Five bartenders in Singapore share what makes them Asia's best

Get to know the bartenders behind some of Asia's best watering holes
Best bartenders Singapore
Photo: Gabe Chen
By Nicole-Marie Ng |
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Five years ago, Singapore had barely any cocktail culture to speak of. Drinks were limited to a whisky and Coke or a badly mixed margarita. Today, we’ve got bars fermenting their own natural wines, putting grasshoppers in their tipples and collecting the largest collection of gin in the world. On May 3, the Singapore bar family celebrates how far its come with Asia’s 50 Best Bars hosting its third edition and first ever awards ceremony right here in the city – not to forget the Singapore Cocktail Festival happening from May 4 to 13 too. We quiz five bartenders on what makes their spots the best in Asia.

Sasha Operation Dagger
Photo: Gabe Chen
Bars and pubs

Sasha Wijidessa from Operation Dagger

icon-location-pin Tanjong Pagar

What makes Operation Dagger one of the best bars in Asia?

At Dagger, we always try to provide something different. When Luke (Whearty) and Aki (Nishikura) first opened the bar four years ago, it was a creative outlet to reflect what they were learning and express different inspirations through the drinks. Instead of doing the same old things and following classic recipes, our focus is on flavour. We work like a kitchen to make cocktails like you would a dish.

Get to know Sasha...

Sous bartender (22) at Operation Dagger – bartending for four years.

How did you get into bartending?

I started bartending part time while I was completing my diploma as a way to earn extra cash. I really loved being in a creative space, making drinks and interacting with people so
after I graduated, I decided to continue bartending full time.

What's your bartending philosophy?

Embrace change and keep evolving.

Do you have a secret ingredient?

If I tell you then it won’t be a secret anymore. Actually no, if we spend 80 hours together – I read somewhere that to form a friendship, you need to spend that amount of time together – then I'll tell you.

What's your favourite drink at Dagger?

17/18 Cyprus Hill ($25). It's a really fresh drink with a bit of kick to it. It'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.

Aside from your own, what's your favourite bar in Singapore?

Native! Hi Vijay! It focuses on regional produce and craftsmen – connecting guests to everything Southeast Asian and instilling a sense of local pride. The drinks and service are really good too.

Cedric Manhattan
Photo: Gabe Chen
Bars and pubs, Cocktail bars

Cedric Mendoza from Manhattan

icon-location-pin Orchard

What makes Manhattan one of the best bars in Asia?

Teamwork. We work like a family – we care for our coworkers by coming for our shift early to make sure the process is smooth as can be. When the staff are happy, it reflects on the guest’s experience. It creates a good vibe paired with amazing drinks, food and music that people come back for.

Get to know Cedric...

Head bartender (28) at Manhattan – bartending for four years.

How did you get into bartending?

I was a waiter at Basilico and didn't know anything about bartending. I took care of the wines and made drinks at the restaurant but I wasn't doing it properly – I used to shake a negroni. When Manhattan opened, I had a chance to join the team and I've been learning ever since.

What's your bartending philosophy?

Integrity. Respect. Determination. Fun. Love.

Do you have a secret ingredient?

Confidence. Everything you serve has to be something you'd drink too. If you have doubt, it'll reflect.

What's your favourite drink at Manhattan?

The Manhattan ($25). It’s an elegant drink that gives you pause. Sip it, take your time and enjoy it. People have been enjoying it for years – classic drinks like this don’t die.

Aside from your own, what's your favourite bar in Singapore?

It changes a lot depending on my mood and the day. But I tend to go to happy places with fun people. 28 Hongkong Street is one of the first bars I've ever been to – back then, I didn't know anything about drinks and the bartender took the time to explain the different bourbons to me. I'll never forget that experience and it's part of what made me want to become a bartender.

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Roman Atlas
Photo: Gabe Chen
Bars and pubs

Roman Foltan from Atlas

icon-location-pin Rochor

What makes Atlas one of the best bars in Asia?

Our main focus has always the guest. It doesn’t matter what you drink ­– you can have a gin and tonic, champagne or the best cocktail in the world but if you don’t feel comfortable then you’re not going to come back.

Get to know Roman...

Head bartender (27) at Atlas – bartending for seven years.

How did you get into bartending?

I've been working in hospitality since I was 14. I started as a kitchen porter and was promoted after two months and allowed to peel potatoes. I went to hospitality management school and moved to London where I started to work behind the bar because I was inspired by my older brother who is a bartender.

