Take On: Rum Highball
Origin: Highball Lounge, Downtown
When you want to feel like a kid again, you ask the bartender for a Shirley Temple, giggling like an idiot. You don’t go ordering a twelve dollar cocktail.
The exception to this rule is at the Highball Lounge, a big, lavish funhouse of a bar on Tremont Street downtown. Here, you can drink a Manhattan—and a good Manhattan—over a round of Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Chutes and Ladders, or whatever your sad, nostalgic little heart desires. Trust me, they have it. The bartenders at Highball don’t feel much like growing up, either.
“Have you ever played the game POGs?” asked head bartender Shaher Misif, whose business card, just so you know, is a pocket-sized rubber ducky with his name on it. I had just ordered Shaher’s highball off the drink list, which—just so you know—can be viewed using one of these. It’s a juicy, spiced rum drink called the POG Island. And to answer his question, yes, like anyone who was blessed with a 90s upbringing, I have played POGs. Just ask my sister—we traded those cheap, colorful little paper discs like they were gold, or bricks of cocaine.
It was a magical time.
“The first POG pieces were actually juice caps,” Shaher told me last Thursday. “It was this drink from Hawaii made with passion fruit, orange and guava, which is what POG stands for.”
For the POG Island, Shaher took that same fruit mixture and put it in a highball cocktail, using the bar’s own house-spiced rum as the base. Now, for the sake of clarity (which is important when you’re writing about drinking), a classic highball is any liquor topped with soda—a thing of pure destiny. From Jack-and-Cokes to Gin-and-Tonics, it may be the oldest, simplest, and most immortal kind of drink, a favorite among high schoolers and hard-drinking aunts alike. Even celebrated cocktail bars have made a special place for the layman’s highball, stocking tonic bottles from craft companies like Fever Tree and Fentimans. Lone Star Taco Bar of Allston and Cambridge can top your rum with Mexican coke, which, if you don’t already know, is made with actual sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup, and comes in a pretty glass bottle.
The highballs at Highball come in a glass bottle, too—they’re pre-carbonated in house for quick, easy pouring. It’s a neat gag, but it’s also strategic, as the bar can get more lively than a jungle gym, even on weekdays (apparently after a day at work in the Financial District, drinking just makes sense).
“We get everybody,” Shaher told me, just as a young couple, or perhaps two people freshly sprung from a J. Crew photoshoot, sipped delicately from their cocktail glasses next to a string of stocky finance men, all of whom had taken off their ties and were drinking from absurdly tall Budweiser cans.
“We get a lot of cocktail enthusiasts, and a lot of locals who just want to hang out. Not everyone is on their phones, either. It’s really interactive here,” said Shaher. “If you’re interested, we can tell you a lot about the drinks, or cocktail history in general. But we’re not in your face about it. If you want, you can play some board games and drink a great drink, and just enjoy your time.”
Speaking of great drinks, it’s time for a highball.
The POG Island is a cheesy tourist’s idea of a rum cocktail, and in the best possible way. It’s rich and tropical—it tastes, for lack of my own creativity, like an island. Usually when I drink alone, which these days is rather often (you know, for the blog…), I feel a little bit older with each sip, and not in that first-beer-with-the-Old-Man kind of way. When I drink a POG Island, and especially more than one—well, I can’t say I feel any younger. But I do think of a time when I was. I think of POGs.
“We want to be a nostalgic kind of bar,” said Shaher, “Not like a classic cocktail lounge. We want to take people back to a certain place.”
If they can do it with a twelve dollar cocktail, that’s magic for you.
. . .
adapted from Highball Lounge
1 oz Highball Lounge spiced rum **
2 oz POG (pineapple, orange, guava juice) ***
At Highball, they force carbonate and bottle the whole drink, then serve it in a highball glass over ice with a mint garnish. You probably cannot do this. Instead, just build the drink in highball glass, fill with ice and top with soda water. Garnish with the toy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle of your choice.
** Unfortunately, the Highball bartenders closely guard their spiced rum recipe. Didn’t anyone ever tell them about “secrets, secrets”? Anyway, here’s a recipe from Imbibe. As an easier route, try Sailor Jerry’s or, if you’re feeling nostalgic about getting blitzed in your parents’ basement, Captain Morgan’s.
*** For this, you can either buy the juices and mix them at equal ratios, or even better, squeeze them yourself.