"It’s like Disneyland. Everyone has something."
After more than a year navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, HighWire Lounge has not only survived but is now in the initial stages of a major expansion plan that will quadruple its floor space while providing patrons more than the bar’s vaunted cocktail program.
Now known as HighWire — dropping the second half of its former name — owners Nicholas Wayne and John Hardin have taken over the former Independent Distillery location directly across the patio.
The 3,000-square-foot former space, which closed its doors in November 2020, has been gutted — including the obtuse, meandering bar that encompassed much of the space.
The current HighWire location will be converted into a rental space for private events, including birthday parties, local entertainment, pop-ups, yoga, among others, Wayne mentioned, stressing the company’s vision of enhancing and connecting the local community.
“You can be a nightclub, but what are we really here for,” Wayne said. “It’ll be very simple, very Tucson, and not glossed over.”
Expanding into new opportunities
The Tucson-native also plans on brightening up the entrance area on Arizona Avenue with solar-powered rope lighting, a rain-capture system, and a metered sound arrangement for the patio to reduce noise. Despite the major makeover of the former Independent space, Hardin said they will honor the distillery’s presence by keeping some of its imagery inside the space.
“They were an important part of the area and they deserve to be remembered,” said Hardin.
What will not change is the dedication to HighWire’s craft, molecular, and prohibition cocktail program. The added space will allow the bar staff to experiment with new cocktails.
The physical area will house three wells for bartenders to work from, where everything needed to build cocktails is no more than a step away. The wells — a bartender’s dream — are appropriately called “spaceships” and will drastically increase space for patrons.
Happy Hour and Brunch
The ambitious expansion plan also includes an additional 17,000 square feet of kitchen and storage space, to be shared with Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market. While the plan is still being fleshed out, the space likely will be used for catering and commissary for both companies.
Although, what Wayne and Hardin can confirm is that they are looking at building HighWire’s Happy Hour and brunch program. With the additional kitchen space, HighWire will provide a tapas-style menu, an area that’ll allow space for chef pop-ups, custom menus for events in the VIP area, and other exciting possibilities.
At the heart of everything, though, will be the bar’s award-winning cocktails.
“We want the brunch crowd. We want the molecular mimosas,” Hardin said.
The additional space and a patio no longer shared with Independent will provide more entertainment options depending on the time of day. The new indoor space will include a permanent DJ space for night service, while the brunch and lunch service times could include live music.
Plus, with the metered sound system, HighWire could easily offer twice the fun with an indoor DJ and outdoor live music simultaneously.
“It’s like Disneyland,” said Wayne. “Everyone has something.”
Staying afloat during the pandemic
HighWire is one of the few food and beverage industries to come out on the other side of the pandemic lockdowns well above water.
Nearly a year ago, the company founded SphereX Distilleries, which reduced its production costs — crafting their own instead of selling cocktails made with liquor from other companies. When Arizona bars and restaurants were allowed to sell their cocktails to-go, HighWire jumped from the gate with the product launch.
Even though the distillery project has been briefly halted due to the recent expansion plans, it will resurface sometime before the end of the year. Wayne and Hardin will turn it into HighWire Craft Spirits and while it is not in the immediate future, it is just another business goal to keep pace with an unpredictable business climate.
HighWire is open 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. on Tuesday – Thursday, 2 p.m. – 2 a.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. – midnight on Sunday.