For Highball Social portfolio pictures, click here.
After repeated collaborations with Stonecutter Spirits, they asked us to help design a new bar for the them in Burlington, Vermont– The Highball Social. Stonecutter is constantly inventing exciting craft cocktails that showcase their barrel-aged spirits, and wanted a new space to host events and expand their experimentation. The site of the new project was a former funeral parlor with a high, sloped ceiling and exposed metal trusses. Stonecutter maintains an elegant presentation of the craft of barrel-aging spirits, and we wanted to reflect this balance in the design without being too literal. We worked with the co-founders to develop a speakeasy-inspired theme, but paired it with traditional, natural elements to relate it to the makers movement in Vermont.
We started with designing the bar. We had plenty of room, and thus design freedom, but the spacing, size, and proportions were primarily dictated by function. Highball produces complex drinks, so we arranged the cocktail stations to maximize efficiency. Every inch is utilized so there is no dead space, and bartenders have the ideal spacing to make drinks quickly and accurately. The backbar is the most eye-catching feature in the room, and helps bring everything together cohesively. We collaborated with graphic designer Andrew Plotsky, who drew up a design that included natural elements that inspire Stonecutter Spirits— the mountains, marble quarries, and Lake Champlain stacked together, with a grain bundle in the center. The geometric design fits with the art deco aesthetic, and the natural wood and marble we chose ground it in the Vermont tradition.
The massive, 16-foot tall walls provided an opportunity to create something unique, and continue the “stonecutter” motif. We went literal, and built the wall to look like part of a marble quarry. We cut marble block shapes from plywood and covered them with thinset to give them a rough texture. Most of the coloring on the marble rock face forms after years of water running down them. To create the most realistic replication of that, we watered down paint and applied it to the walls with rags, sponges, and spray bottles. It took eight colors, multiple coats, and many hours of experimenting to strike the right balance between light and dark shades. But we ended up with a subtle effect that lends visual interest without overwhelming the rest of the space. The bar design was also a great opportunity to refine our drink station layout, and we look forward to incorporating those ideas in future projects to give our clients maximum efficiency.
The art deco aesthetic is continued through chosen pieces— the gold and marble tables, geometric wall tile, and the porcelain stalactite pendant lights hung throughout the space. We also designed and built custom light scones from marble tile and brass. The refined elements looked great in the space, but we also needed to incorporate a handmade feel. We started by making custom corner pallet wood benches, similar to the ones we had created for Stonecutter’s Middlebury tasting room back in 2015. We also built standing bars out of heavy slabs of wood to look like workbenches, and then speed-aged them with the distressing tool we used to create a similar effect at Lincolns, as seen here. We also sanded, painted, stained, and hacked at the bars to give them variation that would look more authentic.
After everything was put together, something about the space felt off. The back of the hostess stand felt too visible to customers seated behind it. We decided to make use of the original factory windows from the space to create a shelving unit that would better designate the hostess area, hide the clutter behind the stand, and allow Stonecutters to display more of their products. We joined the two windows together with large sections of steel to create depth between them. We then fabricated custom steel shelves to slide between the mullions for Stonecutter to display products. Lastly, we covered the outside of the unit with distressed wood to match the standing bars.
The Highball Social provided some unique challenges and opportunities. With a repeat client like Stonecutter, we needed to create something cohesive with their brand and our prior work, but different enough to feel new and interesting. We also needed to balance the elegance that Highball was aiming for with elements that evoke the craftsmanship of the Stonecutter process. In the end, we feel we achieved a refined look that is accessible and relatable to the people of Vermont, and enhances their experience in the space.