This past week marked the last we’ll see of The Highball for at least a year, while they complete renovations that are part of the Alamo South Lamar complex takeover.
What will Austinites do in the interim?
As a faithful patron of the Highball, I’m taking it upon myself to find out.
What Makes The Highball So Great?
I first want to quantify what it is that I love about The Highball. My most frequent visits there rotate around special stage events like Tittie Bingo and the Mystery Sing-Along, both orchestrated by The Action Pack.
I have a hundred embarrassing videos from their exquisite private-room karaoke booths, and I’ve brought every out-of-town guest to their bar area to eat delicious food, all the while listening to the dulcet sounds of bowling pins topple. Are the drinks expensive? Sure. But the vibe of The Highball cannot be beat.
New Kid on the Block
The most obvious temporary replacement for The Highball is The Goodnight, a posh-looking bar+ on West Anderson. Like The Highball, it’s a full-service bar and restaurant, and it prides itself on the wide array of games it provides: bowling, ping-pong, poker/blackjack and billiards. It just opened and is still offering lots of free games to entice people to come regularly.
The ambiance is nice. The centralized bar is a good hub, and there are two areas set apart for private parties of eating or drinking. The poker and blackjack tables are a nice touch. But to prevent actual gambling, there are some pretty hinky rules about financial restitution after you’ve cashed in your chips.
Like The Highball, there are sections for each activity. But The Goodnight has a lot less seating overall, so overlap becomes more necessary.
One of my visits there was on a Friday night. My girlfriends and I, desperate to sit, sat on one of the bowling couches. It was large, oblong and – at the time – empty. No fewer than three different employees came over to tell us that the empty couches were reserved for not-yet-arrived bowling parties. The third server did offer us seating in a different area, thankfully. As girls in heels, if we can’t sit, we won’t stay to drink.
After subsequent visits, it seems that this first experience is indicative of The Goodnight’s constant disconnect from the soul that kept us patronizing The Highball, despite its high prices. Sure, I love that Mad Men-era hipster decadence, but I’ll be thrown off if I feel like I’m also getting fleeced.
Playing Pâté-Cake With Us
I recently ordered The Goodnight’s charcuterie plate at $14. It was a bit scant, food-wise, for a pricey dish, and I would’ve loved an explanation of what was on the plate. There was pâté, and a tiny bit of toasted baguette, considering all the spreadables to choose from. We asked for extra bread and got it, but were shocked when we received the bill and discovered we’d been charged an additional $2 for it.
At The Highball, we always felt like we were taken care of. We were recognized as regulars, and there was a feeling that management had instilled on the very competent waitstaff that all customers were to be taken care of. It’s more than bringing drinks quickly or being friendly; it’s a willingness to accommodate.
The staff at The Goodnight are certainly friendly, but the sentiment of accommodation seems to be missing. Sure, they were willing to find a regular table for my mother who can’t sit at bar chairs. But when a friend went for lunch, they refused to make him a milkshake, insisting it was “only on their dinner menu.” Even their wall-mounted Breathalyzer costs money! If you’re drunk enough to pay money for a Breathalyzer test, you’re too drunk to drive home.
So kudos to The Goodnight for their efforts. In the future, there will be even more games: skeeball, shuffleboard! But they’ll all cost additional money, and I don’t imagine there will be enough space for free events like Tittie Bingo. Without those and things like karaoke and good care, The Goodnight is a poor substitute for The Highball.
You don’t need a dollar to ask Zoltar if I’ll be a regular at The Goodnight. I’m not inspired to afford it.
I’m keen to find more bars like The Highball to check out. Please feel free to recommend them in the comments section below!
Laura Darby is a New Yorker who came to Austin looking for sunshine and music. In real life, she works with chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo and infiltrates the Internet with digininjitsu. You can follow her breadcrumbs at LauraDarby.com.
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