Bar crawl

Inside D.Bespoke cocktail bar, in a shophouse in Bukit Pasoh Road, patrons are greeted by Japanese head bartender and co-owner Daiki Kanetaka, dressed in an immaculately tailored suit and bowtie.

He pours glasses of sherry using a venencia, a long-handled tool used for pulling sherry samples from ageing barrels of spirits, and carefully handchips blocks of purified, slow-frozen ice for cocktails.

D.Bespoke is one of four new speciality bars that have sprung up in the past month, adding to a growing bespoke bar scene.

At least one speciality cocktail bar pops up every few months now.

Bar owners say there are now more than 30 bars offering bespoke drinks and premium spirits here.

The bar scene here took off in 2011 when American-inspired speakeasy 28 Hong Kong Street opened. Over a dozen more - such as Jigger & Pony, Maison Ikkoku, Bitters & Love and Regent Singapore hotel's Manhattan bar - followed suit, each specialising in craft cocktails.

Apart from D.Bespoke, the three other new bars are Korean bar Joo in Tan Quee Lan Street, gin bar Copper Singapore in Jiak Chuan Road and Elixir Bar, part of multi-concept venue Kuvo in Orchard Road. All four opened last month.

But in an increasingly crowded and competitive landscape, new players have to come up with unique offerings to woo a discerning clientele.

At D.Bespoke , Mr Kanetaka, 35, hopes to introduce traditional bartending techniques and the Japanese style of personalised service, something he feels is lacking in Singapore's vibrant bar scene.

He says: "Every bespoke bar is different, so the bartender's character is very important - it shows in the way they make their cocktails. I have a very Japanese zen style which focuses more on skill."

His 28-seat bar, which specialises in sherry, calvados (apple brandy) and armagnac (French brandy), will also feature exclusive dinner tastings by international guest chefs on an ad-hoc basis.

Joo, owned by Mr Jamie Lim, 37, and his wife Kristin, 34, is the first bar here to brew its own makgeolli (Korean rice wine) in-house and serve it on tap.

Customers can order Korean-inspired cocktails such as lime soju mojitos and yucha makgeolli slush, a drink that combines the rice wine with fresh yuzu.

The 2,600 sq ft bar housed in a three-storey shophouse offers a modern take on anju (Korean food typically served with alcohol), serving bites such as tofu chips with guacamole and kimchi salsa, deep fried sheets of baby eel, and kimchi mac and cheese.

"We thought we could stand out in a big way by staying true, to have a makgeolli bar that serves in-house brew and food too. It's modern, but true to the original tastes you will find in South Korea," says Mr Lim, who also owns contemporary Korean barbecue restaurant Eight Korean BBQ at The Central and founded home-grown handmade rock candy store Sticky with his wife.

He adds that $1 million was invested in the bar. At Kuvo, a $2-million multi-concept food and beverage outlet at Orchard Road Shopping Centre, Elixir bar offers bespoke cocktails created by Japanese barman Yutaka Nakashima.

He has more than 16 years of experience as a bartender and chef, and produces interesting alcoholic concoctions using ingredients such as blue cheese and cranberry jelly.

The 9,000 sq ft space, which houses a cocktail bar, wine lounge, restaurant and gift shop, was opened last month by Sarika Connoisseur Cafe, the company behind The Connoisseur Concerto, better known as TCC, which has 28 outlets islandwide.

Mr Henry Tan, 36, marketing communications manager for Sarika Connoisseur Cafe, says the group wanted a centrally located dining and bar concept to cater to tourists and residents in the area, as well as executive types who want a casual place to drink cocktails and wine.

"Everyone's trying to do bespoke cocktails nowadays, but we believe it's the experience with the bartender and the relationship between you and him that makes you choose one bar over another," he says.

"We are trying to do something to ride on trends that will appeal to customers, so we're a lifestyle concept space that is not just dedicated to the bar, but dining and wining as well."

Then there is Copper Singapore, a gin speciality bar that opened without fanfare in Jiak Chuan Road, a stone's throw away from established cocktail bar The Cufflink Club and Spanish tapas bar Esquina.

The 320 sq ft bar occupies the ground floor of a shophouse unit.

The owners will soon open a restaurant serving grilled meats on the upper floor.

