Singapore’s best cocktail bars
As any local knows, good food has never been an issue in Singapore. Quality cocktails, on the other hand, have been hard to come by.
It would appear we've finally stepped out of the shadow of the sickly sweet Singapore Sling. In the last few years, Singapore’s cocktail scene has evolved to keep up with its fine-dining relatives, and deserves kudos for progressing beyond just turning out fancy libations with no flair.
With an increasing array of top-shelf liquors –- France’s most established whisky distributor La Maison du Whisky has set up shop here –- the city’s bartenders have become mad scientists, churning out creative concoction after creative concoction.
Here are some of the top places in Singapore to grab a well-made drink.
Best for a Japanese-style cocktail: Jigger & Pony
Low-key Jigger & Pony doesn't market itself as a mixologist joint, instead labeling its venue a plain, old, simple bar. The generic label, however, isn’t befitting of Jigger & Pony’s array of distinctive drinks.
“The cocktail service at Jigger & Pony is all about the three ‘Cs’ – ‘Classic’, ‘Consistency’ and ‘Craftsmanship,’" said head bartender Anthony Zhong, who backs his reverence for Japanese cocktail techniques with his preferred Ginza hard shake method.
Details are key at Jigger & Pony. They make their own grenadine syrup. Ice (they have five types) gets handcrafted with an ice pick, and Zhong stirs drinks in a way that no sound is produced, so that ice remains chip-less and the drink is not unnecessarily undiluted.
While their menu is not as zany as other specialty cocktail bars, the drinks are made with precision. The Negroni is beautifully executed with a ﬂambée'd orange slice; the Gardener (a gin and tonic made with Thai basil and lemon) is sublime and perfectly bittersweet, while one patron enthusiastically describes Zhong’s own Warm Buttered Rum as “Christmas in a cup!”
101 Amoy St; +65 6223 9101; www.jiggerandpony.com
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Best for convivial cocktails: The Cufflink Club
Owner Joel Fraser doesn’t shy away from sharing his inspiration for The Cufflink Club: himself.
Everything from the decor to the layout to the Steve Coogan and Alan Partridge cartoons screening in the toilets is all Fraser. Ex-Der Raum and Tippling Club alum, his cocktails exude flair and flavors, with a focus on aesthetics.
Standouts include the 50 Shades of Grey, an Earl Grey tea-based gin and vermouth drink made sweeter by dashes of lemon, sugar and egg white. For Whom The Bell Tolls -– Fraser’s tribute to Ernest Hemingway -- is a tart mouthful of rum and pink grapefruit and comes garnished with its own paper airplane.
However, the lesser-known The Cocktail Formerly Known as Quince best shows off Fraser’s mixology skills. The combination of pisco and quince liqueur, tempered by fig jam, a dash of bitters, honey and egg white speaks volumes for Fraser, who believes the Cufflink Club "exists for those who enjoy quality."
6 Jiak Chuan Road; +65 9694 9623; www.thecufflinkclub.com
Best for an intimate cocktail: B28
Old-school classic cocktails, jazz music and quality whiskeys rule the bar at B28.
Helmed by Aubrey Sim -- the Singapore 2009 Diageo World Champion –- Sim’s brilliance for turning out artisanal cocktails is seen through a number of B28’s signature drinks.
The French 75 is a delightful daffodil-yellow drink that smells just as good as it tastes. Tanqueray No. Ten gin mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon peel, sugar and topped off by champagne is a gentle (but potent) forget-me-not.
Their Mike Scotch Sour, a twist on the classic whisky sour which uses scotch in place of bourbon, cherry brandy and sweet vermouth substituted for sugar to give the drink a more complex flavor is Sim’s way of converting women to the whisky train.
Add in the gentleman’s club feel with teak ceilings and a diverse jazz playlist and you’ve got yourself a winner in the bar stakes.
B28, B/F The Club, 28 Ann Siang Road; +65 9026 3466; www.btwentyeight.com
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Cocktails with a kick: Néktar
Don't call Sufian a mixologist or a bartender, he's a bar chef.
Set in an old black-and-white home, Néktar specializes in turning out drinks that are "multi-layered experiences."
Everything from chipotle sauce (pineapple daiquiri), Asian spices and infused bitters (there's lavender, chili and even hibiscus) is used to produce East-meets-West drinks such as the Naughty and Spice (blend of homemade chili bitters, vodka and elderflower liquor), the East Village Brew -– their take on local ginger tea -– a ginger and dark rum mixture with spiced milk tea and lime juice.
