The thirst is real in Singapore and fortunately for us, salvation comes in spirited liquid form. For visitors and locals alike, the world is paying attention to this “little red dot” and its magnetic mixology; in fact, with a quick perusal of the World’s 50 Best Bars – you’ll see it right up there with New York, London, and Tokyo.
Certainly, the cocktail culture here is a fledgling creature and is just beginning to spread its wings, but in under seven years, what started within buzzing hotel bars has spread like sippable wildfire out onto the streets.
Raffles Long Bar
It’s drinking culture might best be compared to Singlish, the country’s local lingo. While English is the primary language, it’s laced with colloquial expressions that are pulled from the multicultural mix of its residents, which include Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil speaking people. Like Singlish, the country’s cocktails reflect this pride for heritage, but are crafted with an international appeal.
At the moment, this Southeast Asian land of contrasts offers a handful of excellent bars that reflect a collision of East and West, resulting in sexy swaggering sips with a nerdy vigor. Proof of its tippling status, Singapore plays host to Asia’s 50 Best Bar Awards on May 9th.
From a recent bar hopping visit, here are some of our faves.
A champion of all things local, foraging and showcasing the pride of Southeast Asian ingredients and products in liquid form. Bar founder Vijay Mudaliar melds together his mad-scientist methodologies, worldly wanderlusting, and homages to local culture within each cocktail. Indicative of this is the Peranakan, inspired by its namesake people – local rum is infused with gula melaka, laksa leaf, jackfruit and candlenut for the beverage component. Meanwhile the garnish draws inspiration from the beloved Kueh Salat dessert, where Mudaliar and his team use the leftover goat milk curdle produced from the drink, then cook it down with blue pea flower, coconut water and pandan. A buxom lozenge is formed which is dangled atop the glass and given a rainshower of jackfruit shavings.
Recently made the move to its new home at the Amara Hotel. Bar manager Jerrold Khoo and his team’s core philosophy is to offer “classic cocktails and convivial hospitality” but with a “revised and forward-thinking craft.” Imbibing indulgences run the gamut of your classic whisky highball and old-fashioned to Asian-artistry twists such as the Jungle Bird and Yokohama. Our preferred poison is the Yuzu Whiskey Sour, a new addition to the menu, it sees Bulleit Bourbon make a splash with yuzu marmalade, St. Germain, lemon, all topped with clouds of egg white.
Imagine if Bruce Wayne and Jay Gatsby had a lovechild. Brimming with spectacular grandeur, it’s housed within the iconic Parkview Square building in the historic Bugis neighborhood, where hipster meets heritage. From the sprawling ceiling murals to the marble statues, it’s all jaw-dropping opulence. And then there are the spirits that line the “library” shelves and practically reach the Heavens. You could peruse for hours and not make a dent in Atlas’ collection of over 50,000 bottles of fine wine and over 10,000 bottles of whiskey, the majority of which are rare and vintage globetrotting finds. Here, you might as well go for broke and select the Vintage Martini, with gin from the decade of your choice (as far back as the 1910s). It’s a history lesson of inspired imbibing proportions.
Considered to be one of the forefathers of paving the path to cocktail connoisseur glory in Singapore. Lead bartender Andrew Loudon offers an aromatically themed menu based around the novel Perfume. For him, smells seduce the senses and are often strongly intertwined with memories. For instance, Frangipani & Salt is like a midsummer night’s dream – inspired by Marine Accord, Frangipani and Sandalwood oil, the cocktail itself is laced with artichoke, elderflower, grapefruit, and prosecco – this bubbly, refreshing number is the kind of creation you’d linger over on the patio with friends.
