With a name like Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall, this new watering hole offers a distinctly local presence amid the expat-oriented bars of Boat Quay with its old school décor, which features Khong Guan biscuit tins, Gold Cock Brand glass tumblers and latticed window grills, all salvaged and acquired in flea markets and dumpsters around town.
The local concept and name comes from Singaporean barman Sam Wong, formerly at Jigger & Pony (the venue takes the place of the short-lived Homebodies café along the waterfront), but given Wong’s experience with classic cocktails on Amoy Street, the drinks fall in a more decidedly upmarket, Western category.
The local drinks are still a work in progress. You certainly won’t quite find Tiger on ice or mixed drinks in the form of Heineken/Guinness black and tans or green worm chendol jellies here. While Ah Sam’s limited beer menu focuses mainly on lagers, like the Bavarian Hofbräu currently available by the bottle, his cocktails, much like at his alma mater, focuses on classics that he riffs upon for more adventurous or fussy drinkers in the bespoke experience – but even then, don’t expect it to come with smoke and flavoured dusts.
Prices hover around $18 for a bespoke cocktail and peak at $35 for tequila poured out of a Mexican sugar skull-embellished bottle of Kah Anejo. Our request for a smoky cocktail laced with Venezuelan Diplomatico Reserva rum ($23, which Ah Sam dubs ‘The Big Flower’ on the fly – Wong confesses he’s terrible at coming up with drink names) comes out full-bodied, nicely balanced and rich on the palate; the odd name aside, it’s Wong’s candidness that charmingly strips the bespoke bar experience of the polished affectation found in area counterparts 28HKS, Bitters & Love as well as Jigger & Pony.
A request for a more potent, absinthe-laced cocktail yields a play on the American Sazerac ($18; at this point Wong gives up christening the drinks), subbing rye whisky for Remy Martin poured out of a Jolin Tsai-adorned bottle. Again, the combination of flavours aren’t ground-breaking, but the drink is technically sound and pleasant enough for a good night out.
Keeping things approachable, Wong’s regular menu arranges classic cocktails on a sliding scale of lethal-ness and bitterness, taking reference from kopitiam words po (Hokkien for ‘thin’ – ie, not so strong when used in the context of drinks) to gao (‘thick’). On the po side, there’s the Gin Fizz (po, $18); for something in the mid-range, try the Scotch, vermouth, Cointreau and lime in the Blood & Sand ($18), or go all-out gao with the rye whisky-based Old Pal ($18).
Mixing things up every once in a while, Ah Sam also acts as a playground for local bar professionals to stage and showcase flavours and skills they won’t otherwise get to exercise at their own establishments – thus far, ex-Bitters & Love bartender Eugene Chua and drinks consultant Ashvin Shawn Kishore have done guest shifts.
With a clientele that’s decidedly dressed down and Singaporean-Chinese, the atmosphere is relaxed and raucous. Perhaps Ah Sam might herald the 3.0 evolution of the kopitiam – an unpretentious public place to commune at, but with atas drinks, of course.