Asia through my eyes
In the past couple of years, we’ve been seeing the emergence of a number of upscale cocktail bars with savvy bartenders – or mixologists as they are now professionally called – who can whip you drinks from very unusual ingredients. From SGD32,000 cocktail creations to ex-bankers turning mixologists, you come across an interesting breed of new bars and bartenders in Singapore today. It all depends on taste but I’ve listed down those I’ve tried, in no particular order.
At a very unconventional location set on the second floor of a shophouse, Maison Ikkoku stands out for me because of the dedication of its head bartender and owner, Ethan Leslie Leong, and the consistency of their cocktails. They do not have a cocktail menu, and although you can order the classics, they have exceptional cocktails that are concocted simply by mentioning your preferences in taste and style. Personally, I do not like overly sweet, weak and creamy cocktails. The first one I tried there was prepared after I mentioned that I preferred sour and strong. I was served the most memorable cocktail I’ve had to date, the Torch daiquiri. It’s a very unusual daiquiri infused with torch ginger and served with a little floating origami boat, folded out of a torch ginger petal and filled with mint liqueur. The latter is to be gulped after the drink is savoured in order to cleanse the palate before the next drink. Other cocktails I would recommend are the ginger Mojito and the Negroni. Cocktails cost about SGD22 on average. As a side note, Ethan is the bartender who designed the most expensive cocktail in Singapore – The Jewel of Pangaea. A glass of this expensive elixir will set you back SGD32,000 but comes with a Mouawad diamond. Perhaps we should just go to Mouawad instead, order a diamond, and ask for a free cocktail?
Maison Ikkoku Cafe, 20 Kandahar Street, +65 6294 0078 – Map HERE
Located at the up and coming Keong Saik area in an old shophouse, The Library is seemingly one of the most exclusive bars in Singapore. You need to provide a password at the door to go in, which may well deter a lot of patrons from frequenting the place. Thankfully, the password is not that hard to find. It’s changed weekly with a hint posted on the Facebook page of the adjoining snack joint Keong Saik Snacks. The decor inside is indeed very nice and the staff very well trained. I was there on a weekday and luckily the place was pretty much empty. That gave me the chance to order tailored drinks from one of the savvy staff. The menu is very well thought through with details of what ingredients and alcohol go into each cocktail. To be honest, I can’t really remember the names of the three different cocktails I ordered. This does not by any means mean that they were not good…but just not memorable. Cocktails cost between SGD20 and 25. As a side note, I just read that Keong Saik Snacks is co-owned by Michelin star chef Jason Atherton.
The Cufflink Club
A stone throw away from The Library is The Cufflink Club. In fact, I ended up there because The Library wouldn’t let us in. Apparently they were completely packed on a Saturday night with 16 groups on the waiting list. The place was equally busy, even overflowing on the street. It is a very cosy place with the bar towards the end of the narrow shophouse. The place seems to be frequented mostly by regulars. We couldn’t get a table and that proved to be a blessing too. We ended up at the bar right in front of chief bartender and co-owner, Joel Fraser, a young British lad and ex-banker. Unlike Maison Ikkoku, The Cufflink Club does not seem to concoct cocktails based on taste, but rather follow their menu. Understandably too considering how busy the lean team of bartenders and servers are. A couple of the drinks ordered were interesting, but very disappointingly two orders of the same drink tasted very different. Consistency should be expected when cocktails go for SGD21 to 25 a pop.
6 Jiak Chuan Rd, Singapore 089262, +65 9694 9623 – Map HERE
28 Hong Kong Street
This cocktail bar is very easy to miss. It has no entrance sign so you’ll have to trust yourself when you open the door to a seemingly plain shophouse, number 28 on Hong Kong Street. The place is not very big but the decor is pleasant. I tried one cocktail on the menu, the Monkey Gland and asked for a tailored cocktail which contained grapefruit juice and which was both sour and strong. When the drinks came, I realised how small their glasses were as opposed to other cocktail bars I had been too. No seriously, one long sip, and it’s gone! The drinks were nice but nothing spectacular. The Monkey Gland came with a fat slice of orange which pretty much invaded the whole glass and accounted for even less drink. On a very good note, I tried some sliders there and the food was phenomenal. If I were to go back there, it’d probably be to order a glass of cold water…to wash down some nice chow.
