Of all the ancient buildings in the Vieux Carre, few have been pictured more or had as many
tales told about them as the old plastered-brick building on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville
Streets. Known for having dispensed a potent green beverage originally made from wormwood,
it was named for this infamous drink - first as the "Absinthe Room" and, finally, by the name it
bears today, the "Old Absinthe House."
When the building was erected by Francisco Juncadella and Pedro Font in 1807, it was the
combination residence/business establishment of Font and Juncadella, importers of foodstuffs,
wines and other goods from their native city of Barcelona, Spain. Their first commission house
had been at Bourbon and St. Ann Streets, in 1802, but an increasing business demanded a
Just before Francisco Juncadella passed away in 1820, he made a will and, after commending
his soul to his Maker and specifying the number of candles he wanted burned, he bequeathed
all his worldly goods to his wife. His desire was that his partner should carry on the prosperous
business they had built together. However, after awhile, the Widow Juncadella and Pedro Font
and his family returned to Spain and all of their properties were left to be managed by some
relatives, the Aleix brothers. By 1838, the commission house had become a shoe shop; in
1843, a grocery store; and, in 1861, two of the Aleix brothers converted it into a coffeehouse.
In 1870, they employed Cayetano Ferrer, who was, also, from Barcelona, as chief bartender.
He was a skilled drink-mixer who had already gained a reputation for his exotic concoctions
when he was bartender in the basement bar of the Old French Opera House. In 1874, Ferrer
took over the lease of the old Juncadella house and, for the first time, it was listed and known
as the "Absinthe Room."
Drip, drip, drip...water fell from the fountain faucet into the green liquid and the fame of this
specialty spread beyond the limits of the Vieux Carre and the Crescent City. Among the famous
who have visited the Absinthe House are Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Jenny Lind, P. T. Barnum,
Oscar Wilde, Franklin Roosevelt and Frank Sinatra. The fountains used to make the frappe
have been in continuous use for over 200 years. They were, in fact, the first bar fountains ever
seen in the United States. The fountains are still in use in the Old Absinthe House today.
The Ferrer family continued to serve customers in the "Old Absinthe Room" for many years.
When Cayetano Ferrer passed on in 1889, his widow and sons carried on the cafe business
and the secret of serving an absinthe frappe that no other refreshment parlor in the city could
successfully duplicate. It was in 1890 that the old building erected by Francisco Juncadella was
first called the "Old Absinthe House."
Although some of the ingredients of the original absinthe drink have been illegal for a long time,
the Old Absinthe House still serves a legal variation of the drink, "Herbsaint frappe" - which was,
also, invented in New Orleans. J. M. Legendre, who learned how to make absinthe while in
France during World War I, first created Herbsaint in 1934.
According to legend, it was in a secret upstairs room of this house that Gen. Andrew Jackson
and pirate Jean Lafitte planned the strategy for the Battle of New Orleans. And, some say that,
after the bar is closed and the lights turned out, the ghosts of Jackson and Lafitte can still be
seen slowly making their way up the old staircase to the secret room - to plot a way to defeat
the British and save the city.
|The old staircase leading upstairs....to the secret room?
|Closer view of the bar and the old fountains, 1903.
|Above & below, early 1940's
|Juncadella's Epicerie (grocery) - Francisco Juncadella had this building constructed
just after he built the Absinthe House, in about 1808, and used it as a grocery. It sits
across the street from the Old Absinthe House. This photo was taken in 1939.
|Current photos of the Old Absinthe House;
below, one of a set of 3 bar fountains that
were the first ever used in the United States.
|Photo directly above is courtesy of Flickr and WallyG;
two photos just above this one are courtesy of Flickr and ScottsCaseFiles.