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Best secret bars in Singapore

Lu Yawen (Lindy) hops around the city's top speakeasies and hidden cocktail bars

Employees Only
Photo: Emilie Baltz
1/8

Employees Only

Beyond a pink neon sign that flickers ‘Psychic’, you’ll find a bar that will take you back to the Prohibition days of the US. Choose to have your fortune read or squeeze through the mingling crowd to the back of Employee’s Only for a table – like the original New York cocktail institution of the same name, this local off-shoot is a favourite among F&B folks to gather and unwind.

‘Authenticity’ is this watering hole’s calling card. Steve Schneider, a veteran with 13 years of experience and multiple accolades under his belt, is tasked with educating the bar team on the techniques Employees Only is famed for. The free-pouring style of crafting a tipple, for example, is one of the things fresh hires learn when they start as apprentices. And tucked at the back is the kitchen that issues out a Modern American menu – think hand-chopped steak tartare ($27) and bone marrow poppers ($15). 

TRY THIS EO Gimlet ($28)



The modest cocktail of gin and lime cordial is g iven a Singaporean twist and an added punch. Cloudy with a tinge of green, the Gimlet is an intoxicating mix of Perry's Tot Navy Strength Gin, and lime juice sweetened with agave and perfumed with kaffir leaves. Delicious.

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Telok Ayer
The Other Room
2/8

The Other Room

Swing open the unmarked door and shuffle past thick curtains to emerge in a small, dark and sparsely furnished space that’s super serious about its spirits. It’s all thanks to Dario Knox’s – he’s the mastermind of the drinks programme at tapas joint FOC – intense liquor geekery.

You’ll find no labels on the bottles here. Each rum, whisky, moonshine or what-have-you, and their many expressions, have been cask-finished by Knox. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. So order a flight of your favourite poison (each 15-mililitre pour is cask-finished differently) before asking for cocktail recommendations.

The Other Room’s exhaustive cocktail list covers all the standards: 26 cocktails are split into eight categories – such as Post-Prohibition and Classics – and start at a very affordable $19. Trust us and carve out a few hours for the full experience. 

TRY THIS Reversed gin and tonic ($23)



Here’s a riff on the classic: The Other Room tailors its own in-house tonic to match the Martin Miller’s gin used, and infuses it with pink peppercorn, cucumber, lemon, grapefruit and cardamom before smoking the cocktail. The result? A dry, smoky and wonderfully crisp beverage that, thanks to the spices and herbs, dances on the palate.

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Orchard
Gibson
Photo: OSG Photography
3/8

Gibson

Its vintage furnishings might evoke the decadence of the Roaring ’20s but you’ll also spy telltale signs of the establishment’s off-kilter persona. Like the bartenders’ intentionally mismatched floral shorts and a Tanqueray Champion Shaker – a green, two-wheeled machine that speeds up the preparation of the Ramos Gin Fizz, a New Orleans cocktail invented in the 1880s that requires up to 15 minutes of shaking by hand – sitting on the bar counter. (Yes, the bar team actually uses it.)

The 24-strong drinks menu is crafted by Aki Eguchi (pictured), a two-time winner of Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore, and includes surprises in the form of rainbow-coloured edible spheres or a vine-wrapped glass. The grub revolves around seafood: light bites of ceviche, carpaccio and oysters as healthier, upscale alternatives to fried finger food. 

TRY THIS The Gibson ($23)



Start the night with Eguchi’s take on the classic Gibson martini, made with gin and vermouth then garnished with an onion. He uses two kinds of gin – Hendrick’s and Monkey 47 – and Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry to give a botanical complexity to the simple cocktail. Each comes with a piquant and briny trio of pickled pearl onion, pickled cabbage and smoked quail egg to munch on between sips.

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Outram Park
28 HongKong Street
4/8

28 HongKong Street

Remember the cool kid at school who was indifferent to instruction but kept scoring top marks? That’s 28 HongKong Street. Calling the ground floor of an old shophouse home, it opened without any fanfare in 2011. The bar keeps a shroud of secrecy: it doesn’t market itself, not even on social media platforms. Still, it has since become one of the forerunners of the local cocktail scene and recently put Singapore on the map when it was named Best Bar at Drinks International’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars Awards this year.

If the world has taken notice, it’s because Joe Alessandroni has found a winning formula. The creative director of 28HKS has managed to create a seamless blend of urban swag and American-styled libations: expect only hip hop classics to cascade from those speakers and cocktails named after rappers. Likewise, bar nosh here is American – filling, tasty and slightly salty – but rest assured that chef Kathleen Wong makes everything from scratch.

TRY THIS Five Foot Assassin ($22)



This is the frozen daiquiri in its freshest reincarnation yet. Named after the late rapper Phife Dawg, the Five Foot Assassin adds to the tropical rum slushie a fun swirl of coconut pandan cream, a hint of nutmeg, and tapioca balls and soaked in Angostura bitters.