28 Hong Kong Street, 28 Hong Kong Street, Singapore 059667, +65 6533 2001 – Map HERE
Martini Bar @ Grand Hyatt
Martini Bar at Grand Hyatt has long been a favourite of mine. Not so much for the drinks, but rather for the ambience. The place exudes elegance and sophistication. It does help that drinking and eating there will not dig a hole in your pocket. Their cocktail specialty there are, as you would have guessed, martinis and they do have one of the largest selections I’ve seen in Singapore, and great ones to boot. Go for some exotic ones. Cucumber martinis are pretty refreshing while fruity ones stand true to their flavours. My personal favourite is the passion fruit martini. Simple delicious. Martini bar also has some good deals on wine. Ask for their Mezza9 deals menu. A bottle of Yalumba will cost you about SGD45 which is very reasonable for any bar in Singapore, let alone in a hotel. The food there is also great. For bar food, try the chorizos. Oily perhaps, salty a tad, but I love them. Otherwise ask for the Mezza9 restaurant menu. They have some great seasonal oysters you can try. Plus if you have the Hyatt card, you get 50% off all food if you’re accompanied by someone. Great deal indeed!
Martini bar @ Mezza9, Grand Hyatt Singapore, 10 Scotts Road, Singapore 228211, +65 6738 1234 – Map HERE
Wharf Oyster Bar & Grill
Robertson quay has expanded significantly over the past five years or so. What was once a quiet residential area with a few scattered restaurants and bars has now grown into one of the most popular wine and dine places in Singapore. I stumbled upon Wharf while taking a walk along the river. The advertised oysters were the main draw but after being seated and going through the menu, I realised the place was not just promoting its oysters. In facts, the place’s main draw would be its Mojito list which numbers a hundred. I am usually quite skeptical about such numbers as it is, more often than not, just a marketing gimmick. I was pleasantly surprised though when I took a sip of the Wharf Mojito, one of their signature drinks. It was absolutely refreshing and begging for more. I tried the Black, Blue and White mojitos which were all pretty nice. With a nice selection of oysters, which you can tell have been carefully picked, it was a very pleasant evening spent at Wharf. The head chef and head servers are all Japanese which indicates that the place is probably owned as well as run by folks from Japan. You can’t expect any less but dedication to great service and consistently great fare and drinks.
Wharf, 60 Robertson Quay, #01-01 Quayside, Singapore 238252, +65 6235 2466 – Map HERE
No 5 at Emerald Hill
Emerald Hill used to be my favourite hangout a few years ago. After work, I would be there without fail to catch up with friends and colleagues over drinks and finger food. As regulars would know, you start at Ice Cold Beer for some nice cold ones along with some of the best chicken wings and pizzas in Singapore. At 9:00pm, it’s time to proceed to No5 which is two shophouses down, separated only by Que Pasa. All three outlets are owned by the Emerald Hill Group. Why 9:00pm you ask? Well, because from 9:00pm onwards, all martinis at No5 are on a one-for-one offer, which means you get an additional martini for each one you buy. With a martini going for less than SGD15, it is a pretty good deal. And the martinis pack a punch too. My favourites there are the dirty martini and the choya martini. Girls opt mostly for the lychee martinis, but that’s way too sweet for my palate. For those who are adventurous enough, you can try the chilli vodka shots. That’s vodka with hot red chillies soaked in it for a month. Apparently a couple of dudes passed out before, after a couple of shots. Only for the bravest…or for the wasted.
5, 5 Emerald Hill Road, Singapore 229289, +65 6732 0818 – Map HERE
There are a few other cocktails bars I’ve been wanting to visit. Jigger and Pony at Amoy Street has had some good reviews from other patrons I met during my visits to other cocktail bars. Another is Dempsey’s Tippling Club which is probably one of the oldest cocktail bars to have opened in Singapore. Cocktail bars have started sprouting out in every little corner of Singapore. It’s interesting to note that most of them are located at very low key areas in shophouses. We can certainly expect for a lot more happening in the next two years.
Interesting links about other cocktail bars in Singapore: