April 9th, 2010

Event – Highballs!

dean-martin-highballOnce upon a time, when adults said, “Let’s get together for drinks,” they meant highballs. Guests would bring a bottle of their preferred hooch to someone’s backyard, and the hosts would provide the tall glasses, ice and mixers — tonic, ginger ale, Squirt. Lots of smoking and guffawing would ensue before everyone drove home tipsy without seat belts.

Contemporary society goes against all that. It not only sensibly condemns the smoking and drunk driving, it sadly also dismisses the most basic form of mixed drink, the highball. We have bazillions of cocktail choices now, and, unlike the highball drinkers of yore, we talk about them endlessly (damn drinks bloggers).

In celebration of World Cocktail Week (May 6-13), let’s re-embrace that simple pleasure of the booze universe. Join drinkboston and Trina’s Starlite Lounge for Bourbon & Gingers, Presbyterians, Gin & Tonics, Moscow Mules and other members of the highball family — all with quality spirits and featuring house-made mixers — and party like it’s 1965. The details:

  • Highballs! Hosted by drinkboston and Trina’s Starlite Lounge (3 Beacon St., Somerville)
  • Sunday, May 9 (yes, Mother’s Day — bring mom!)
  • 7:00 p.m. until last call
  • $35 in advance, $40 at the door
  • Highballs include bourbon & housemade gingerale, Presbyterian (rye, housemade gingerale, seltzer), gin & Q Tonic, Moscow Mule (vodka, fresh lime, housemade gingerale), Tom Collins (gin, fresh lemon, simple syrup, seltzer) and Calamansi Collins (the Starlite’s own creation with Thai basil-infused gin, calamanzi juice, simple syrup and seltzer).
  • Tickets include four highballs, such retro delights as pigs in a blanket, and DJ-spun, highball-appropriate tunes.
  • Call the Starlite at 617-576-0006 to purchase your ticket in advance, as there’s a good chance we’ll sell out.
  • Wear whatever you like, but anyone who shows up dressed as stylin’ as Dean Martin (or his date) will get extra credit.

Where does the term “highball” come from? Several sources trace it to the Irish expression “ball of malt,” which became Americanized in the late 1800s to “ball of whiskey” — both terms meaning a measure of whiskey. If a saloon patron wanted a longer drink with carbonated water, he asked for a “highball.” Then there’s the “highball” of railroad lingo — a signal, originally a ball hung above the tracks, indicating full speed ahead — that provides a fun double meaning.

nyt-oct-22-1927Did the scotch highball originate in Boston? This amazing article from the October 22, 1927 edition of the New York Times indicates as much. (Note the characteristic snark toward Boston.) Here’s some intel on William T. Adams, who wrote books for boys under the pen name Oliver Optic, and the Adams House hotel. It seems the NYT was lax in its fact-checking here — the Adams House was established by William T.’s father, not his son.

But wait, this DrinkBoy forum thread appears to contain a quote from a letter to the editor in the October 27, 1927 NYT by famed bartender Patrick Gavin Duffy, who makes a case for having first introduced the scotch highball in New York.

Whatever. All I know is that I’m craving a scotch and soda with a fried oyster on a toothpick. See you on May 9!

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7 Responses to “Event – Highballs!”

  1. LoungeTracks

    Thank someone’s gods you finally – finally – mentioned the highball, at freaking last.

    I’ve been downing them for years and bartenders always, i mean always, look at me like I’m 72 years old.

    The highball is a perfect drink, part ginger ale, part whiskey (mostly whiskey when I make ’em at home)that goes down smoother than a Combat Zone stripper’s suede landing strip – does the Combat Zone still exist?

    I gotta get out more.

  2. MC Slim JB

    A summertime standby, though I rarely try to get the traditional term past a bartender under the age of 50. Hope I can make this shindig: it sounds like a blast!

  3. ljclark

    LoungeTracks, sorry for ignoring your fave drink for so long. Love your poetic reference to the Combat Zone. Of course it still exists, silly (in our minds). I think what confuses the bartenders, LT and Slim, is that you’re asking for highballs and you’re clearly NOT 72 years old. Also, as with many species in the cocktail world, “highball” is often taken to mean any drink served in a highball glass. The Wikipedia entry includes a Sex on the Beach as an example of a highball, for chrissake. It’s kinda like how “martini” has come to mean any cocktail served in a martini glass.

  4. Julia

    I can’t think of a single thing that would keep me from this.

  5. Br. Cleve

    There was an old joke I used to hear frequently in the 70’s (or was it when I was in my 70’s?) where 3 animals go into a bar, of course, and the punchline was “…and the giraffe said, ‘I’ve got the highballs!'” Can’t remember the rest of the joke, though. But that was the moment of high hilarity, so you can guess how good the rest of it was. But if there’s to be a highball renaissance, incorporating craft (and, naturally, non-HFCS) ginger ales, tonic waters and seltzers mixed with the todays top hooch, count me in.

    It’s interesting to note that, judging from watching hundreds of post-Prohibition era films, that cocktails (outside of Martinis, Manhattans along with Daiquiris and tropical “tiki” drinks) never regained their pre-Prohibition status in the decades after Repeal; the WWII and Eisenhower years were the era of the highball and the straight shot (even before “on the rocks” was a popular concept).So now that cocktails have been revitalized, it’s time to move forward in the past.

    It’s a shame this event isn’t after Memorial Day, as it’s the perfect affair to be attired in a Full Cleveland!

  6. stephen

    i’m drinking a presbyterian right now. but my mixer of choice is “sweet potato ginger beer” inspired by the guyanese drink sweet potato “fly”

    i didn’t ginger it to death (because i ran out of ginger), and i know “ginger ale” has no ginger, but wow does it resemble ginger ale and wow is it delicious.

    i’ve got it on tap in a three gallon keg in my fridge. i’ll keep this one up all spring and summer even if it means eating sweet potatoes for dinner every other night. i keep entertaining too many people at the house to do only cocktails and i keep meeting non drinkers that want something interesting.


  7. robmarais

    Lauren, what a splendid idea! thanks for arranging this at Trina’s. I will reserve soon.
    Well I remember the non-PC hilarity that ensued amongst the adults in my childhood when the cocktail hour arrived, and on the weekends, the highball was the hootch vehicle of choice. Can’t wait to do proper highballs with retro hors d’œuvres (which we were trained to pronounce, “whore derves”, and that became funny around age 12). See you there.

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