Booming bar scene

Booming bar scene

The Singapore Sling is no longer the only thing that the Republic is known for in the global bartending arena. The island is shaping up to be the new cocktail capital of South-east Asia, with a vibrant bar scene that can easily rival those of London and New York.

Local barmen such as Peter Chua of 28 Hong Kong Street are flying the flag high for Singapore, having emerged as one of the world's top six bartenders at the Diageo Reserve World Class global finals earlier this month in Edinburgh and London.

It was the best result yet for a Singaporean in the prestigious annual international bartending competition.

Chua, 26, tells SundayLife!: "The competition gave exposure not just to myself but also to the country. I was surprised to meet bartenders and people in the industry who said to me, 'Hey, I hear there are good bars in Singapore'."

The bar he works for also took the title of Best International Cocktail Bar in New Orleans last month at the annual Tales Of The Cocktail Spirited Awards, considered the Oscars of the global cocktail scene.

Mr Colin Chia, 35, Diageo Reserve's regional commercial manager for South-east Asia, says: "Five years ago, many would've said Japan was the cocktail capital of Asia and they wouldn't be wrong because of its traditions, high level of technique and outstanding service etiquette.

"However, Singapore now offers a diverse collection of bars, making it more interesting for consumers and a melting pot for innovation."

Chua says: "In the past two years, the scene has blossomed. You can find every kind of bar here - the speakeasy, the local bar, the European kind, the American kind, whisky bars - we have them all."

Indeed, Singapore has come a long way since the first bespoke cocktail bar - the now-defunct Klee at Portsdown Road - opened in 2008. The bar, of which nightlife operator Timbre Group was the majority shareholder, was a speciality cocktail bar that offered no menu. Drinks were tailored to the customer's fancy, using only premium spirits and fresh fruit.

Its arrival was a breath of fresh air in a scene dominated by nightclubs and pubs, which offered mainly basic housepours using common spirits.

Klee closed in late 2010 when the Timbre Group decided to focus on its live music venues, which include Timbre@The Substation and Timbre@The Arts House.

There are now more than 20 bespoke cocktail bars here, where bartenders shake, muddle and mix up ingredients to create a drink to suit your fancy. Fresh herbs, fruits and homemade syrups are used, and artisanal spirits are the choice du jour.

Even hotels are jumping on the bandwagon, with Regent Singapore and Four Seasons Hotel Singapore among those spending at least $1 million each to revamp their bars. This includes roping in renowned foreign bartenders, such as from Spain and the United States, to consult on their bar offerings.

No surprise then that the global bartending community has taken notice of what is brewing here.

More bartenders from places such as Taiwan, the US and the Czech Republic are moving here for work, or choosing Singapore as a stopover for a guest stint.

With the job of a bartender fast gaining a level of prestige and sophistication on a par with celebrity chefs, more Singaporeans are game to learn the craft.

SundayLife! finds out how Singapore's bar scene became world class in just five years.

melk@sph.com.sg


INCREASING GLOBAL CLOUT

When Taiwanese bartender Kae Yin did a guest bartending stint at cocktail bar Jigger & Pony in Amoy Street about two years ago, he enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to return to work here full-time.

The 28-year-old had been working at famed whisky and jazz bar Marsalis Home in Taipei before taking up a position at Nutmeg & Clove in Ann Siang Road in June.

"Singaporeans are excited to try new things and the range of spirits here is very wide compared to that in Taiwan," he says about his decision to move here.

At Nutmeg & Clove, he creates drinks that use Asian-inspired ingredients such as ginseng spirit, spiced barley water and red jujube shrub.

Like him, many bartenders from countries such as France, the United States and the Czech Republic are drawn to working or doing guest bartending stints here. They bring with them different styles and techniques that people in the local scene can learn from, say bar owners.

Czech bartender Kamil Foltan came here from London in June last year during a three-month break, where he backpacked around Asia.

He ended up working at The Black Swan restaurant-bar in Cecil Street. Two months ago, he took up the position of head bartender at upscale restaurant-bar Tippling Club in Tanjong Pagar Road.

A seasoned barman, the 29-year-old was formerly head barman at Zetter Townhouse in London, which earned accolades including World's Best New Cocktail Bar in the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2012.

He says there is a difference in mentality and culture here, such as in the type of cocktails people like and their openness to trying new things.

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