downtown

POG Island

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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 Manhattanover 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.

. . .

POG Island
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.

Follow Shaher Masif on On the Bar here! Or watch him blow your mind to smithereens, here!

Snap Daiq

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Origin: Townsman, Downtown Boston
Take on: Daiquiri

“I never thought I’d want to drink English peas,” says Melissa Benson, a bartender at Townsman, chef Matt Jennings‘ new restaurant in downtown Boston. Melissa’s not talking about some green colored juice bar concoction—she’s talking about a green colored daiquiri.

The Snap Daiq is Townsman’s springtime interpretation of the classic daiquiri, which—contrary to the swim-up bars of the world—consists simply of light rum, lime and sugar. In Havana, Cuba around 1913, at the bar of the Hotel Plaza, the original daiquiri was served frigid and frost-colored, not frozen and pink. Townsman’s Snap Daiq is green—I mean, really green—but it’s also delicious. It can pull it off.

As Melissa was saying, when you drink the Snap Daiq, you’re drinking peas. But don’t think boba tea. The Snap Daiq is sweetened by English snap pea husks that have been reduced and made into a syrup, replacing the original daiquiri’s plain sugar. A little Green Chartreuse and touch of absinthe are used to tie in the botanical notes of the peas, and a dash of saline solution complements the sweetness. “It’s like adding salt to a cookie,” says Melissa.

If you don’t like the idea of putting snacks in your drinks, I get it. But isn’t a daiquiri just as refreshing as a crisp, cool pea on a sunny day? I think it’s time the two met.

“It’s a very aromatic, vegetal cocktail, and I love that it’s so refreshing,” Melissa says. “It’s so pretty, too.”

Townsman is quite a looker itself. It’s a bright, breezy and open space with huge windows and modern, steel dining chairs the color of fire engines. There’s a civilized, “let’s do lunch” downtown-ness to it, but the menu is anything but tame, boasting lamb crudo, a suckling pig ham and pâté Cuban sandwich, and deviled eggs with fried capers and crispy hen skin.

Townsman has only been open four months, but the bar program, run by Sean Frederick, formerly of Citizen Public House in Fenway, is already matching some of the best in the city, from its house blended bitters to its innovative, farm-to-cocktail recipes. Melissa says the Snap Daiq speaks to what the bar is all about.

“It’s really in keeping with the theme of Townsman, since we change the menu as often as we can to keep it in season,” she says. Unfortunately, that also means the Snap Daiq will be leaving the drink list soon. And so it goes—nothing green can stay.

. . .

Snap Daiq
adapted from Townsman

1 1/2 oz Privateer Silver rum
3/4 oz snap pea syrup
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz Green Chartreuse
2 dashes absinthe
2 dashes saline solution

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, add ice and shake vigorously (and I mean vigorously—it’s a daiquiri, so make it cold). Strain into chilled Irish coffee glass and garnish with mint leaf. Spring was in the air; now it’s in your drink.

Follow Melissa Benson on On the Bar! You won’t regret it. Just click here.