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What Oscar Wilde and The Lion’s Share have in common: absinthe

“It’s great unless you’re driving. This is powerful stuff.”

Shank bones: inside, the marvelous flavors of marrow.
Shank bones: inside, the marvelous flavors of marrow.

The blue flame dances in and out of focus. The Green Fairy sparkles in front of my eyes. I can feel her hypnotizing me. I’m seeing seven veils, I’m thinking “Scheherazade,” “Salome.” My eyelids are heavy.

Place

Lion's Share

629 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego

I take one more sip of the Green Fairy.

“Sir, sir! Your marrow. Best when it’s hot.”

This is Ivan. Last I saw, he was placing a cube of sugar on the special spoon, soaking it in absinthe, and setting it alight. Finally, he turned on the ancient French fountain spigot, so it dripped iced water onto the sugar’s remains, and into the absinthe below, till gradually the liquid changed from transparent to la louche, the legendary green-yellow milky drink, and the subtle aromas blossomed.

Sober shot of Ivan adjusting drip from ancient iced water fountain.

There is something truly seductive about the making of this herby mix that marries wormwood, anise, and fennel. The burning, dripping sugar cube gives it a subtle touch of sweetness. The flavor warms you, at least in my imagination, clears your thoughts, makes you want to get even clearer — and sleep at the same time. And it’s somehow comforting that you’re drinking literary history with every drop. Oscar Wilde drank absinthe. Hemingway drank absinthe, Picasso, Baudelaire, Poe, Van Gogh, Byron, on and on. Nobody’s saying it made them into artists, but nobody’s saying it didn’t, either.

Plus, you feel a little illicit just watching Ivan prepare the concoction for you. And this is so very much the perfect setting. Mini chandeliers cast shadowy light over the bar. Nobbly glass candle holders send a wavering glow across your absinthe glass. A long-horned springbok looks down at you from the wall. Life is chancy. Life is good.

This is The Lion’s Share. It’s one of those places that looks older than it is (opened in 2011). Very clubby, pubby place somewhere behind Kansas City BBQ (where, yeah, the bar/piano scene in the first Top Gun movie was shot). Lion’s Share has a vaguely colonial, big-game hunter’s vibe. Tonight (around nine, which brings up another good reason to come here: their kitchen stays open till 1 am on weekends), it seems to be full of realtors from all over, spending some of the outrageous profits they’ve been making since covid. “Come to Massachusetts!” this glamorous, sylph-like lady says. She’s nicely mood-elevated. “We’ll set you up with an office. You’ll reproduce this place exactly, and anchor our new development. Okay?” She has been saying this to Ivan, one of the bar guys, the only one who can really handle the absinthe ceremony. Because that is what it is — a ceremony.

He leaves me the one-page menu, points out that some items have an asterisk. They’re the late night weekend menu. Great, because today’s Saturday, past 11 pm. Place is ker-rowded. Pleasantly. Found a corner of the bar, near the stuffed head of the bok. (Antelope? Gazelle? Don’t ask, don’t tell, heh heh.) They have several of these mounted on the walls. Even a magnificent stuffed blue peacock, tail spread in full display, between paintings and cartoons of explorer-type people and animals. It sets you up for exotic food choices.

Neighbor’s burger ($19, with truffle fries, but Happy Hour price is $12, including beer).

And this menu is packed with them. Bison, rabbit, elk, red deer, wild boar. Talk about paleo! Problem? Not cheap. A chili-rubbed elk sirloin goes for $32, including sides like duck-fat mashed potatoes. A bison ribeye is $55; seared duck breast goes for $27; rabbit dumplings are $24, wild boar Bolognese runs $22.

My realtor neighbors are sharing a sausage board loaded with boar andouille, boar käsekrainer (Austrian cheese sausage), and buffalo, for $26. Oh, and now Ivan brings them a burger plate. I see it costs $19, including pickles and truffle fries. Looks delish.

But, ayee! Price. So I look at starters. Duck in a Hole runs $15, with duck confit (cooked and preserved in its own fat), plus white cheese and an herb and radish salad. Hmm. Better price. Bison tartare (raw) is $16. Lamb tacos are $15, chicory salad with duck prosciutto is $16, red deer sliders cost $19.