Mr Alexis Nicosia, 33, and Ms Cindy Chng, 37, who also own Oyster Bar in Collyer Quay, are hoping to stand out with the largest selection of gin in town.

Currently, the bar stocks more than 30 types, including artisanal brands such as Death's Door Gin and the Botanist Islay Dry Gin.

Ms Chng says: "We are not a cocktail bar and do not boast of having a talented mixologist, but we are a classic gin bar and aim to have the biggest gin menu in town - served in a martini or with tonic."

With so many bars having opened in the past few years, she says it can only mean better quality and more options for bargoers.

"It's great that we have a burgeoning bar scene as it means everybody is upping his game," she says.

Emphasis on detail


What: A Ginza-style bar and retail space that prides itself on quality service and craftsmanship.

D.Bespoke cocktail bar gets its name from co-owner and head bartender - the D stands for Daiki Kanetaka - a Japanese transplant who cut his teeth at famed Tokyo bars Star Bar Ginza and Bar High Five, where he worked with world-renowned bartender Hidetsugu Ueno.

The emphasis is on attention to detail - right down to the measured slicing of ice blocks used in the cocktails - and his flawless technique as he pours sherry using a venencia, a long-handled tool traditionally used to pull samples of sherry from barrels.

A small retail space, which doubles as an anteroom for the 28-seat bar, sells artisanal Japanese craft products including cocktail glassware, porcelain and ceramic tea ware, and bespoke leather goods.

Cocktails: Try a variety of sherry, calvados (apple brandy) or armagnac (French brandy) by ordering tasting flights, which offer three to five glasses of the spirit.

Mr Kanetaka is a trained veneciador (a sherry sommelier), so it is no surprise that D.Bespoke stocks 30 to 40 types of Spanish sherry.

The bar also has an extensive selection of calvados and armagnac.

Try any of the three cocktails - The Godfather (whisky and amaretto), negroni (gin, bitters and vermouth) and rusty nail (drambuie liqueur and Scotch) - that Mr Kanetaka is currently ageing in sherry oak barrels.

If you are feeling adventurous, pick a base spirit and tell the bartender your preferred strength and taste of drink, and he will concoct one for you.

Bar bites: Cocktails are served with complimentary nibbles such as dried fruit and nuts including dried sweet cherry tomatoes.

You can order a cold cut platter of premium Spanish jamon iberico, carved from a whole leg of ham at the bar by Mr Kanetaka himself, and a selection of salami.

Where: 2 Bukit Pasoh Road

Operating hours: Monday to Saturday 6pm to 12am (last order at 11.30pm), closed on Sunday

Prices: From $27 for cocktails, tasting flights from $25, and $30 for cold cut and cheese platters.

There is a minimum spend of $60 a person.

Tel: 8141-5741

Organic Korean rice wine on tap


What: This three-storey shophouse bar is the only place in town offering home-brewed organic makgeolli (Korean rice wine) served on tap and modern Korean bites or anju (Korean snacks typically served with alcohol).

Joo gets its name from the Korean term for alcohol "ju".

The owners, who also run Korean barbecue restaurant Eight Korean BBQ at The Central, want to offer an experience similar to the makgeolli bars in South Korea.

There is also a selection of Japanese whiskeys, wines, champagne, and German and Korean beer.

It is a casual bar with drinks at affordable prices.

Cocktails: The owners give traditional makgeolli and soju (distilled white spirit made from rice) a twist by using the alcohol as the base spirit for cocktails, such as the grape or lime soju mojito ($12 for a glass, $22 for small jug and $36 for large jug).

Those tasting makgeolli for the first time can try the makgeolli sampler ($35).

You get a cup of the bar's home brew and four types of makgeolli infused with ingredients such as black raspberry, yucha (yuzu citrus), mango and strawberry.

A must-try is the Yucha Makgeolli Slush ($22 for small jug and $36 for large jug), a light, frozen alcoholic drink flavoured with citrus, which tastes somewhat similar to a 7-Eleven Slurpee.

Bar bites: Conceptualised by head chef Kim Chang Heon are unusual bar snacks such as Baby Eel Paper ($12), which are deepfried sheets of eel served with chilli salt and lime zest, and tofu chips with guacamole and kimchi salsa ($12).

