The local hospitality scene has changed tremendously over the past decade. Working in the service sector used to be seen as a last resort or a transitional job. The daily figures were paramount and training emphasised saving costs by pouring less liquor or upselling premium bottles.
Popular bars were high-volume and thematic, serving the same few cocktails (think Long Island Iced Teas and Lychee Martinis), while bespoke cocktail bars were mostly frequented by expats and those with spending power.
6: Number of Singapore bars that made it into the World’s 50 Best Bars 2019 list
Attitudes started changing about eight years ago. Local pioneers, such as Tippling Club, offered progressive menus and served drinks that employed culinary techniques. Others such as 28 HongKong Street, Orgo and Jigger & Pony then came along, and with them a new respect for cocktails.
The dining scene was experiencing a parallel boom, and we saw patrons becoming more discerning and willing to try new things. I witnessed an initial reluctance towards drinks made with new ingredients and techniques, but execution and flavour ultimately paid off, albeit slowly. We now have a handful of bars – such as Atlas and Manhattan – earning accolades on the global scene, reflecting a recent trend that seems to set a high-end, luxury standard for new entrants.
But I’m also seeing an emerging number of bartender-owned places around the globe that excite me. These bars are more personal and have more creative freedom, carrying a certain boundary-pushing energy that is less common here than it is overseas.
Notable newer ones in Singapore include Junior, Barbary Coast and Platform. Looking further afield, from Copenhagen’s Empirical Spirits and London’s Tayēr + Elementary to New York’s Dante and Melbourne’s Byrdi, there is an active pursuit of bringing new experiences to the scene. Unfortunately, high costs in Singapore create pressure for businesses to play it safe. It feels like there is no room to break away from the tried-and-tested.
“[People are] more discerning and willing to try new things”
When my partner Juan Yi Jun and I opened No Sleep Club, we received many questions about the category it was meant to fill – are we a bar, a café or a restaurant? We simply want to be a catalyst for like-minded people to come together. We employ progressive contemporary techniques in a way that serves quality without the show.
For example, our Vodka Soda is made with a house re-distilled citrus hop and kaffir lime vodka made with clarified calamansi and Thai limes, which is then batched as a whole and carbonated. The entire preparation process takes about 12 hours, but is ready to be poured for the guest in seconds. Ultimately, our focus is for customers to have a good time and to feel involved. The one thing that will set you apart in this industry is hospitality.
Illustrations by Kouzou Sakai
This article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of SilverKris magazine