Transforming the Bar & Billiard Room

The luxury Raffles Singapore hotel is breathing new life into its storied Bar & Billiard Room, transforming the space into a more casual whisky bar.

Inside the 128-year-old heritage venue, guests can enjoy live jazz music performed by local bands and whisky cocktails, as well as pick from a selection of more than 450 types of single malt whisky, one of the largest selections of the spirit in Singapore.

Out of the 450 types, about 200 to 250 are exclusive to the bar, which will relaunch officially next month.

The 600 sq m bar, which was last refurbished in 1989, has also introduced a new food menu, including a range of house-made whisky- infused chocolates made to resemble whisky stones - cubes of soapstone used to chill liquor without diluting it.

Mr Paolo Randone, 48, Raffles Singapore's executive assistant manager of food and beverage, says of the hotel's decision to update the bar: "We wanted to do something different with the bar, which is separate from the hotel's other bars.

"We wanted to do something to connect or reconnect with the local community, anyone living and working in Singapore."

Besides the Bar & Billiard Room, the hotel also runs the Long Bar, a popular spot for tourists to try the hotel's famed Singapore Sling cocktail; and the Writers Bar in the hotel lobby, which Mr Randone describes as a more serious bar for business guests.

He says he hopes to change the mindset of guests who may view the Bar & Billiard Room as a traditional and serious hotel bar.

It is why the hotel has moved the entrance of the bar to the back, facing Beach Road. That way, guests will no longer need to go through the hotel to enter the bar.

Drinks have also been made more affordable, with glasses of whisky starting at $16 and cocktails ranging from $22 to $26.

The hotel has roped in whisky expert Christoph Nyfeler, who has 16 years of experience in the trade, to curate the selection as well as plan whisky tastings and pairing dinners on a regular basis.

The Bar & Billiard Room opened in 1896 as a club during British colonial rule, with seven billiard tables.

Two of those billiard tables remain.

In recent times, the bar had become famous for its champagne brunch on Sundays, and it served a European buffet spread for lunch and dinner from Tuesdays to Saturdays.

With the relaunch, the bar will get new furniture and undergo light renovations. Mr Randone was unable to say how much was invested in the revamp as the works are still ongoing.

The bar has done away with its lunch service, but will continue to offer brunch on Sundays. It also has new dishes, such as lamb racks, beef tartare and a gourmet hotdog.

Bartender Aron Manzanillo, 27, and food and beverage operations manager Randolph Velasco, 32, have introduced a range of whisky cocktails that they say are a modern twist to classics.

Mr Velasco says: "We think about what we can do differently for our patrons in terms of presentation and how they will perceive our cocktails. We will use only premium and good-quality ingredients and make our own bitters and syrups."

Among the new offerings are Bar & Billiard Room Old Fashioned ($26), a creamy cocktail which uses Bourbon fat-washed with butter and house- made chamomile syrup and is smoked with oolong leaves; and Admiral ($24), which uses Kentucky bourbon, vermouth, lemon juice, cognac and caramel liqueur as well as house-made lavender and cinnamon syrup.

Mr Randone, noting that other hotels in Singapore have also relaunched their bars in the past two years to keep up to date with the bar scene, says: "Guests no longer want to go for a formal dinner and have a drink afterwards - that's a bit old-fashioned."

He adds: "They want a relaxed ambience, where they prefer to have drinks and bites. That's the trend now."

This article was first published on Mar 1, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.