Joo Bossam ($28) is Hungarian Mangalica pork boiled with doenjang (fermented bean paste), served with yucha vinegar pickled cabbage and a spicy radish salad.

Where: 5 Tan Quee Lan Street

Operating hours: Daily, 5.30pm to 12 midnight

Prices: From $7 for a bottle of home-brewed organic makgeolli. Bar bites from $12

Tel: 8138-1628

Blue cheese in cocktails


What: Elixir bar is part of Kuvo, a multiconcept food and beverage venue that houses a wine lounge, restaurant, bar and gift shop in a 9,000 sq ft space.

It is headed by Japanese bartender Yutaka Nakashima, who has more than 16 years of experience as a bartender and chef. He was previously with Japanese watering hole Coffee Bar K in UE Square.

Although the use of fresh fruit and herbs in cocktails is not new here, he executes it well in the way he balances his drinks and how he presents them, garnishing them with items such as candy canes, and salt and crushed ice on the outside of the glass.

He also uses unexpected ingredients such as blue cheese in his cocktails.

This bar is a breath of fresh air from the plethora of beer pubs in Somerset.

Patrons can also order food from the restaurant (Ambrosia) and wine from the lounge (Vine Lounge) to be served at the bar.

Cocktails: The cocktails on the standard bar menu tend to be lighter in terms of alcohol strength, but you can ask the bartender for something stronger.

Those with a sweet tooth may enjoy the Mt Berry cocktail (vodka, elderflower liqueur, strawberry, honey, egg white and dried rose buds; $21), while drinkers who prefer something more refreshing can opt for the limelight (rum, Cointreau, lemongrass, lime, orange and brown sugar; $21).

During this festive period, ask for Mr Nakashima's Christmas cocktail ($22), which mixes Italian sparkling wine, Midori, lychee liqueur, apple juice, cranberry jello and a lime juice reduction infused with cinnamon and vanilla for 12 hours.

He also makes a mean negroni cocktail that has sweet and dry vermouth ($22).

Bar bites: The Kuvo Coffee Hot Wings ($14) is a healthier alternative to the traditional deepfried chicken wings served at bars and comes with a blue cheese dip.

The Crisp Iberico Pork Belly ($26) is a hearty snack of pork belly confit with crispy skin, drizzled with spicy balsamic and served with a mango chutney.

For lighter snacks, try the crispy Prosciutto Wrapped Fresh Figs ($16), bite-sized morsels stuffed with blue cheese and arugula.

Where: 02-01 Orchard Shopping Centre (entrance next to the House of Robert Timms), 321 Orchard Road

Operating hours: Sunday to Thursday, 5pm to 1am, Friday, Saturday and eve of public holiday, 5pm to 2am

Prices: Standard cocktails from $21, bespoke cocktails from $22. Light snacks from $10

Tel: 6733-8272

Gin, gin and more gin


What: A 320 sq ft gin speciality bar that currently stocks more than three dozen varieties of the spirit, including small-batch labels Death's Door Gin, Ransom Old Tom Gin and The Botanist Gin.

There are no fancy bespoke cocktails made by a trained mixologist.

The bartenders will recommend you a gin with tonic, or served in a martini.

Owners Cindy Chng, 37, and Alexis Nicosia, 33, say the name is inspired by the metal used as a culinary element.

"Think hot, rust, amber tones, loud and noisy," they say.

The bar is on the ground floor of the shophouse and the owners say a restaurant specialising in grilled meats will open upstairs by early next year.

Cocktails: From Monday to Wednesday, the bar has a $10 gin and tonic promotion featuring a different gin each week.

The bar has about a dozen types of gin infused with different ingredients such as bay leaves, cinnamon, apricot and roasted almond.

You can ask for the infused spirits to be made into a cocktail of your liking, with prices upon request.

Bar bites: The owners recommend the Veal Sweetbread Nugget ($20) and the Sweet & Tangy Balls (Angus beef meatballs with grape jelly passata, $18). There are also deepfried bar snacks such as Crispy Pig's Ear ($18) and Spam & Frites ($9).

Where: 10 Jiak Chuan Road

Operating hours: Monday to Saturday, 5pm to midnight. Closed on Sunday

Prices: $10 gin and tonic from Monday to Wednesday, average price of cocktails about $18, bar snacks from $9


This article was first published on December 19, 2014.
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