Hidden away from view, these speakeasies are a private oasis only for those in the know. Cosy up with your Tinder date away from prying eyes or avoid bumping into an old match you ghosted at one of your regular haunts.
We've got underground drinking dens like Operation Dagger and Catchfly, bars hiding in plain sight like The Other Room and Employees Only. Here are the secret cocktail bars are where you can unwind and disappear from the world.
Every six months, Junior switches things up with a different cocktail concept. Its first was Norma, which featured mezcal and tequila-based drinks and now it's shaken things up once more to bring you Magnolia. Named after the flower native to southern USA, the concept showcases New Orleans' cocktail culture, Creole cuisine and the distinctive tunes of the region. Often overshadowed by the cocktail scene of eastern USA, New Orleans has an illustrious cocktail history – it's where classics like the sazerac, Ramos gin fizz and brandy milk punch were invented and it continues to host Tales of the Cocktail, the industry's biggest gathering.
TRY THIS Pimm's Cup ($25)
Junior's Magnolia celebrates this institution with cocktails like the Pimm's cup ($25), made with St George dry rye gin, champagne and citrus fermented blood orange tea. Feeling peckish? Grab a comforting bowl of jambalaya that's packed with spicy sausage and chicken.
Continuing Singapore’s ardour for made-in-Japan brands and talent, bartender Daiki Kanetaka pens a love letter to tipple sippers here with his handsome Ginza-style bar that delivers a rarified cocktail experience to swoon over. Enter the 28-seater shophouse speakeasy from a lifestyle retail front selling some of the bar’s glassware, leather products and, oddly, a fixie. Inside, Kanetaka replicates the wood-clad long bars of his other establishments, with 14 bar-side bearish leather armchairs and seats for another 14 on plump chesterfield loungers.
TRY THIS Old Fashioned
Having a drink here can be pretty intimidating – there's a $60 minimum spend per person and the price of your cocktail isn't listed on the menu – but D.Bespoke knows how to do the classics right. You won't go wrong with an old fashioned or a negroni alongside its range of tasty katsu sandwiches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
TRY THIS The Atliens ($23). It’s super refreshing – fresh watermelon juice and mint, salt, absinth and genever, a juniper-flavoured liquor that's the granddaddy of gin. It's a spirit that not many people are familiar with so it's a good introduction to it.
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.
TRY THIS Applewood negroni ($22)
American gin is infused with cinnamon and vanilla for a warm sweetness and Campari, Carpano Antica and vanilla bitters are added to the mix before it's smoked with applewood and rosemary.
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. 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.
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.
TRY THIS 17/18 Cyprus Hill ($25). A fresh drink with a bit of kick to it that's inspired by a trip Luke made to Cyprus to visit the birthplace of his mother – all the ingredients are found in the garden of the house.
Check out these other bars
As the day dims, it's time to let loose and have a drink or two. From speakeasy joints to secret cocktail dens to bespoke bars, we've put together a list of the best cocktail bars to seek out around town.
Whether you sip, quaff or chug, we're introducing the best watering holes for a boozy night out. From bars that offer quality vino to pubs hidden behind unmarked doors to microbreweries, here are the city's best bars to seek out.