I first noticed Maison Premiere when a nondescript sign that read "BAR Oysters" appeared on Bedford Avenue. Passing by it again a few weeks later, I spotted an old friend, Maxwell Britten, taking a break against the saloon-style swing door. As it turns out, Maxwell is the Principal Barkeep of the mint and cream-faced spot that offers an extensive menu of absinthe, oysters and artful cocktails. On a recent afternoon off from Acne, Jordan and I paid Maxwell a visit and allowed him gave us the lowdown on his new joint and a certain green fairy.
Alex Iezzi: I've heard that Maison Premiere's absinthe drip is special. Can you explain why?
This drip is custom built. It’s a replica of a drip in The Absinthe House, a place in New Orleans which is about 150 years old. They still have the original there, but it doesn’t work.
Alex: In your experience, does absinthe give people lucid dreams?
I'm already prone to have some wild dreams, so I don’t really know.
Jordan Robin: Do you find that people come to Maison Premiere looking for a hallucinogenic experience?
Well, most people believe that absinthe is psychoactive. They don’t drink it seriously because they want to trip out. But that’s not what absinthe is about or what was it ever meant for. I can only say that if you drink enough of any kind of alcohol, then you’re going to wig-out no matter what.
Jordan: So it's all just rumor?
In France, when the wine industry realized that absinthe was becoming very popular, they started a slander campaign against it. They came up with the idea that absinthe will make you go crazy. Part of that is because there used to be no standards on what made certain alcohols legitimate. So unsavory characters started making really, really bad stuff with whatever hooch they could find. They’d just bottle that and slap an "absinthe" label on it. Poor people and artist-types would drink the cheaper “absinthe,” and go crazy, become paralyzed or go blind.
Similar things were happening in the U.S., which is why it eventually was banned. But real absinthe is an herbal liquor that's similar to aperitifs and digestifs. You would traditionally drink these before or after a meal, and they were created to help you to digest. Absinthe also has many natural medicinal qualities to it. It was first invented and marketed as a natural elixir, but was soon turned commercial and began to be sold and consumed in bars. There was even a period in France where absinthe was more commonly drunk than red wine.
Jordan: Wow, so it's all a cultural rumor.
Yeah, and it’s never really been brought back from the dead.
[Maxwell begins pouring us drinks from Maison Premier’s centerpiece absinthe drip
Alex: What does the drip do?
Very cold water comes through the lines, drips onto a sugar-cube and into the drink. You can see it make the absinthe cloudy when this happens--that's called the louche. This is the traditional, proper way of serving absinthe.
Alex: So who built this one?
It was a team of about six people. We worked with a marble company, a metalworker and a piping professional. The sculpture on top is a replica of the one on the original drip in New Orleans.
Alex: This all seems very well researched, so I’m guessing that you’ve also drank more absinthe than most people in Brooklyn by now.
Yes definitely. We have the largest selection of absinthe in the United States. It's all legitimate, premium absinthe. Almost all of them are imported, except for 4 or 5 of them that are made domestically.
Alex: So which absinthe am i drinking now?
This is the Vieux Pontarlier. It's a classic, French-style Verte absinthe, which gives it its green coloring--very, very traditional. It’s 65% alcohol, which is a classic number for absinthe, which can range anywhere from 50% to 80%.
Jordan: And which is mine?
This is La Clandestine. It's a Swiss-style Blanche absinthe, which is a younger alcohol than the Verte. In order to have legitimate absinthe, it cannot have coloring or sugars. The green coloring can only appear in an absinthe where the ingredients have sat long enough to naturally become green. On the first try, some people aren’t ready for the intense flavors that you have with the Vertes, so I’ll try to steer them towards the Blanches. If they enjoy that, I can than give them something more wild to taste.
Jordan: Why were the Swiss the ones to make the Blanches?
After the bans in the U.S. and across Europe, absinthe makers wanted to find a way to still produce absinthe without being caught. Distelleries were then moved to places away from France like Switzerland. There, they began bottling at a younger age, so it was no longer green in color, but white instead. This also made it much harder to recognize.
Alex: You’ve been bartending in New York for a while. Before this, you were at Jack the Horse and Freeman’s.
I’ve been studying alcohol for around 10 years, so when Josh Boissy approached me with the idea of the bar, I said I would do it. But I wanted to do it the right way--the way that it was done before.
Alex: And oysters are a part of that?
Well absinthe and oysters are both very popular in France, as well as in New Orleans, so we wanted to evoke that tradition. Maison Premiere’s drink program is based on the same tradition of boutique hotels, giving it an old-school, grand hospitality.
Alex: Well, it’s working.
Just wait for the warmer weather. We’re about to open up our backyard!
298 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
just eat it
it takes two