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Clarke Quay
The Secret Mermaid
5/8

The Secret Mermaid

Hidden in plain sight, The Secret Mermaid is the alter ego of Shinkansen, a design-your-own salad bar in the CBD. The shared space, outfitted with black grilles and brass piping, morphs into a hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar after five in the evening. Bottles of gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whisky occupy every nook and cranny in this miniscule hideout, and the bar also has one of the largest collections of American craft spirits.

Customers can opt for tasting flights or get one of Kelly D’Cruz’s creations at the eight-seater counter. Thorough in her research, D’Cruz learns each spirit’s distillery, ageing process and mash bill to find out how she can best bring out its flavours – no easy feat considering there are more than 80 varieties on offer here.

TRY THIS Raspberry Moonshine Milo ($20)


Once illegal in the US, moonshine is a high-proof spirit distilled from corn mash. It has since shed its bad rep and is now sold commercially by distilleries such as Batch 206, where D’Cruz gets her bottles of Seven Star Moonshine from. She infuses it with dehydrated raspberries for a fruity aroma then mixes it with Milo to create what regulars call ‘alcoholic Milo peng’.

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Raffles Place
Horse's Mouth
6/8

Horse's Mouth

Before dismissing Uma Uma Ramen as yet another Japanese noodle house, take a closer look at the other door by the entrance. It snakes down into The Horse’s Mouth, a sleek basement bar lit by boxy paper lanterns and peppered with quirky objets d’art, such as a hanging origami display.

The concoctions are just as classy and relatively spirit-forward, a style that stems from the bar staff’s training in Japanese techniques. Most drinks are crafted to showcase various Nihon ingredients and, of course, sake exclusive to The Horse’s Mouth. This isn’t to say that accountant-turned-bar manager Guo Jun Guang doesn’t get to flex his creative muscles: he even uses wagyu beef trimmings from Kaiseki Yoshiyuki next door to fatwash cocktails. Uma Uma Ramen also contributes bowls of ramen to the food menu, which offers decent dinner options.

TRY THIS Yuzu Shuriken ($26)


Its main ingredient is yuzu sake, accentuated by peppermint and a Sauvignon Blanc syrup. Pavan liqueur, made from Muscat grapes and orange blossoms, gives the cocktail its sangriaesque notes, while a splash of gin ensures it’s more potent than your average summertime thirst quencher.

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Orchard
Manhattan Bar
Photo: Tom White
7/8

Manhattan Bar

On the second level of Regent Singapore sits a portal to 19th-century New York City, where ladies are decorated in pearls and gentlemen dressed to the nines. Under lowered lights, large leather armchairs and sofas gather around tables to offer enough privacy for a clandestine rendezvous. The bar, where you’ll find manager Philip Bischoff, rests on a raised platform overlooking the night’s debauchery from the back of the room.

Understanding the art of mixing up a drink begins with a visit to Manhattan’s rickhouse. It holds 106 American oak barrels, all ageing spirits, bitters and cocktails. In the Ingredients Room opposite the rickhouse, bell jars of herbs, spices, fruits and roots in various stages of drying, pickling and brining line the shelves. The menu, whose categories reference the neighbourhoods of the bar’s namesake borough, has an extensive selection of all-American dishes from lobster rolls ($26) to apple cheesecakes ($10).

TRY THIS Solera-aged Negroni ($25)



The solera (Spanish for ‘on the ground’) technique of ageing liquids originated from the Iberian Peninsula and refers to the process of continuously blending different ages of wines or spirits in a barrel. Manhattan treats its Negroni the same way, achieving a richer cocktail with a heightened bitterness.

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Orchard
Operation Dagger
8/8

Operation Dagger

When it comes to setting an atmosphere of mystery, Operation Dagger scores full marks. Near to the action but not quite, the basement bar is hidden along a back alley at the junction of Club Street and Ann Siang Hill. The entrance – unwashed floor, plain glass door, illegible scribbling on the top – is so nondescript that even the building it’s in doesn’t have a name. It opens to a dingy staircase that leads further down, but it’s the smell that hits you first: an acrid smokiness of burnt herbs.

Headed by Luke Whearty and Aki Nishikura, the bar lies under a cloud of light bulbs and against a backdrop of shelves, on which stand rows of tinted bottles labelled with a grid of faded drawings. (One of the indifferent bartenders explains that they’re a code for each liquid.) In 2015 alone, Operation Dagger was voted Best New Bar at the Singapore Bar Awards and came in the top ten for Best New International Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail. Proof is in the pudding or, in this case, every one of the duo’s multi-sensory concoctions.

TRY THIS Apple Miso ($25)



Inspired by a dessert from chef Andrew Mconells at Melbourne’s Supernormal restaurant, the Apple Miso distils the flavours of fermented red apples and red miso in a tedious four-part recipe. Ingredients are cooked sous vide, mixtures strained using a fine muslin cloth, then whisked and boiled. Savoury with intense umami notes, the tipple is also served with a sesame caramel crisp that you should skip – its bitterness overpowers the cocktail.

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Telok Ayer

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