What's your bartending philosophy?

Be humble and there for guests.

Do you have a secret ingredient?

Champagne vinegar and gin for its versatility.

What's your favourite drink at Atlas?

The Atlas Martini ($24). It’s a martini for non-martini drinkers. The bianco vermouth is sweeter than the usual dry vermouth and champagne vinegar gives it a citrusy acidity.

Aside from your own, what's your favourite bar in Singapore?

Origin. I love the atmosphere, the design, the drinks, the dishes, the team is really good as well so it's a full package. It's my hangout place if I get a day off.

Charmaine and Lukas 28 Hongkong Street
Photo: Gabe Chen
Bars and pubs

Charmaine Thio and Lukas Kaufmann from 28 Hongkong Street

icon-location-pin Raffles Place

What makes 28 Hongkong Street one of the best bars in Asia?

Charmaine: We take care of people. I think that's fundamentally what people look for when they go to a bar. I'm not saying other bars don't do that – but we did get lucky by entering the scene early so a lot of people do come by 28 and that's how we've managed to maintain our standing in Asia. 

Lukas: There are some days when the bar is filled with regular guests and we can tell that they’re coming home, which I think is fantastic. That's what you want to achieve with a bar. You don’t have to portray a certain image, you can be who you are.

Get to know Charmaine and Lukas...

Co-bar captains at 28 Hongkong Street. Charmaine (27) has been bartending for four years, Lukas (32) has been bartending for nine years.

How did you get into bartending?

Charmaine: It was an accident for me. I used to just drink a lot and after graduating, I was looking for a job in journalism but couldn't find one. I got sick and tired of sitting around at home and my mum was sick and tired of my face so I decided to do something. I was friends with the people who worked at the bar and I asked them if they needed an extra pair of hands. After about six months, I decided to make my part-time gig my real job.

Lukas: I accidentally fell into bartending too. I worked at my friend's Irish bar and after that I joined a cocktail bar in Slovakia. I moved to Singapore because the weather is better and I heard a lot about Singapore's growing cocktail scene so I wanted to check it out. I came here for a vacation and ended up staying.

What's your bartending philosophy?

Lukas: Guests should leave bar happier.

Charmaine: Hospitality. Humility. Hard work. Hydration. Health.

Do you have a secret ingredient?

Lukas: That's a secret so I can't share that with you.

Charmaine: Now I can't say that anymore. But I try to sneak a bit of Fernet-Branca into everything. 

What's your favourite drink at 28?

Charmaine: 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.

Lukas: Czech the Method ($23). It's very nicely balanced with two types of Irish whiskey and some cold brew.

Aside from your own, what's your favourite bar in Singapore?

Lukas: It has to be Skinny's. You can grab a beer, meet a lot of friends, listen to jokes and there's great music. It's where I go to hang out after work.

Charmaine: I love the team at Manhattan. The hospitality is always amazing. And who doesn't like a boozy brunch right?

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Steve Employees Only
Photo: Gabe Chen
Bars and pubs, Cocktail bars

Steve Schneider from Employees Only

icon-location-pin Chinatown

What makes Employees Only one of the best bars in Asia?

My kids – the bar staff – they can do things that nobody else in this whole region can do. In a crazy busy, high-volume bar like ours, you need to have high energy, make six drinks at once, close checks and still please people. They have to do so much. I'm really happy that we've been on this list for two years in a row, it means a lot that the judges see that too.

Get to know Steve...

Steve Schneider (34) principal bartender at Employees Only – bartending for 16 years.

How did you get into bartending?

I was in the military and had an accident so I started working at a bar while recuperating. I really enjoyed so I stuck with it. I started at shitty dive bars and live music venues, won a couple of speed bartending competitions and got recruited to work at Employees Only in New York. I ran the bar there for eight years before becoming a partner to open the bar here in Singapore.

What's your bartending philosophy?

Monkey with fez and cymbals.

Do you have a secret ingredient?

Sarcasm and humour.

What's your favourite drink at EO?

The EO Gimlet ($28). We mix Navy Strength Gin that's made in New York with a lime cordial that we make in house. Only two ingredients but so much flavour.

Aside from your own, what's your favourite bar in Singapore?

I like to stay on Amoy because of the quality and convenience so I'm usually at Jigger and Pony and Sugarhall. I treat them as one bar too because I'll go to both of them – they've been very kind to me.

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