Or, hey, roasted bone marrow! ($16) Basically you shuck the marrow out of big hollow beef bones with a special spoon-fork, and mix with Bordelaise (a sauce made from red wine, marrow, butter, shallots, and demi-glace, a brown sauce). And then you scoop it all up with grilled bread. Sounds yummy. And guess what? It is. This is so light, it’s almost like scrambled egg before it coagulates, yet full of flavor. It is a warm sensuous mess inside those bones, that classic taste of marrow I have loved ever since my bro and I scooped it out at grandma’s place on Sunday afternoons. Tastewise? Almost, but not quite, cheesy. Like savory peanut-butter.

So I finish up on the marrow, and start sipping away at the Green Fairy. ($14) Ghosts of Edgar Allen Poe, Marcel Proust, and the Green Fairy herself drift by.

“It’s great unless you’re driving,” says Ivan. “This is powerful stuff.”

“No problems. I use a stretch limo,” I say. “It’s called the Green Line.”

Which is convenient, since the trolley’s Seaport Village stop is right next door.

But wait! Checking their menu online, I suddenly realize they have a happy hour. Dang! Four to six pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Deals like rabbit sausage on grilled bread for $7, lamb tacos for $12, truffle fries for $6, lamb poutine for $11, and burger and beer for $12. Gonna come back for some of that.

“So what about our deal, setting up a copy of this place in Mass?” says the beautiful realtor.

“I don’t know,” says Ivan. He’s wiping a glass. “Place like this, it’s a feeling. We’ve built this together, with our customers, over years. You don’t just buy that.”

The Place: The Lion’s Share, 629 Kettner Boulevard, downtown, 619-564-6924

Hours: 4pm-12am, Wednesday-Sunday (till 2am Friday, Saturday)

Happy Hour: (4-6pm, Wednesday to Sunday), rabbit sausage on grilled bread, $7; lamb tacos, $12; truffle fries, $6; lamb poutine, $11; burger and beer, $12

Regular Menu: Chili-rubbed elk sirloin, duck fat mashed potatoes, $32; bison ribeye, $55; seared duck breast, $27; rabbit dumplings, $24; wild boar bolognese, $22; roasted bone marrow, $16; roasted chicken, $26; seared scallops, $26; absinthe, $14

Trolley: Green Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: Seaport Village

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Shank bones: inside, the marvelous flavors of marrow.
Shank bones: inside, the marvelous flavors of marrow.

The blue flame dances in and out of focus. The Green Fairy sparkles in front of my eyes. I can feel her hypnotizing me. I’m seeing seven veils, I’m thinking “Scheherazade,” “Salome.” My eyelids are heavy.

Place

Lion's Share

629 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego

I take one more sip of the Green Fairy.

“Sir, sir! Your marrow. Best when it’s hot.”

This is Ivan. Last I saw, he was placing a cube of sugar on the special spoon, soaking it in absinthe, and setting it alight. Finally, he turned on the ancient French fountain spigot, so it dripped iced water onto the sugar’s remains, and into the absinthe below, till gradually the liquid changed from transparent to la louche, the legendary green-yellow milky drink, and the subtle aromas blossomed.

Sober shot of Ivan adjusting drip from ancient iced water fountain.

There is something truly seductive about the making of this herby mix that marries wormwood, anise, and fennel. The burning, dripping sugar cube gives it a subtle touch of sweetness. The flavor warms you, at least in my imagination, clears your thoughts, makes you want to get even clearer — and sleep at the same time. And it’s somehow comforting that you’re drinking literary history with every drop. Oscar Wilde drank absinthe. Hemingway drank absinthe, Picasso, Baudelaire, Poe, Van Gogh, Byron, on and on. Nobody’s saying it made them into artists, but nobody’s saying it didn’t, either.

Plus, you feel a little illicit just watching Ivan prepare the concoction for you. And this is so very much the perfect setting. Mini chandeliers cast shadowy light over the bar. Nobbly glass candle holders send a wavering glow across your absinthe glass. A long-horned springbok looks down at you from the wall. Life is chancy. Life is good.

