Cocktail trends come and go, but you can’t go wrong with a highball. Elegant, versatile and refreshing with just the right amount of fizz, it certainly hits the spot. And now London City Island is set to become the home of highballs with the launch of brand-new concept bar Soda & Friends this spring.
Highballs are traditionally a tall mixer of whisky and soda served over ice. They’re very popular in Japan, where the whisky industry rivals that of Scotland and Ireland. However, technically, a highball describes pretty much any alcoholic beverage that comprises a spirit mixed with soda or tonic.
‘A gin and tonic is a highball,’ explains bartender and entrepreneur Nate Brown, who has owned several drink spots across London over the past 10 years. ‘Anything that lengthens spirit with sparkling is a highball. What we do at Soda & Friends is unlock the subtle yet exciting nuances of premium spirits, and accentuate their idiosyncrasies through our own additions and flavoured sodas.’
The current owner of Nebula bar + pizza joint on Hackney Road – which will open a new branch at London City Island later this year – as well as canned cocktail company Easy Social Cocktail Co., Brown is excited to be bringing his latest venture to the Island this spring.
The concept of Soda & Friends is to showcase the depth and variety of the highball serve, offering an impressive and curated menu of rare and fine spirits, flavoured sodas and homemade ingredients and liqueurs, along with curated beer and even a loose-leaf tea menu. Every highball serve is expertly mixed with house-made cordials, liqueurs and ferments, which are lengthened with a range of sodas and seltzers.
Highlights include the Soda House Highball (pear, apple and plum with whiskey and soda), and the Irish Air Con, made from cantaloupe melon, pommes, Irish gin and cucumber soda. Soaking up all the fizz is a selection of Japanese-inspired bar snacks, including dumplings, pickled miso quail eggs and fried chicken or vegan bites.
'The Irish Air Con'
Soda & Friends founder, Nate Brown
‘We want Soda & Friends to be the perfect chill hangout for the residents of London City Island and the local area.’
Nate Brown, founder Soda & Friends
Brown describes Soda & Friends as a ‘delightful neighbourhood cocktail bar. Somewhere to unwind, indulge, relax and feel at home’. The minimalist interiors take inspiration from Nordic and Japanese design, and are centred around a striking green bar made from recycled plastics and glass.
‘We want Soda & Friends to be the perfect chill hangout for the residents of London City Island and the local area,’ he continues. ‘London City Island is a neighbourhood and that’s so rare in London; it’s both private enough to create that village feel, while having such great links to the rest of London. It’s literally the best of both worlds.’
The beauty of the highball, meanwhile, is its versatility. There’s a version of the beverage to suit every taste, whether you have a sweet tooth or prefer sour flavours. But the best way to enjoy a highball serve, Brown insists, is with a ‘quality spirit, among friends’.
‘For us, the highball serve positions the drink as an accompaniment to your evening, not the reason for it. It’s more enjoyable and better value. This is the future of drinking.’
Soda & Friends’ perfect highball recipes
50ml bourbon, 25ml highballer (equal parts pear cognac, umeshu, apple aperitif), 75ml soda
40ml Islay Single Malt, 20ml Crème de Mûre, 10ml Victory Bitter, 75ml soda
Irish Air Con
40ml Boatyard Irish vodka, 20ml melon liqueur, 10ml apple aperitif, 75ml cucumber soda
50ml Kyrö Malt rye whisky, 20ml Vetiver spirit, 75ml cherry soda
Photography by Milly Fletcher