I’ve always had a penchant for vintage Pastis carafes, used to carry water for diluting the strong, anise-flavoured French apéritif to taste (mix one part Pastis to five parts water for best results). The 1950s and 1960s bottles are the best – with bold slogans and elegant silhouettes – perfect as carafes for table water of course, but they’re also handy as vases or for decanting washing-up liquid into.
I’m not alone in this obsession. In his excellent (but, sadly, one-off) TV programme Dirty Weekenders in France, Richard E. Grant (flamboyantly flaunting a vintage Tricolore as a scarf), took a break from exploring the antiques shops of rural Provence to elegantly sip a citron pressé, diluted using water from a Pastis carafe, and admired the bottle with its retro logo.
Serious collectors covet complete sets of matching glasses and carafes, and related branded bar accessories, such as Ricard’s yellow trays for making cheery sunburst-shaped ice cubes.
Even lone carafes can fetch hefty sums on eBay or Etsy, but I’ve seen them in remote ‘brocantes’ in France for just 1 Euro each and I picked up a few for a couple of quid at a UK antiques market recently. Filthy inside, I needed a bottle brush and some denture tablets to clean them up, but now they’re sparkling and looking rather chic on a kitchen shelf.
The liquor itself is notoriously potent and has something of a reputation. Comedian Fernand-Joseph-Désiré Contandin (1903-1971, known as Fernandel), who was a life-long fan of Pastis, is reported to have summed up the optimum dosage, thus: ‘Le Pastis, c’est comme les seins: un, c’est pas assez et trois, c’est trop,’ which translates as: ‘Pastis, it’s like breasts: one isn’t enough and three is too many.’ Ooh la la.