Spirit of Rio

Spirit of Rio
New Latin American-inspired cocktail den Vasco is co-owned by Danish barman Christian Hartmann.

New Latin American-inspired cocktail den Vasco wants bargoers to let their hair down, Rio de Janeiro style.

Inside the cosy bar in Hong Kong Street, drinkers can get a taste of Brazil, Peru and Argentina, with signature cocktails and Latin American classics such as caipirinhas and mojitos, using pisco, rum, mezcal, tequila and cachaca.

The bar, which officially opened for business on Tuesday, also offers fiery bites by executive chef Andrew Walsh of popular Spanish tapas bar Esquina and head chef Jennifer Lee, founder of Sarnies cafe in Telok Ayer Street.

Vasco is the latest venture for Australian bar-owner Joel Fraser and Danish barman Christian Hartmann of popular cocktail bar The Cufflink Club in Jiak Chuan Road.

Fraser, 31, tells Life! his new bar was inspired by his travels to South America, visiting 15 countries in the region in 2008 and 2009. It takes its name from a suburb in the seaside city of Rio de Janeiro and the famous Brazilian football club Vasco da Gama, which he says "has a reputation for fiery fans".

He adds: "It was a little dangerous to be in (the suburb of Vasco), yet I very much enjoyed the energy and that's exactly what we're bringing to Singapore. Energy."

The $520,000, 56-seat bar spans a space of 1,600 sq ft and is a stone's throw from award-winning cocktail bar 28 Hong Kong Street and Spanish restaurant FOC.

What is unusual about Vasco is that it does not serve whisky, vodka or gin - basic spirits stocked in any cocktail bar.

Co-owner Hartmann, 31, says the decision to exclude these spirits is not intended as a gimmick.

"We are just putting more emphasis on the Latin American experience. If someone asks for a gin and tonic, we will recommend them to try something else that may be similar," he says.

There are about a dozen types of pisco and cachaca (a sugarcane-based distilled spirit) that are exclusively available at the bar.

Vasco offers 10 signature cocktails, including the Cusco Puta (pisco, strawberries, lime, capsicum and chilli, $24) and the Hand Of God (Fernet Branca, Mate tea, lemon, honey and Pina A la Parilla, grilled pineapple that has been soaked in caned sugar syrup, $21).

Keeping to the Latin American theme, expect some rustic fare using ingredients such as Peruvian chilli peppers and authentic snacks such as empanadas and pinchos (grilled skewers).

Chef Lee, 33, recommends the chicken pincho ($23 for three skewers), which is marinated in coconut cream, lime and chipotle (smoked dried jalapeno peppers), and the lamb empanadas ($17 for three), pastry made in-house, stuffed with slow-cooked lamb with paprika, cumin and coriander and potatoes.

Vasco at 42 Hong Kong Street is open Monday to Saturday from 5pm to 1am.


This article was first published on May 9, 2015.
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