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Singapore’s Sensational Bar Scene

Source: Jake Emen

Think of the top cocktail and drinking cities across the globe, and hot spots such as New York, London, and Tokyo likely come to mind. All phenomenal drinking destinations, no doubt.

How about Singapore, though? Well, the first spirituous thought that pops up is likely the Singapore Sling cocktail at Raffles Hotel. And lovers of history, iconic imbibing, and old-world Colonial style will no doubt want to make a pilgrimage there. Yet there’s so much more to be found. The tiny city-state has six bars included among the 2017 World’s 50 Best Bars list, with a seventh added for good measure among the top 100. And that’s hardly scratching the surface. So whatever may be bringing you to Singapore, rest assured that you’ll certainly be drinking well while you’re there, too.

Singapore’s Sensational Bar Scene
Singapore Sling cocktail at Raffles Hotel, source: Jake Emen

Another immediate thought that comes to mind when imagining Singapore is its jaw-dropping, futuristic skyline and architecture. So from one icon, the Singapore Sling at Raffles, to another, make your next stop the Marina Bay Sands. The famous triple towers of the MBS boast an outlandish Skypark on the 57th floor, replete with an observation deck, infinity pool, and, yes, multiple bars and restaurants. Head to Spago and grab a Hibiki Whiskey sour while soaking up the otherworldly views.

Singapore’s Sensational Bar Scene
View Marina Bay Sands, source: Jake Emen

Spago, of course, is an import from Wolfgang Puck. Another welcomed import to Singapore is its outpost of famed New York bar Employees Only. The award-winning team has managed to bring over every bit of the fun and revelry from the original, with an only-in-Singapore clientele mix of expats and locals, tourists and business travelers, self-purported high rollers and castoffs, all mingling together while enjoying round after round all the way to last call.

Imports and icons are great, but let’s shift focus to some of Singapore’s homegrown finest

Try the Ready Fire Aim, a Mezcal cocktail with lime juice and honey-pineapple syrup kicked up with Bittermens Hellfire Bitters. Or enjoy the entrancing smoothness of EO’s Manhattan, with Rittenhouse Rye serving as the backbone to the classic, here stirred up with the added touch of Grand Marnier in addition to Vermouth.

Imports and icons are great, but let’s shift focus to some of Singapore’s homegrown finest. 28 HongKong Street helped to initiate Singapore’s cocktail renaissance with its debut in 2011. Behind an unmarked door—at least its helpfully numbered, with 28 above the entrance—is a sleek, dimly lit bar and lounge. The menu helpfully depicts the strength of its cocktails with a bottle indicator, similar to how certain restaurants show spiciness levels. Ask for the Lazy Bear cocktail and you won’t regret it.

Singapore’s Sensational Bar Scene
28 Hong Kong Street, source: Jake Emen

From the team behind 28 HongKong Street comes Crackerjack, an all-day hangout which will get you going in the morning with breakfast, or some hair of the dog—drinks starting flowing at 10 a.m. As opposed to the sultry 28 HongKong, Crackerjack is bright and inviting, with a communal feel. Trust in the tag team of Peter Chua and Zachary de Git to serve you up stellar cocktails, and ensure you have a good time in the process.

“We want this to be your “third place,’” Chua says. “Your home away from home. It is possible to do good, quality drinks at a more affordable price.”

Singapore’s Sensational Bar Scene
Crackerjack, source: Jake Emen

There’s plenty to keep you occupied at the main bar, though there’s also a semi-secret back room, with its own entrance around the corner in a dark alley. The small space is appropriately dubbed Junior, and the plan for the bar is to change concept every six months. “This is where we explore new ideas,” Chua says. “It’s based on something we feel passionate about. It’s the little sister to Crackerjack…the geeky part.” As of last fall, Junior was an abode to all things agave, with more than 100 different bottles available.

When you order a drink, you get a story with it

At Vijay Mudaliar’s Native, find an unmatched dedication to local ingredients, from Asian-only spirits to backyard vertical herb gardens, and from seasonal house-distilled Gins made with foraged botanicals to a commitment to sustainability. “The menu is story-based,” Mudaliar explains. “When you order a drink, you get a story with it.”

Famous here is the Antz cocktail, a creamy concoction of Rum and yogurt topped with a freeze-dried basil leaf and, yes, ants. But there are also drinks based on Chinese medicine or inspired by Singapore’s red light district. Each is distinctive and memorable in its own way, often challenging you to embrace something new, whether conceptually or texturally.

Singapore’s Sensational Bar Scene
Vijay Mudaliar’s Native, source: Jake Emen

Operation Dagger is another bar which shines in its creativity, so much so that light bulbs must be frequently popping up over the team’s heads, indicating wild, new ideas. Or maybe it’s just the 6,000 light bulbs—in fact, thankfully not all shining—adorning the ceiling of this basement bar. There’s a full lineup of house-fermented “wines” made from assorted starter ingredients, omakase cocktail menus, and cocktails ranging from the Hot & Cold, a layered, dual-temperature cocktail, to The Egg, a smoking drink showcasing salted egg yolk Rum.

Meanwhile, Manhattan at the Regent tops the list for many globetrotting cocktail hounds. Find hundreds of Whiskeys, including a dedicated, glass-enclosed American Whiskey Embassy, not to mention a personal rickhouse with dozens of casks busy maturing cocktails and spirits, including the bar’s famous solera-barrel-aged Negroni.

Make friends with the bartenders at The Spiffy Dapper to earn the privileged opportunity of smashing the copper-topped bar with a ball-peen hammer

There’s still much more to explore…Make friends with the bartenders at The Spiffy Dapper to earn the privileged opportunity of smashing the copper-topped bar with a ball-peen hammer. Test your senses by ordering from the Dreams & Desires gummy bear menu at Tippling Club. Enjoy an affordable, laid-back rooftop happy hour at Loof. Continue your hunt for yet another international award-winning bar by visiting Gibson, perhaps the crown jewel of a multi-pronged family of bars, also including the highly touted neighbors Jigger & Pony and Sugarhall. Party with all of the new friends you’ve made at Skinny’s way past the time of the evening when you care about the integrity of your craft cocktail.

All of this and we haven’t even gotten to the true showstopper of them all, Atlas, one of the most aesthetically gorgeous, visually striking bars you’re likely to ever find. The cavernous, auditorium-size space is beautifully adorned in Art Deco style, harking back to the lavish, golden age of the 1920s. If that isn’t enough, the bar’s coup de grâce is its skyscraper-esque spirits tower, with over 1,000 different Gins alone, along with vintage spirits and an epic Champagne lineup.

Singapore’s Sensational Bar Scene
Atlas, source: Jake Emen

There’s no limit to the extravagance—order from a decade by decade vintage martini lineup, for instance, or an unparalleled lineup of Japanese Karuizawa Whisky. Or go ahead and splurge on a shipwreck-surviving bottle of bubbles from 1907 for the price of a Ferrari. The less bankrupting drinks on the standard cocktail menu, such as superb, crisp martinis, are otherwise excellent choices.

Singapore, one of the world’s best cocktail cities? I’d say so.

Written by Jake Emen

Jake Emen is a spirits and lifestyle writer currently based in Washington, D.C. His drinks coverage has been published in Whisky Advocate, Liquor.com, Vice Munchies, Liquor.com, Tales of the Cocktail, Washington Post Express, Distiller, Roads & Kingdoms, and a range of other outlets. He also runs his own site, ManTalkFood.com, and can be followed on Twitter, @ManTalkFood.

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