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Bar Tue Dec 13 2011

Highball Lounge Delivers

Highball mail TaoFrom its bare-bones website, I was getting a definite basement bar vibe from the new Highball Lounge, located above Orange on the western edge of River North -- utilitarian bar, basic U-shaped booths, nothing much else. As with the proverbial book and cover, however, you can't necessarily judge a bar by its website. While the lounge has been technically open since November, I stopped by for a reception last week and was pleasantly surprised by the intimate but playful space.

The long, lean lounge has a speakeasy feel to it (enhanced in part by the lack of street-level signage -- the ambiguity is intentional for the time being, according to manager Anthony Williams, but a banner and lit sign are on their way), all low lights and 60's-inspired decor, with a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Clark Street lending an openness to the space. The menu is true to the bar's name, primarily focused on the highball, with such spirit-and-mixer favorites as the Moscow Mule, Pimm's Cup, and the Mai Tai, the last being delightfully sweet and sour, a burnished golden color (none of that pink, "MTV Spring Break" nonsense, thank you) and garnished with a garden's worth of bright mint.

Highball LoungeThe drinks are served with stir sticks only -- solid, plastic stir sticks. No straws. This means you have to sip your drink carefully from the eponymous, tall glass. Though given the average strength of each cocktail, may not be the worst thing. I also tried a Dark and Stormy, one of my favorites, and found a variation that finally seems to live up to its name. Biting and inky, Highball's Dark and Stormy is heavy on the ginger, almost creamy in its composition, with an assertive punch from a swirl of molasses to accompany the rum and ginger beer. At this rate, two drinks will warm you to your toes as the temperature drops (IF it ever drops, come on winter).

More obscure drinks like the Bee's Knees and the Monkey Gland are also offered, usually with a description that includes some historical backstory. The menu also boasts a Build Your Own section -- but what could easily be a return to college bartending is saved by the quality of the bar selection, including specialty sodas and bitters. (The DIY section also comes with a terse warning, "Once you've ordered your drink, it becomes just that -- your drink." In other words, no do-overs if Burdock Soda and tequila doesn't pan out quite the way you were hoping.) The short section of specialty cocktails evokes the same era as the highball list (Sidecar, Aviator), and the options are rounded out by a discreet wine list, and a beer list that seems both thoughtful and increasingly par for the course when it comes to Chicago's bar scene, with Old Rasputin rubbing elbows with a PBR tallboy.

Highball cocktails range from $8 to $12 (no prices are listed in the Build Your Own section, so order with care), beers from $4 to $8. Thursday nights are "Tropical Thursdays," but with a former Sonotheque DJ at the helm, you can count on more of a bossa nova than beach party vibe.

Highball Lounge
738 N. Clark, 2nd floor

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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