This is The Lion’s Share. It’s one of those places that looks older than it is (opened in 2011). Very clubby, pubby place somewhere behind Kansas City BBQ (where, yeah, the bar/piano scene in the first Top Gun movie was shot). Lion’s Share has a vaguely colonial, big-game hunter’s vibe. Tonight (around nine, which brings up another good reason to come here: their kitchen stays open till 1 am on weekends), it seems to be full of realtors from all over, spending some of the outrageous profits they’ve been making since covid. “Come to Massachusetts!” this glamorous, sylph-like lady says. She’s nicely mood-elevated. “We’ll set you up with an office. You’ll reproduce this place exactly, and anchor our new development. Okay?” She has been saying this to Ivan, one of the bar guys, the only one who can really handle the absinthe ceremony. Because that is what it is — a ceremony.

He leaves me the one-page menu, points out that some items have an asterisk. They’re the late night weekend menu. Great, because today’s Saturday, past 11 pm. Place is ker-rowded. Pleasantly. Found a corner of the bar, near the stuffed head of the bok. (Antelope? Gazelle? Don’t ask, don’t tell, heh heh.) They have several of these mounted on the walls. Even a magnificent stuffed blue peacock, tail spread in full display, between paintings and cartoons of explorer-type people and animals. It sets you up for exotic food choices.

Neighbor’s burger ($19, with truffle fries, but Happy Hour price is $12, including beer).

And this menu is packed with them. Bison, rabbit, elk, red deer, wild boar. Talk about paleo! Problem? Not cheap. A chili-rubbed elk sirloin goes for $32, including sides like duck-fat mashed potatoes. A bison ribeye is $55; seared duck breast goes for $27; rabbit dumplings are $24, wild boar Bolognese runs $22.

My realtor neighbors are sharing a sausage board loaded with boar andouille, boar käsekrainer (Austrian cheese sausage), and buffalo, for $26. Oh, and now Ivan brings them a burger plate. I see it costs $19, including pickles and truffle fries. Looks delish.

But, ayee! Price. So I look at starters. Duck in a Hole runs $15, with duck confit (cooked and preserved in its own fat), plus white cheese and an herb and radish salad. Hmm. Better price. Bison tartare (raw) is $16. Lamb tacos are $15, chicory salad with duck prosciutto is $16, red deer sliders cost $19.

Or, hey, roasted bone marrow! ($16) Basically you shuck the marrow out of big hollow beef bones with a special spoon-fork, and mix with Bordelaise (a sauce made from red wine, marrow, butter, shallots, and demi-glace, a brown sauce). And then you scoop it all up with grilled bread. Sounds yummy. And guess what? It is. This is so light, it’s almost like scrambled egg before it coagulates, yet full of flavor. It is a warm sensuous mess inside those bones, that classic taste of marrow I have loved ever since my bro and I scooped it out at grandma’s place on Sunday afternoons. Tastewise? Almost, but not quite, cheesy. Like savory peanut-butter.

So I finish up on the marrow, and start sipping away at the Green Fairy. ($14) Ghosts of Edgar Allen Poe, Marcel Proust, and the Green Fairy herself drift by.

“It’s great unless you’re driving,” says Ivan. “This is powerful stuff.”

“No problems. I use a stretch limo,” I say. “It’s called the Green Line.”

Which is convenient, since the trolley’s Seaport Village stop is right next door.

But wait! Checking their menu online, I suddenly realize they have a happy hour. Dang! Four to six pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Deals like rabbit sausage on grilled bread for $7, lamb tacos for $12, truffle fries for $6, lamb poutine for $11, and burger and beer for $12. Gonna come back for some of that.

“So what about our deal, setting up a copy of this place in Mass?” says the beautiful realtor.

“I don’t know,” says Ivan. He’s wiping a glass. “Place like this, it’s a feeling. We’ve built this together, with our customers, over years. You don’t just buy that.”

The Place: The Lion’s Share, 629 Kettner Boulevard, downtown, 619-564-6924

Hours: 4pm-12am, Wednesday-Sunday (till 2am Friday, Saturday)

Happy Hour: (4-6pm, Wednesday to Sunday), rabbit sausage on grilled bread, $7; lamb tacos, $12; truffle fries, $6; lamb poutine, $11; burger and beer, $12

Regular Menu: Chili-rubbed elk sirloin, duck fat mashed potatoes, $32; bison ribeye, $55; seared duck breast, $27; rabbit dumplings, $24; wild boar bolognese, $22; roasted bone marrow, $16; roasted chicken, $26; seared scallops, $26; absinthe, $14

Trolley: Green Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: Seaport Village

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