When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead, a peek inside restaurants that have just opened — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).
Location: 1514 North Seventh Avenue
Eats/drinks: Craft cocktails in an upscale lounge setting
Open: About six weeks
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
When visiting Highball on the Willo Strip (that stretch of McDowell Road east of Seventh Avenue home to many eating and drinking options), be sure to now enter off Seventh Avenue.
We stress this because patrons of the former tenant, SideBar, might let muscle memory take over and hike up the stairs on the south-facing side of the building. But that is no longer the entrance because this is no longer Sidebar. This is Highball.
Opened at the tail end of October 2020, Highball is overseen by Libby Lingua and Mitch Lyons, formerly of Barter and Shake Hospitality. Barter and Shake's joints tend to be conceptual in some way; this new, sleek establishment is gimmick-free. There’s no narrative, no wild décor, no themed cocktails on the menu. It’s just straightforward chic. Which turns out to be kind of refreshing.
Inside the dim lounge, there’s an elegant copper bar, puffy black leather couches, exposed brick walls, pops of green from indoor plants, and dangling chandeliers. A masked host will greet you, first asking if you have a reservation (a big departure from the space’s former business).
Cocktail options are viewed via QR code, displayed right on the table. But if you’re interested in saving time, there’s an extremely helpful staff. Our conversation went something like this:
“Hello. I usually dig Palomas. What should I get?”
Less than a second passes before our masked server says, “Ah, our Amongst the Trees.”
Round two: “So, I kind of like coconut.”
Very quickly: “Try the Shogun Powder.”
Amongst the Trees is, yes, a fancy Paloma. Served in a tall glass, it consists of blanco tequila, apricot, tamarind, Thai spiced grapefruit, ginger, clementine, lemon, and brut (yep, all that). We will order it again.
The Shogun Powder — a pale-green thing with Peruvian brandy, vodka, herbal liqueur, fernet, coconut matcha, lemon, lime, and pineapple — induced an embarrassing groan upon our first sip. The server nailed it.
The ingredients are the star here, rather than the spirits, but the drinks don't suffer as a result. Each we tried was well-balanced, smooth, very drinkable. Also recommended: the T.T.P. (“Trust the Process”) which we ordered due to the inclusion of Navy Strength Gin among its ingredients (it's got sherry, carrot, and pineapple, too); the Teardrop, an elegant, bourbon-heavy drink; and the Seven Out, a petite and aromatic cocktail presented in a coupette glass.
The menu here is well-organized, helpful to those who may be visiting on a busier night or who like to explore on their own. Sections include The Pursuit of Freshness (fruit-forward), Spirit-ual (drinks for drinkers), New Vintage (modern updates to classic cocktails), and Night Caps. There’s also the section called, appropriately, Put it on the ‘Gram (which we did).
I praise this place for being so straightforward, but it’s not without its theatrics. Each drink that called for it came with a giant ice cube marked with an H, for Highball. I’ve been to many fancy cocktail lounges with this gig, but I still gawked like a complete plebeian at this special touch.
I didn’t know it when I sat down, but Highball also has food. Upscale bar bites include house macarons, pistachio brittle, and charcuterie, but we went with a simple (but insanely good) order of kimchi popcorn — a spilling-over, state fair-looking cone of popcorn doused in furikake dust and sesame. Thank god my friend didn’t want any; I wanted to, and did, eat the whole thing.
Wine and beer are also available here, plus more to eat (an upcoming dinner series is planned), but for a first visit, seated at a socially distanced table with an old friend, we got more than we needed (aside from a cab).
Here's to spending even half as many nights here as we did at SideBar.
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