Although it's not affiliated with the Hampton Inn, it's hard for us not to think of the seven-week-old Highlander as a "hotel bar," a somewhat derogatory categorization, as half of the hotel bar's job is accomplished simply by existing for travelers who are too tired or unfamiliar with their surroundings to seek out a place that's beyond walking distance from their antiseptic hotel rooms. In truth, our expectations are low.
We pass a half-dozen cars with out-of-state plates on our way in and, before we even open the glass door, we see a wall that's painted chalkboard green. The bar area is dominated by three huge projection television screens and at least a hundred of bottles of alcohol. We spot a couple things that remind us of college: One is a bottle of Rumple Minze, another, the Big Bad Ass Book of Shots.
And so we're really surprised to see that bottles of wine here range in price from $18 to $90, and Stuart Walton's The World Encyclopedia of Wine is tucked next to a register. Though Anheuser-Busch's usual suspects are accounted for, Highlander's beer list has some foreign selections that we'd expect to find at a place like the Scottish Arms. One is Tennent's Lager: It's as ubiquitous in Scotland as A-B is stateside and, like Budweiser, its taste caters to a broad audience. Comparitvely, it comes across sharper than Bud, Tennent's hops possing an almost microbrew quality. It finishes much cleaner and satisfying on the palate.
Chris is tending the long, gently curving bar. He's a south-city native who recently moved back to St. Louis after living in Jersey City, Atlanta and points in between. He looks like he could be Mark McGrath's good-natured, low-maintenance brother, and we aren't at all surprised to learn that he's acted in a few independent films or that he coaches his nephew's soccer team.
He's describes beer as a sommelier might wine — enthusiastic and engaging — at different turns using descriptors like "floral" and "hints of chocolate," and he gamely pours us samples while sharing his preferences and anecdotes. Chris is outstanding at his job; he has made our night unexpectedly fun and enlightening.
On our way out the door, we again pass the green wall. We start to erase our long-held prejudices about so-called hotel bars and imagine picking up a piece of chalk and beginning to write on the chalkboard-like surface: "We will not make hasty assumptions. We will not make hasty assumptions. We will not make hasty assumptions...."
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