Although it’s been a good while since the speakeasy trend first found its way to Singapore, there’s still something to be said about the allure of a place that takes some effort to find. Whether it’s the thrill of its hidden nature; its secret status that only those in the know are aware of; or the anticipation that builds as you search furtively for its concealed entrance, speakeasy-style establishments remain a popular mainstay in today’s dining scene.
We’ve rounded up a few top-notch speakeasy-style establishments in Singapore that serve up everything from good and greasy American burgers and steaming bowls of ramen to classic cocktails and an extensive range of sake. While it may require a little legwork and detective skills before you slide into a booth or sidle up at the bar counter, the quality nosh at these spots is undoubtedly worth it.
1. Burger Bar
True to its name, Burger Bar serves up classic American burgers from its home base in Telok Ayer. While Google Maps gives its location as Amoy Street, the entrance is actually located along the narrow Gemmill Lane. Once you’re in the vicinity, keep an eye out for a neon sign of a hefty burger and glass of beer: you can enter through the door on its left. Inside the dimly lit space, the vibe resembles a classic New York dive bar, with plenty of colourful graffiti on the walls (you’re encouraged to leave your mark as well) and booth and low-table seating. Choose from a selection of favourites including the bacon cheeseburger and fried chicken burger, and don’t forget to order a side of crispy fries. The bar also boasts a killer selection of imported craft beers from the likes of cult favourites such as Evil Twin, Northern Monk and Omnipollo.
2. Live Twice
This relatively new entrant to the local cocktail bar scene is one of the three Jigger and Pony group establishments along Bukit Pasoh Road (there’s also fellow cocktail bar Gibson and seafood restaurant Humpback). The entrance to Live Twice isn’t visible from the street – it’s tucked into a hidden alcove behind Humpback. You’ll need to look for the glass door located next to the restaurant and make your way down a narrow corridor before arriving at the bar. Inspired by mid-century Japan and specialising in Japanese food and drinks, Live Twice sports low lighting, booth seating, plush lounge chairs and a central table that’s ideal for groups. As for what to order? We recommend the Beef Katsu Sando (a lip-smackingly good panko-coated steak sandwich) washed down with the Shallow River (whisky, sobacha and Okinawa sugar) or the Spring Riot (gin, sakura soda, crème de pêche and grated daikon).
3. Bincho at Hua Bee
In the mood for some Japanese yakitori dishes? Head over to Bincho, a unique dining concept by Unlisted Collection situated in the quaint Tiong Bahru area. Rather than loudly announce its presence in the neighbourhood, the establishment has opted for an unassuming grey back door that guests have to hunt down in order to enter the establishment. By day, the space functions as an old-school mee pok noodle stall. By night, the space transforms into a modern underground izakaya that serves up some of the best yakitori in town. Specialties include the Tsukune Chicken Meatball, which comes with a perfectly glossy egg yolk; the Grilled Miso Cod; and the oh-so-succulent Grilled Hida Beef with Magnolia Leaf. You can also sample their set menus, which combine yakitori favourites with dishes such as sashimi, snow crab porridge and earthy matcha ice cream.
Forum the Shopping Mall may not be the most obvious choice for a slick and sophisticated drinking den, but this Orchard Road spot is where you’ll find one in The Horse’s Mouth. There are two ways to make an entrance: you can either descend down the narrow flight of stairs located within Uma Uma Ramen on the first floor, or make your way through a set of electronic doors on the basement level. Once inside, you’ll find a dark yet inviting interior that’s perfect for indulging in some post-work drinks or a weekend date (it can get a little chilly, so do bring along a jacket). Take your pick from the rotating menu of cocktails, which often feature regional and seasonal ingredients. The bar also has a well-curated range of sakes sourced from small and private breweries throughout Japan. If you’re feeling hungry and the bar bites on offer just won’t do, you can order a hearty bowl of noodles from sister restaurant Uma Uma Ramen.
Another hard-to-find Orchard Road watering hole, The Other Room is tucked away behind an unmarked doorway and heavy velvet curtains in the lobby of the Singapore Mariott Tang Plaza Hotel. Once you enter its softly lit and intimate space, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back to the heyday of speakeasies in the 1920s. The maestro behind the concept is Dario Knox, who wanted to create a welcoming bar where creative takes on spirits – think barrel-ageing, smoking and infusing – take centre stage. In order to sample the bevy of unique libations on offer in their purest form, we recommend going for the tasting flight. From there, you can move on the the cocktails. Our favourite is the Old Fashioned Way, a take on the classic cocktail that features port-casked Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, Ardberg 10, Angostura bitters, chocolate bitters and sugar.
For upmarket modern Chinese food with an atmospheric speakeasy ambience, make your way to the The Dragon Chamber along Circular Road. Instead of the ornate entrance that you may expect from such an establishment, the hidden restaurant is located at the back of a kopitiam (coffee shop). Search for the “beer fridge” at the rear, pull it open, make your way down the narrow corridor and you’ll find yourself in a space that resembles the clandestine hangout of a Chinese secret society. Food-wise, the menu features inventive dishes such as Cheeseburger Eggrolls (a fusion take on the classic spring rolls), Dragon Mountain (fried whole lobsters in a spicy mala sauce) and the silk and decadent Wagyu Truffle Beef Hor Fun. If you can’t make up your mind which drink to order, the Blossom Soda (blue pea-infused vodka, lychee liquor, fresh lime and soda) is tasty, refreshing and highly Instagrammable.
True sake fiends in Singapore will need no introduction to specialty sake bar MoboMoga, though others may have a bit of a hard time hunting it down. Located at UE Square Residences, you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for the nondescript and narrow arched doorway, which you’ll then have to crouch and squeeze through to enter the bar. Inside, there’s limited counter seating alongside a central bar area, which is typically crammed with Japanese businessmen seeking a smooth serving of sake after a long day of work. Our tip? Simply let the sake expert behind the bar know how you like your tipple, and sit back and accept whatever he recommends (trust us, it’s going to be delicious). Besides an array of high-quality sakes imported from all over Japan, there’s also a decent izakaya-style food menu that features the likes of oden (Japanese one-pot stew), generously stuffed cabbage rolls and crispy chicken karaage.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking and seating requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.