When The Highball closed its doors almost two years ago, it left a gaping hole in the Austin nightlife scene. Seriously. Where else could you grab a drink, sing a Miley Cyrus song and bowl ten frames without leaving the building? Now settled in its refurbished home, the South Lamar landmark is looking to reclaim its crown as one of Austin’s most distinctive hot spots.
Whenever The Highball is brought up in conversation, people always ask, “Did they bring back the bowling?” Sorry, friends. Due to space restrictions, the bar’s signature lanes are no more. Luckily, the decor keeps the ten pin tradition alive. Decked out like a scene from The Big Lebowski, the bar tops, dance floor and benches have all been fashioned out of the original alley wood.
Bright gold bar stools crank up the kitsch factor and the lush booths hearken back to the days of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. It’s all stylishly retro, yet surprisingly cozy. Once the surrounding apartment and retail plaza is finished, The Highball will be the place to hang out and people watch.
Although the bowling alley is now a dance floor, Highball 2.0 brings back karaoke in grand fashion. With seven themed rooms from heavy metal to eight bit Nintendo, there’s a vibe for every group. A dedicated speakeasy style server keeps the libations rolling. With room rates running from $20 to $50 an hour, it’s a cheap night out.
This past weekend, I got a chance to do my best Joe Cocker impersonation in the Midnight Manor room. Decked out like a cross between The Shining and The Walking Dead, it was singalong heaven.
Thanks to gear that would put the Enterprise’s holodeck to shame, picking from The Highball’s massive song library was a breeze thanks to a slick touchpad interface. Two massive screens made it easy for everybody to warble along. And if you ever wanted to know what Bruce Springsteen would sound like auto-tuned, a built in effects bank can answer that question. I recommend the helium balloon setting for maximum uncomfortable laughs.
Not a fan of singing badly in front of friends? There’s more to check out at the brand new Highball. Events are still a huge part of the experience. Whether you’re battling brainstems with the Geeks Who Drink trivia team or hurling insults at bad movies with Hecklevision and the Action Pack, there’s always something going down. Even signature events like the famous “Highballoween” are back on the calendar.
Live music has also returned with a vengeance with a nice mix of weekly acts and special drop-ins. My personal favorite is Motown Mondays backed by the exceptional Matchmaker Band and The Nightowls, but there’s always something fun to discover. Case in a point: a few weeks ago, I popped in after a movie to find Dale Watson in a white tux fronting a swing band. Deliciously bizarre. Totally awesome.
The Highball has plenty of liquid encouragement to help you get all Moulin Rouge on the mic. While the vaunted mixologists of the original bar are long gone, the current crop of drink slingers get the job done in sparkling fashion. From the signature sweetness of their classic old fashioned to the ginger beer burn of their “Dark and Stormy,” the cocktail menu has something for everybody. And if you’re more of a beer snob like me, their selection of over twenty craft drafts will keep you satisfied. Feel free to downshift from a gin fizz to a Founder’s Scotch Ale. The Highball is a no-judgment zone.
(Note: They also have a small food menu. But since I’ve never tried it, I can’t comment on the quality. It smelled delicious)
With charm, style and a distinctive vibe, the new Highball is a welcome addition to the South Lamar scene. It may be missing some key original components, but the awesome karaoke, friendly staff and chilled out vibe made the trip to the new location. You know. The important stuff. So grab a stool, order a drink and prepare to sing the night away. The Highball is officially back.
The Highball is located at 1120 South Lamar Blvd. When heading south on S Lamar, make a left onto Treadwell Street and park in the Alamo Drafthouse garage. Follow signs for the Drafthouse and you can’t miss it!
Bill Tucker is a writer of film reviews, articles and short stories for a number of publications and sites. His work can be found at Entertainment Weekly, Revolt Daily and Pantheon Magazine. You can check out all of his everything on TheSurrealProject.com.
Have you checked out the new Highball yet? What do you think?