fairy’s delights.
He’s particularly partial to the brand Meadow of Love, and when he puts on his glasses and reads the label, he’s surprised to find that in addition to the traditional wormwood, anise and fennel that define absinthe, it also contains hyssop, lemon balm and violet.
The wind sends a whiff of The Green Fairy my way – I tell Don it reminds me of citrus.
“Limes complement it well,” he says.
Don, who styles himself as a vintage nightlife impresario, and The Green Fairy have had a long relationship that goes far beyond the bottle.
Don, a native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who spent his career working in the film industry on both coasts, was first enticed by the heady charms of absinthe in the 1990s when he was visiting a friend in Germany.
In 2005, when he moved to New York City from Los Angeles, he missed all the theme clubs that had been a such a big part of his life.
“There were lots of different scenes revolving around jazz, cocktails, hot rods, Rockabilly, but nobody was doing that in New York,” he says, adding that he particularly liked the jazz bands that played 1920s music.
To remedy the situation, he co-founded what has come to be called The Green Fairy Society, which he says is “dedicated to absinthe awareness and enjoyment through decadently elegant parties.”
The society’s costumed Roaring Twenties Jazz Age-themed events – attendees are encouraged to wear new or vintage cocktail attire – are held once a month in Manhattan.
Absinthe, which is the French word for green wormwood, is the star of each party – guests are given small samples, and a lecturer expounds upon its history between the acts, which range from jazz music and spoken-word performances to belly dancing.
It’s easy to see why Don became fascinated with absinthe.
First distilled in Switzerland in the 18th century, it has always had a mystique, part of that owing, no doubt, to the fact that it was purported to have colossal hallucinogenic powers.
The muse of the literati – Lord Byron, Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde were among its avid imbibers – absinthe acquired its nickname, The Green Fairy, in the 19th century.
From 1915 to 2007, it was illegal in the United States. Don got his supplies from friends who brought him bottles from Europe when they came to visit.
Absinthe aside, The Green Fairy Society parties have taken on a life of their own.
Imitators sprang up, and Don met his wife, Rachael, a personal trainer who’s not a drinker of alcohol, at a Fourth of July-themed party in Manhattan hosted by a friend.
“She was a dancer, and I was the stage manager, but I didn’t see her at the party,” he says. “We were together on the subway platform. We knew we had been at the same event because we were wearing red, white and blue. We took the train to the Broadway stop in Astoria and exchanged numbers.”
They have been married for three years.
Don, who collects vintage clothing and edits Zelda, an annual magazine dedicated to the vintage nouveau, describes his apartment, which is next to Kaufman Astoria Studios, as an “eclectic museum.”
The living room, which has diaphanous rose-colored draperies, is dominated by a 1920s credenza that serves as a cabinet for what Don describes as “an extensive liquor collection.” Every inch of the room’s walls is filled with art.
“Most of the works are 100 years old,” Don says. “Or they are new by somebody I know.”
The space is illuminated, softly and seductively, by a white paper parasol that hangs over the central ceiling bulb.
“I like the styles, cocktails and music of every decade,” Don says, adding that “I wouldn’t want to live in the 1920s, I have no nostalgia for that time period.”
Don has been sipping The Green Fairy slowly, contemplating his life.
He’s mulling a career change.
“I don’t want to leave the film industry,” he says as he finishes his drink. “I’ve been working on documentaries, and I’d like to continue, but I’m not sure what hand I want to play.”
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.