Uncovering Singapore's Cocktail Scene

Lauren Hill

Senior Contributor

Much like the city’s restaurant scene, the cocktail scene in Singapore has gone from strength to strength over the years with the city’s diversity, creative energy and access to unique Asian ingredients behind much of the innovation. Delve into this evolving trend at venues lauded among the world’s best, exciting new openings and recently debuted craft distilleries.

Internationally Acclaimed Venues

Each year, the World’s 50 Best Bars list draws attention to venues that have set themselves apart over course of the year. It’s indicative of Singapore’s thriving cocktail scene that a number of the city’s bars are a consistent feature. The 2019 list placed the resplendent Atlas at number eight, sultry Manhattan at number 11, foraging Native following closely at number 12, sophisticated Jigger & Pony at number 29 and subterranean bar Operation Dagger at number 30. The Old Man, sister to the Hong Kong favourite of the same name, then came in at number 38. Each of these bars offers one-of-a-king cocktails, a vibrant setting and the knowledge of passionate bar-staff. Native by advocate of the locavore movement, Vijay Mudalier, also won the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award. Several more local venues feature on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, including the long-time Singapore favourite Tippling Club and the famously innovative Gibson bar, as well as The Other Room where cocktails are cask-aged, and Employees Only, which is an offshoot of the New York City speakeasy it takes its name from. The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020 awards will be held in Singapore.

The New Openings

As the city constantly evolved, so does the cocktail and bar scene. The past year has seen a number of notable new arrivals. The Elephant Room by Yugnes Susela, previously of standout cocktail venue, Smoke & Mirrors at the National Gallery, takes inspiration from Indian heritage and the iconic sites of nearby neighbourhood, Little India. Creations from the list of tightly curated cocktails include the Tekka drink combining Old Monk rum with coconut and lacto-fermented banana. Many of the bar’s spirits are infused with the spices, fruits and flowers of Little India. Another new arrival, having made its debut in December, is the multi-concept bar, Barbary Coast, which spans three historic shophouses in Boat Quay. The bar opened with a Deadfall concept across its first floor, taking its name and inspiration from the San Francisco neighbourhood of the mid 1800s. The interiors reflect the style of bar found in the original Barbary Coast neighbourhood of San Francisco, while drawing on what this area of Singapore would have been like at that time. Cocktails, too, take inspiration from this era. Vue is then the city’s latest rooftop bar. The difference is, this venue focuses on the spritz. Found on the 19th floor of OUE Bayfront, this panoramic spot looks out over Marina Bay.

Local Spirits

The creation of boutique distilleries has continued to spur and be spurred on by Singapore’s craft cocktail scene and the thirst for artisanal spirits. 2018 saw the arrival of both Tanglin Gin, which combines traditional botanicals with Asian ingredients, and Brass Lion Distillery, which debuted with a Singapore Dry Gin set apart by its 22 botanicals including Singaporean flavours like torch ginger flower, galangal and lemongrass. Other specialities by this distillery include the Butterfly Pea Gin with lavender and butterfly pea flower. Brass Lion is open to distillery tours giving insight into the process behind these craft spirits with an introduction to the different gins in the distillery’s Tasting Room. The Gin School then provides a more immersive gin experience with mini copper stills enabling you to distil your own spirit before bottling and personalising it to take home. You can top the experience off with a G&T using your own gin in the distillery Tasting Room where cocktails such as the Calamansi Gimlet and Lemongrass Collins are also served. 

The History

Raffles Singapore draws a continual stream of visitors for its storied past in which the island-nation’s signature cocktail, the Singapore Sling, plays a significant role. This now-famous drink is said to have first been created by the Raffles barman Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915 as a gin-based cocktail with pineapple juice, curacao and benedictine, plus grenadine and cherry liqueur to give its distinct pink colour. When the bar was a gathering spot for the community of turn-of-the-century Singapore, it was considered immodest for women to drink in public. The Raffles barman gave this fruit cocktail a feminine slant to make it socially acceptable for women to enjoy. While the Singapore Sling now features on cocktail menus of bars across the entire city, it’s worth coming here for its heritage and charm. Since reopening in August 2019, following a major renovation that saw a transformation of its public areas as well as hotel rooms, the hotel, restaurants and bars (both new and old) are more inviting than ever.

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