The cocaine of the 19th century? Madness in a bottle? Absinthe, also known as the "green fairy," has only recently legalized and is probably the most misunderstood drink on the market today. The very word conjures blurred visions of Bohemian artists alternately fighting and copulating to oblivion. Painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was known to prowl the Moulin Rouge with a hollowed-out cane filled with the stuff. Ernest Hemingway was reputed to drink it with brandy and champagne for breakfast, no less. And Oscar Wilde said it made him see tulips. With an artist fanbase of this calliber, it is no wonder Absinthe has so many fantastic stories attached to it. Here's a few of the myths debunked. Myth #1 - Absinthe will make you go blind, or even worse, kill you. This is one of those golden urban myths that just won’t seem to go away. Truth is, you can most certainly get blindly drunk on absinthe but it will not make you go blind. While in extremely high quantities thujone is a dangerous neurotoxin, studies have shown that you’d die from alcohol poisoning long before you could possibly drink enough to get a lethal dose of the compound. In ages past, the impurities in the alcohol production process was blamed for the reputed negative health effects of absinthe. In fact, often when a married man died of syphilis, “absinthism” was named on the death certificate as an act of kindness to the widow. Myth #2 - Absinthe is a narcotic that causes hallucinations. Drinkers expecting a chemically induced mind-altering experience will undoubtedly be crushed. “It gives the drinker a heightened sense of mental agility and a certain clarity of thought,” says D.C. Bull, a drinks consultant for the Elite Concepts restaurant group. “After having three or four beers, your mouth is faster than your brain; you get verbal diarrhea,” he says. However, drinking absinthe allows the drinker to continue to see things rather clearly, therefore making it the elixir of choice for philosophers and painters alike. However, do note that while absinthe may inspire brilliance, it can’t provide it. Because absinthe has an alcoholic content of 35 percent-90 percent, the laws of nature also dictate that after five or six shots the alcohol will overtake the effects of the thujone and, at that point, who knows what you’ll see. Myth #3 - Van Gogh died from drinking absinthe. The artist adored the green fairy. But few realize that he didn’t consume it as a customary pre-dinner aperitif; he drank four to five bottles of the tipple a day. If Van Gogh were alive today, he would have been shipped off to Alcoholics Anonymous. According to Bull, Van Gogh and his cohorts were well known for “drinking anything that came their way.” Besides, the absinthe in that era had thujone levels of about 260 parts per million; today’s versions generally have no more than ten parts per million. Myth #4 - Absinthe is meant to be drunk straight. “Of course absinthe goes in cocktails,” says Bull. Not only does it take the edge off the bitterness, but pint for pint, absinthe is still about the most expensive “common” spirit there is, unless you’re into single malts and cognacs. But regular consumption of the liquor without mixers will land you with a stomach ulcer in no time. Gecko bar owner Chris Bonno suggests cream soda or cranberry juice as a mixer. For an extra jolt of energy, there’s Redbull and absinthe. Fu Bar does a series of shooters with the green liquor. The Fu Bar One is a combination of tequila, vodka and absinthe, which is admittedly nothing to write home about. The Fu Bar Two, with Baileys, Kahlua and absinthe, is surprisingly pleasant. And the Fu Bar Three has absinthe, vodka, amaretto and fresh lime. Myth #5 - Czech Absinthe is the best money can buy. “It’s like saying French wine is different than Australian wine,” says Bonno. There is no hard-and-fast rule to this one; different strokes for different folks. Most European laws have restricted the level of thujone to 10mg/kg. Neither the Czech Republic nor Romania, however, have yet to bring their laws into line with the European norm, so for them it’s still a free-for-all. Eastern European varieties may be stronger and perhaps sweeter, but a straw poll of absinthe connoisseurs revealed a preference for authentic French absinthe. Myth #6 - Absinthe is properly set aflame before drinking. Philip Yee of SoHo Wines explained that traditionally, after absinthe is poured, a specially designed, slotted spoon is held over the glass. A sugar cube is placed on the spoon and ice cold water is dripped over the sugar until is dissolves completely. When the water is added to the absinthe, it turns into an opalescent green, known as the “louche” stage, meaning “turbulent ” or “cloudy” in French. “It’s fashionable to set fire to the liquor,” says Gecko’s Bonno, a self-professed absinthe aficionado who loves his daily dose. But setting the absinthe afire will only burn off the alcohol content. (The whole process is rather like watching a junkie cooking up, by the way.) So, by all means, satisfy your inner pyromaniac; just be sure to put it out before tossing it down. All told, it looks like absinthe really does make the heart grow fonder. Where to get it: 1/5 (Starcrest, 9 Star St., Wan Chai, 2520-2515). Agave (33 D’Aguilar St., Lan Kwai Fong, 2521-2010). Boca (65 Peel St., Soho, 2548-1717). D’Apartment (Basement, California Entertainment Building, 34-36 D’Aguilar St., Lan Kwai Fong, 2523-2002). Fu Bar (G/F, 75 Wyndham St., Central, 2522-2628). Gecko (Ezra Lane, Lower Hollywood Rd., Central, 2537-4680). SoHo Wines (22 Staunton St., SoHo, 2521-9108).