Where it all started, this inimitable bar, in what once was a quiet, unassuming neighborhood, has ignited a transformation in the area. And yet it still lies behind a nondescript “blink and you’ll miss it” entryway. If you succeed in finding it, you’re rewarded with a seductive space replete with a wall of curated fine spirits by The Proof Collective. An international flair mingles with a charmed Singaporean hospitality. Drinks are an homage to pivotal hip-hop geography, and include America’s East Coast, West Coast, Dirty South, and the Midwest. From the Dirty South, try the Three Stacks, a take on a Dirty Martini and inspired by André 3000; and like him, the drink is bold, spirit-driven and fresh, employing Rutte Celery Gin and Mancino Secco Vermouth, singing with citrus and spice, and finished with clarified kale oil to keep things interesting.
Located on Singapore’s southern coast is Sentosa Island, where life’s a perpetual beach. When you’re greeted with year-round suntans and endless sweaty summer shenanigans, what’s not to love? Drinks by the ocean round out the R&R, and are replete with a fruity flair – all courtesy of flavors and ingredients sourced from the region. The Malyan Mai Tai is indicative, and a tantalizing taste of the tropics: house-infused rum mingles with lime, curaçao, orgeat and finished with their secret blend of pandan.
The newly opened retroluxe spot inside the Intercontinental Hotel. Named for the former moniker of the now John F. Kennedy International Airport, the bar pays homage to a bygone Mad Men era and the golden age of air travel. In fact, Head of Operations and Creative, Andy Griffiths, explains that the menu is inspired by the first commercial Transatlantic Flight in the 1940s. Ten cities along the Transatlantic Route are featured, with each drink telling tales of adventure and celebrating exciting journeys of venturing to unknown exotic lands. A favorite is a (liquid) trip to Casablanca with the Berbere Smash, which sees Rebel Yell Small Batch reserve bourbon infused with mint tea syrup, cardamom bitters, and preserved lemon. Moroccan magic in a glass.
The space is reincarnated every six months with a theme in mind to honor specific sippable art forms. Currently, it’s in the Pacifica phase, nodding to all things tropical escapism. The tiny, hidden bar is now a Polynesian-paradise, complete with palm trees, thatched roofs, ceremonial masks, and ample doses of kitsch for good measure. Tiki tipples include progressive potions, the classics, and everything in-between. For a “contemporary classic,” try the Zombie, conceived by Don the Beachcomber back in the heyday of Tiki culture, using a potent mixture of Aged Demerara, Rich Venezuela, & Overproof Rums. It’s then given some levity with citrus, grapefruit, lime, and rounded off with sweet falernum and warm spices from Don’s Mix #2. And ceremoniously to invoke the Tiki spirit, it’s set ablaze right before serving.
Situated on the ground floor of the new Six Senses Maxwell’s hotel, French designer Jacques Garcia has transformed a former nutmeg plantation and its colonial buildings into a lively, gracious space, complete with a collection of over 3,000 curated book titles for rent. It’s only rivaled by mixologist Ricky Paiva’s cocktail compendium. Of the concise list, we recommend the tartly refreshing Cougar Paw, where Bombay Dry Gin plays nice with Cava, lime, mint, all topped with frothy meringue.
In the Raffles Hotel, famous for none other than the creation of the Singapore Sling. In the 1900s, ladies drinking alcohol was considered positively scandalous – until this game changing drink arrived. Masquerading as a seemingly harmless “fruit punch,” the potent concoction was a deviously delicious creation created by Ngiam Tong Boon, who paved the way for women to “have fun” while still appearing “socially acceptable.” Today, it makes at least 1,000 Singapore Slings a day, with both men and women passing through the bar’s doors to taste this historic tipple. The formula for fun here includes pineapple and lime juices, curaçao, Bénédictine, grenadine and cherry liqueur.
The new bar at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore is more than just a looker. With its sleek, contemporary decor, it overlooks the sparkling waters of Marina Bay. Inspired by the Pacific Ocean, Asia’s trading ports, and the travelers that sailed between worlds, Bar Manager Michele Mariotti has crafted fourteen cocktails to reflect the theme of the exploratory nomad and myths of Southeast Asia. The showstopping Mother of Dragons is a must-order here, with a mid-ranged potency, and graced with strawberry aloe vera, berry juice and dragon cachaça.