At first, walking up the stairs into the Highball Lounge is a little jarring—the shiny, clunky metal stairs are loud and modern, not what you would expect from a retro bar like this. But walking into the dimly lit bar, the atmosphere and music soothe the nerves. The walls and decor are fifties and sixties-inspired, and while they reach into the past, the bar is definitely in the present. It’s like a dream, a mixing of two eras, a surreal place to cut loose and not think about reality for a while.
Perry Fotopoulos, owner of The Tasting Room wine bar and creator of the Highball Lounge, wanted it to be a place for people to come and be human, to kick up their heels and enjoy themselves responsibly. The reason he modeled the bar around the highball is because most people drink highballs—any mixed drink with an alcoholic base and a larger proportion of non-alcoholic mixer— and don’t even know it. Fotopoulos asks, “So why aren’t we celebrating what we love?”
Lively groups of both younger and older patrons cluster in the low-backed black booths. One woman sways her hips and shoulders to the groovy music. Random eyes meet and elicit smiles. An air of camaraderie floats through the buzzed night. Others stand in the ultra-retro area filled with bright orange plaid couches and regular orange chairs while the DJ spins tunes on his slightly anachronistic table.
The lowlight glows off copper mugs holding $9 Moscow Mules—a vodka, ginger beer and lime drink that was popularized in the vodka-drenched, McCarthy-ridden 1950s. The drink is so cold my breath fogs the air after my first sip. This highball is resplendent with the Lounge’s house-made ginger beer; the back part of my upper palate tingles and that ginger buzz spreads forward along my tongue. Only after that buzz subsides do the lime and Smirnoff come through.
The menu illuminates the history of each specialty cocktail available, but nobody’s limited by history here: Flip the page and there’s a list of liquors and mixers for DIY highball creators. Even though Fotopoulos encourages people to order off the specialty cocktail menu, unlike some specialty cocktail lounges, you are not required to stick to the menu. “If you like Jack and Coke, that’s perfect,” Fotopoulos says. “You are so into highball culture. Hang out with us. You’re one of us.” (Caylie Sadin)
738 North Clark, 2nd floor