“Covid-19 was going to kill us, and it very nearly did,” shares Chua Ee Chien, owner of cocktail bar Jekyll and Hyde.
During the ‘circuit breaker’ when dining out was not allowed and when most people were working from home, the bar was greatly handicapped by its Tras Street address. Hardly anyone was in the Central Business District, which meant fewer customers for Jekyll and Hyde.
But it was the failed rental negotiations with the landlord that ultimately forced Ee Chien to bite the bullet and close shop when the tenancy ended on June 14.
The closure didn’t mark the end for Jekyll and Hyde; instead, the team started looking for a new home – a search which led them to a shophouse along Neil Road.
The plan was to work with the previous owner, a café called Cheeky: Ee Chien and his team occupy the second-floor space and handle the drinks, while Cheeky continues serving up its menu of burgers and fries. But both teams eventually came to the agreement to let the bar take over the space fully. Come September, Jekyll and Hyde will transform the two-storey area into an all-day dining concept – a restaurant on the first floor, and a speakeasy bar on the second. “It’s a more dynamic space,” he says. “Because you almost have two concepts at the same time.”
The challenge now is to create a food menu that complements the cocktail selection – a problem that the team hasn't tackled in the past. “At [the old] Jekyll and Hyde, we were handicapped with a small kitchen,” he says. “So it makes it very hard for us to think beyond drink-making. How do we open in the daytime? How do we get people to eat and drink? It has always been an issue for us.”
Now, with a bigger space, and a bigger kitchen, the team has room for bigger plans and novel ideas. To pair with its cocktail selection, which reimagines everyday staples into boozy concoctions, they decided to centre the food offerings around elevated hawker classics. “It’s essentially creating a whole new experience,” shares Ee Chien. For instance, to pair with the spicy ikura-topped chilli crab nachos, Ee Chien recommends the sweet PB & J, a recreation of the classic sandwich that’s made with peanut butter-washed bourbon and strawberry-infused Campari. There’s also a plate of orh luak made with freshly shucked oysters in the works. “It’s being able to complement a menu that might seem eclectic at first, with cocktails and local cuisine.”
Ee Chien is most excited for the space to come into its own. By mid-September, renovations will be completed and the place will transform into an 80-seater (with safe distancing) eatery; a new version of Jekyll and Hyde.
“It ended up saving us,” says Ee Chien, on the effects of the ‘circuit breaker’. “And gave us the opportunity to be bigger and better than we ever thought we could be.”