Nicky and I recently decided to make a much-needed road-trip, so we headed out to see what the cocktail scene was like 90 minutes away in Athens. We were delighted by a couple of welcomed surprises!
“Pipette” was on hand to be our guide, and she started us off with a late afternoon visit to Five Points Bottle Shop. Wow. What an amazing collection of liqueurs, vermouths, appertifs, bourbons, single malts, rye, and more. Several of the items Nicky and I had been looking for were there on the shelf – Carpano Antica, Stone Ginger Wine, Zirbenz Pine Liqueur, the new Bulleit Rye, and Batavia Arrack, just to name a few! We will definitely be making trips to Athens to stock up in the future.
The evening included dinner at the award-winning Five and Ten where the food was exceptional, but the cocktails not so much. One or two other stops also failed to yield anything special in the way of mixology. Unfortunately, pretty much what we had expected.
Then we hit pay dirt.
Highwire Lounge is located in the downtown area of Athens, sharing a space with Trapeze bar. The stated mission of Highwire is to “share the fine art of exceptional, hand-crafted cocktails.” That was all we needed to hear. The cocktails are made with small batch liquors, fresh fruits, herbs and juices, lots of imagination and love of the craft.
Here is a sampling of the 12 or more cocktails we enjoyed during our visit. (Don’t judge. Twelve is relative.) And let me go on record as saying there was not an average tasting drink on the menu. All were exceptional. AND all are priced from $4.50 to $8.00 (most are only $6.00)!
“Lavender Fizz” – Creamy, tart and smooth, this combines Boomsma gin, lemon juice, egg white and a house-made lavender cordial for a concoction that tastes like a light, lavender key-lime pie.
“Negroni” – Just glad to see this vintage cocktail on the menu. Their use of Dry Fly Gin and Carpano Antica with the standard Campari worked perfectly.
“Tatanka” – Of course this uses the Polish Bisongrass Vodka (hence the drink name, Tatanka, get it?), apple cider and lemon zest. We had been anxious to try the Bisongrass Vodka and this was a great tasting. Earthy, light, grassy, and could lead to trouble as it is so easy to enjoy.
“Keeneland Cup” – Obviously bourbon as a base makes this a favorite, but add Pimms, dry vermouth, lemon, sage, cucumber, cracked pepper and a spash of Coke and this drink has Katruska written all over it! Earthy and mellow, it was so fresh!
“Modern English” – Tequila is not a first (or even third) choice for Nicky or I as a rule, but this one sold us both! Blackberries, sage, Ultimo Reposado tequila, agave and lime. You get the essence of tequila, but not a strong taste. The citrus sour and barely ripe blackberries keep the sweetness in check.
“Dark and Stormy”- The Highwire take on this bold and spicy classic uses Blenheim’s spicy ginger ale, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Stirrings Ginger Liqueur and a touch of lime. Nice spicy bite!
“The Transatlantic” – So while this was not one of our top favorites of the night, it did get points for creativity. Sombra Mezcal was mixed with St. Germaine Elderflower, Domaine de Canton ginger Liqueur, chili powder and lime. Very smoky and sour.
“Skidoo 27” – This cocktail uses another of the house-made cordials (lemon-thyme), St. Germain Elderflower, Hendrick’s gin and champagne. Actually very nice! Light. And the thyme and elderflower shine through.
“Pepper Basil Caipirinha” – All about the green. Tart and spiced, this one combines Cachaca, lime, raw cane sugar, peppercorn and basil. Yum.
“The Essex” – Kraken rum, Velvet Falernum, Fernet Branca, house-made cinnamon cordial and orange zest blend perfectly to produce a rich, velvety cocktail with a slight cinnamon taste on the back end. There is a touch of the bitter, but it is balanced so well!
“North by Northwest” – This was my dessert drink and it was actually a small production unto itself. Our bartender at the moment lit a stick of cinnamon, placed it on a plate and turned a brandy glass upside down, balancing it so that the cinnamon stick smoked the glass. Apple butter was then pressed through a strainer into the shaker, which then was joined with Calvados, thyme and pure pressed apple juice. It was a beautiful presentation and the perfect cocktail to end the evening!
So, who is behind this madness?
We were fortunate that the genius behind many of these cocktails was in the house the night we were there and we had a chance to chat. Nathan Thompson is young, enthusiastic about cocktails, and has a service ethic that is unbelievable. And ego? Nope. He loves sharing his recipes and ideas. And he encourages his guests to submit their recipes for possible inclusion in the lengthy Highwire menu. His staff is well trained and well versed in the world of cocktails and consistency between drinks doesn’t seem to be an issue.
Many would be happy to recommend stopping by Highwire if you are in Athens. Not us. We insist you make the trip to Athens for the sole purpose of spending an evening with Nathan and the staff of Highwire. If you are a cocktail enthusiast, you will be so thrilled you did!
Highwire is located at 269 N. Hull Street in Athens, Georgia.