Get a Taste of Joe McGuirk’s New East Coast Grill Cocktails

The Highland Kitchen team hosts a 'drink lab' before reopening the Inman Square spot later this year.

Joe McGuirk at Highland Kitchen

Joe McGuirk at Highland Kitchen. / Photo by Susanna Bolle

If you’re a Highland Kitchen regular, you’ve undoubtedly noticed a distinct lack of Joe McGuirk behind the bar lately. The bartending legend is responsible for Highland’s destination cocktail program, but he left the Somerville spot earlier this fall in preparation for his next move. McGuirk is joining Highland Kitchen chef/owner Mark Romano in revamping Cambridge’s East Coast Grill, and you can bet he’ll bring his A game.

“Cocktails have really been a big part of the success of Highland Kitchen. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take making drinks seriously. We make sure customers are getting what they want,” McGuirk says.

Expect the same boozy hospitality at ECG 2.0 when it debuts, which could be by the end of 2016, if inspections happen in time, Romano says. But exactly what drinks will make the menu remains to be seen—and McGuirk needs your input.

On Tuesday, December 20, he’ll return to the HK bar to workshop some potential new drinks. He has some ideas: There will be a tiki cocktail element, with fresh juices, house-made grilled citrus and jalapeño syrups, and lots of rum. McGuirk has also had a lot of fun researching “boat drinks,” a class of not-exactly-tropical sippers—immortalized by Jimmy Buffet—like Moscow mules, rum runners, and hurricanes; as well as updated classics.

“What [Romano and I] both like [about East Coast Grill] is the aesthetic,” McGuirk says. “What we’re trying to do is make sure it’s a great restaurant again, but also a bar with a cocktail culture there. I feel like that’s what people do want. There are some great bars in the neighborhood, so rather than do ‘craft cocktails,’ per se, we’re doing something that matches the personality.”

McGuirk plans to offer up four different drinks on Tuesday night, one highlighting rum, plus a gin drink, one with whiskey, and something with an agave spirit. (As of press time, he hadn’t finalized whether it would be mezcal or tequila.)

“We’re going to give a little example of what we’re doing, and see what people think,” he says.

And he is looking for real feedback from drinkers, so know your voice matters—if you need a reason beyond sampling a lineup of brand-new drinks by a cocktail legend.

East Coast Grill Cocktail Lab At Highland Kitchen, Tuesday, December 20, 10 p.m.-midnight, 150 Highland Ave., Somerville, Facebook.

A tiki drink test run for East Coast Grill 2.0. / Photo provided

A tiki drink test run for East Coast Grill 2.0. / Photo provided