While such unconventional cocktails intrigue, Sufian highly recommends Néktar’s Bitter Chocolate Martini, a stirred cocktail with a combination of vodka, white crème de cacao and a trickle of crème de menthe.
"Though the ingredients and preparation may be understated and straightforward, the creamy texture on the palate, a hint of chocolate and the subtle lingering peppermint aftertaste culminates in a smooth, harmonious drink.”
31 Scotts Road; +65 6836 9185; www.nektar.com.sg
Best for molecular cocktails: The Tippling Club
The 23rd best bar in the world according to the 2011 "World's 50 best bars" annual rankings, Tippling Club has always had a feel for the controversial, starting years back with their F**k the Subprime! cocktail (champagne, bitters, and VSOP Hennessy), which was an instant hit with (no surprise) bankers and the press.
Not resting on theatrics alone –- even though many of its drinks are based on the elements of molecular gastronomy -– Tippling Club’s tipples are among the city’s most unusual.
The trademarked Juniper Sling based on the scent of Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling fragrance is a prime example. Served in a Penhaligon’s bottle, the aromatic concoction of Grand Marnier, gin, cassis, homemade cherry bitters, juniper and cinnamon syrup took four months to formulate.
And for what it’s worth, it tastes as good as it smells.
8D Dempsey Road; +65 6475 2217; www.tipplingclub.com
Best for tea-based cocktails: CUT
The average diner may find it too pricey to sit down for a meal at Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, but a drink is a lot easier on one’s wallet.
The Tony Chi-designed bar and lounge turns out a number of memorable, sip-worthy concoctions. The signature Adios Nonino is made with Amaretto, Maker's Mark bourbon and Aperol, finished with a heady fragrance of burnt orange peel.
The oddly named HELP!! Save the Bees is a tongue-in-cheek effort to raise the awareness of the world's declining bee population according to Wes Guild, CUT’s assistant general manager.
However, the perfect balance of flavors and ingredients befitting Puck’s reputation is best sampled through their tea-based drinks.
The Garden of Eden is a strong, flavorful vodka cocktail, infused with mango black tea, garnished with dried mango and tropical flowers and given a dash of zest with sprigs of lemon peel.
#BI-71 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Ave; +65 6688 8517; www.wolfgangpuck.com
Cocktails with a view: Maison Ikkoku
This three-in-one space (café-menswear boutique-cocktail bar) can prove distracting but what ultimately wins is its cocktail bar, which has a view of the grand Sultan Mosque in Kampong Glam.
Set up by Ethan Leslie Leong (Drink Culture and Bar Stories), the bar may well be named after a 1980s Japanese romantic comedy, however the unusual concoctions drinks are anything but a sugary mess.
The Singapore Long Island Tea is given a twist with a personal choice of tealeaf. The tea is then mixed in with gin, vodka and lemon resulting in a cocktail that soothes and calms like a warm cup of cha.
For the chocoholics, there is only one option: the dessert-worthy Chocolate Flambe-tini, which is served with toasted marshmallow and cookie roll.
The aptly named Golden Goose cocktail is a product of the “constantly experimenting” Leong and combines vodka, pamplemousse, pink grapefruit and gooseberries into one sublime intoxicant.
20 Kandahar St.; +65 6294 0078; www.maison-ikkoku.net
Best for a secret cocktail: The Library
Singapore's hippest cocktail bar is also the most hidden. Housed behind mirrored bookshelves of design books (hence the name) is a dimly-lit speakeasy style bar where access is granted by password and bowtie-clad bartenders serve up more than 20 playful concoctions in an array of mismatched cups –- everything from test tubes and crystal-cut glass to copper mugs.
The quirky charm extends beyond the bottom of High Ti rum cocktails served in a teapot, or the oddly named drinks such as the Moshi Moshi Umeboshi, a fizzy gin drink with cream.
Head bartender Stefan Ravalli and his crew like to have a little fun and creativity with their potent libations, evident through the gin-maraschino liquor-lemon juice Frequent Flyer, served in a violet-rimmed saucer with a boarding pass; and the Shrub-A-Dub-Dub gin, vermouth and cloudy apple cocktail ladled out from within a mini bathtub, with a rubber ducky for company.
As the menu states: "We are not bartender poets. We can't juggle. We're not 'mixologists'. But we do love making drinks."
47 Keong Saik Road (obtain the password next door at Keong Saik Snacks)
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