Singapore is officially the best place to drink in Asia. At least, according to a listing of the world’s best bars. Six water holes here made the list, the most for any Asian country.
These include Atlas, the Art Deco-inspired bar making its debut at No.15 (the highest new entry), Operation Dagger (No. 24), 28 HongKong Street (No. 25), Tippling Club (No. 31), Native (No. 47), and notably, Regent Hotel’s Manhattan at No. 7, making it the first Singapore bar to break into the top 10.
“When I first moved here in 2015, Singapore already had a great bar community but I think that since then, it has taken off like a rocket,” observes Manhattan’s head bartender Philip Bischoff. “What has helped it grow is the amount of investment that has been pouring into the market. This really opened the doors to new ideas and talent.”
He adds that the Lion City has since become a destination for connoisseurs and cocktail lovers because of the sheer diversity in terms of choices: “If you look at the six bars on the list, they all have different concepts, but they are all great in their own way.”
“What makes the Singapore bar scene so unique, is the fact that there is something for everyone.”
Colin Chia, CEO of The Establishment Group
Colin Chia, CEO of The Establishment Group and founder of Nutmeg and Clove, a cocktail bar specialising in local flavours (it placed No. 30 on the 2017 Asia’s 50 Best Bars list) agrees: “What makes the Singapore bar scene so unique, is the fact that there is something for everyone. Atlas is a great gin bar, just as Sugarhall is a fantastic place to drink rum. You can have a speakeasy experience by visiting The Library, or celebrate local ingredients at Native. It’s really like a dish of rojak — there’s a bit of everything, but they all work so well together.”
Chia would know. After all, he has been at the forefront of the local cocktail industry for more than a decade and having previously spearheaded the iconic Diageo World Class bartending competition from 2009 to 2016.
“When World Class was launched in 2009, the Singapore bar scene was really in its infancy. People were not knowledgeable about cocktails or spirits. If they ordered a cocktail, it would be a gin and tonic, or something fruity,” he recalls. “Today, local drinkers can tell their Negronis from their Old Fashioneds, and are more likely to specify a Tanqueray and tonic.”
“We brought the concept of cocktail and food pairing, not just to Singapore, but the world.”
Cynthia Chua, the founder of the Spa Esprit Group
“Back then, people were drinking sickly sweet concoctions like Sex on the Beach and Blue Lagoon. We were really revolutionary with our cocktail programme, focusing on creative, well-made drinks,” she explains. “We also brought the concept of cocktail and food pairing, not just to Singapore, but the world.”
Tippling Club would go on to be the first Singapore name to enter the World’s Best Bar list in 2009 (at No. 33) and Chua reckons that it took some four to five years before the rest of the local industry caught up, so much so that by the time bars the likes of 28 HongKong Street arrived in 2011, the industry was ready for a cocktail explosion.
Since then, the local bar scene has grown from strength to strength, with new concepts being introduced each year. Which begs the question: Is the industry getting too saturated?
Not, according to Dario Knox, head bartender at The Other Room, a speakeasy bar that made the 2017 Asia’s Best Bars List (No. 35) the year after it launched in 2016. “If your offering is completely different to the rest, you won’t be part of the saturated market.” he says, adding that The Other Room is the only place in the world to make all their spirits in-house. “There’s always space for new ideas, as long as they are executed well.”
To stay in the game, advises Indra Kantono, founder of the Jigger & Pony Group that is behind Gibson, Jigger & Pony and Sugarhall (No. 14, 29 and 38 respectively on the Asia’s Best Bar List), concepts have to be “genuinely well thought-out, with bartenders that execute the drinks programme perfectly”.
“Good cocktails are here to stay,” predicts Kantono. “Personally, I think the restaurant-bar category will be significantly vibrant. That is definitely where I am putting my money on.”