Something about airports and being a part of a place where people are starting or ending journeys feels romantic to me. I suppose that’s why I jumped at the chance to start The World is Flat. From where we are in Singapore Changi Airport’s Terminal 1, you can look out to the planes, or browse the destinations board and feel awestruck by the criss-cross of flights from all over.
Singapore is now one of the top cities for cocktail bars, so we try to offer the transit crowd a taste of the food and beverage scene – we spotlight small-batch producers such as Young Master Brewery, Rogue Ales and Catoctin Creek, we keep up with major events like Negroni Week and we even have guest bartenders. Our location inevitably creates some struggle between what we want to offer and the stereotypical local drinks that some expect. While our emphasis remains international, we also feature local breweries such as Brewlander, as well as offer our own take on the Singapore Sling using cold-pressed juices, house-made raspberry syrup and five-spice bitters.
There are a few United States airport bars that I aspire to check out. One Flew South in Atlanta is a big inspiration – they were among the earliest to prove that airport restaurants can offer a superlative experience; they do global cuisine using local produce, complete with great craft cocktails. Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen in the Louisville airport is another one, for their huge collection of craft bourbons.
I like Vino Volo as well – it’s like the Starbucks of airport wine bars in the US. They tailor each outlet to the local area, so the Seattle airport will have wines from Washington State. I love this growing attention towards providing a more curated experience at airports.
I find that jetlag – or the belief that you’ll never meet again – makes people less guarded. And the moment you offer some warmth, they open up way more than they would in a city bar. To me, an airport bar’s central role is to minimise the stress of travel and offer a comfortable space for people to drink and connect. After the newness fades, it’s the bartender relationship that people return for – about a quarter of our customers are regulars.
“To me, an airport bar’s central role is to minimise the stress of travel”
The biggest hurdles are operational. Everyone, even the suppliers, requires security clearance. There’s no regular crowd pattern – everything hinges on flight timings. As a 24-hour operator, we also need to think about keeping morale up for staff who are working the wee hours alone. And unlike at a city bar, we can’t let customers get too carried away and miss their boarding call or become too drunk to fly. Another thing I didn’t expect was having to explain to our customers that our prices aren’t duty free!
This year, we’ll open our first full-service and public-facing airport restaurant: Tanuki Raw at the new Jewel development. With that, we’ll finally have a complete understanding of working airside and landside. I hope to eventually open at airports such as Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, and would also love to one day open a space that’s all about recreating the glamour, spirit and adventure of 1970s air travel.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine