Singapore’s bar scene leads Asia. According to industry authority Drinks International, it’s home to three of the World’s 50 Best Bars, making it the most well represented city on its continent. Imagine my surprise and sheer delight during a recent visit, upon realizing that my chosen accommodation was within a stones throw of several of Singapore’s best bars. I was in store for a very thirst quenching and eye opening 48 hours in Singapore.
Newly opened Hotel Mono is centrally located in Singapore’s booming Chinatown. The area is home to many high end hostels, new hotels, coffee shops and markets. Oh, and did I mention bars? Countless spectacular bars of all themes, shapes, sizes and secrecy levels. Though the decor and location vary, you’ll soon discover the prices are fairly consistent across the city; most cocktails range from $20-25 SGD (or $14-18 USD). Ouch. Another consistent across these bars is the remarkable talent of professional bartenders who genuinely enjoy nothing more than being given free reign on drink creation. So if you’re willing to hand over the cash and your trust, you’re in for a memorable trip through Singapore’s best bars.
Singapore’s Best Bars
Singapore’s Bar Scene at Night
Jekyll & Hyde. The duality within each of us is what inspires this modest yet funky bar and its ‘menu of potent potables’. This recently renovated bar has perhaps one of the friendliest and patient bartenders I’ve ever met. Drink names, ingredients and presentation at Jekyll & Hyde are out of this world. Our top picks; Brave Heart, made with bourbon, cognac, antica formula and topped with beer foam. Or, for a twist on local tastes, the Mr. Bean mixes vodka, soy beancurd, Frangelico, butterscotch liqueur and kaya – a traditional Malay and Singapore breakfast spread made of eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves.
Tippling Club. It has been said that 80% of the flavours we taste actually come from our sense of smell. The team at Tippling Club took this to heart when crafting their ‘sensorium cocktail menu’, one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen. Guests are presented with a collection of scent strips such as Rain, Forest, Leather, and Earl Grey. Each represent a bespoke drink creation with ingredients listed on the back. Campfire, made of marshmallow milk, burnt syrup, ash and gin, comes topped with a freshly toasted marshmallow on a twig. It was hands down the winner of the night. If the drinks have you intrigued, you’ll be happy to learn Tippling Club has a full restaurant as well – tasting menus start at $170/pp.
Bitters & Love. The strong live music and events schedule rival the strength of drinks whipped up by expert staff at this indie bar. Drinks are made in consultation with guests and the direction of the menu changes seasonally. You can take your pick of seating in the intimate venue – along the busy bar or out back in the eclectic alley turned patio. Either way you’re sure to love head barman and drink scene rockstar, Naz Arjuna’s take on the classic Singapore Sling, the Singapura Love.
The Library Bar. Perhaps one of the city’s best worst-kept secrets. This popular speakeasy sits behind a heavy door within any number of rotating popup shops that occupy the small front room of its 47-49 Keong Saik Road address. Located in Singapore’s former Red Light District, the bar has been fronted by pop up tattoo parlours, high end tailors, Chinese medicine shops and of course, at first, a library. You’ll literally have to pass a mini test to get in – or consult their social media accounts for clues on the latest password for entry. The concept is all about things not being quite what they first appear – from the entrance of the bar to the menu which requires red light or 3D glasses to reveal its content. Creativity in drink names are eclipsed only by the serving vessels themselves, which include a tiki mug bubbling with dry ice, hand carved wooden long boat garnished with flowers and mini porcelain bathtub complete rubber ducky (serves two).
Operation Dagger. Yet another secret basement bar, this one is located in an alley off of Club Street and Ann Siang Hill. To find it, look for a nondescript white building with glass doors and opt for the door with a simple hours of operation note discretely left in black marker. Though I arrived just seconds after last call, and wasn’t able to actually order a drink, by all accounts this small, concrete bar serves up big taste. This clip of Co-Owner and Executive Bartender Luke Whearty explaining the process behind developing drinks certainly has me looking forward to a return visit.
28 Hongkong Street (or 28HKS). The modest name (which is its address), and discrete door along a nondescript lane certainly don’t do the bar justice. 28HKS ranks #14 in the latest World’s 50 Best Bars list, and holds #1 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars spinoff list. Known for incredibly loyal and talented staff, on my visit, junior bartender Mary explained the approach that sets them apart. Time permitting, “I’ll sit with you”, she shared. “Sometimes guests are thrown when the bartender comes out and literally pulls up a chair, but this is like my house, and I want to make sure you feel welcome”. The result is that customers are put at ease and any pretension of being a hip award winning bar is quickly wiped away. Bartender Syafiq Rahim served up his delicious Avante entry into the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition, and it only took one sip to know I wanted another round. 28HKS wins for its rich wooden and warm decor, good music and thoughtful food menu – try the brussels sprouts topped with bacon and honey. The menu of 25 or so drinks updates multiple times per year, so there’s always a reason to return to one of Singapore’s best bars.
Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall. Perhaps the winner for best bar with a wholly unpretentious name. The drinking experience at Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall comes sans menu. Instead the focus is on custom cocktails with true Singapore twists – Milo and soy bean milk make frequent appearances as ingredients. This intimate, casual venue atop the second floor of shophouses at Boat Quay is also known for its Asian pub plates. Well worth the 10 minute walk from Chinatown.
Manhattan Bar. Without a doubt the most high end experience on the list, Manhattan Bar is housed within the second floor of the Regent Singapore Hotel. Home to the world’s first in-hotel rickhouse, containing 106 American oak barrels aging various spirits, there is also an ‘Ingredients Room’ that stores “spices, fruits and roots” according to the bar’s website. Its 19th century glamorous speakeasy vibe may be a bit to much for some. On the other hand, it was enough to land #11 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Note, Manhattan Bar is quite far north of the rest of the action in Chinatown/Outram, roughly 5km north of Hotel Mono.
LeVeL33 Craft Brewery, Lounge & Restaurant. If you thought that I’d travel all the way to Singapore and not find at least one cool craft brewery, you grossly underestimate the beer passion of the Departful team. LeVeL33 isn’t your typical hipster craft beer hang out. Quite the opposite. It’s 33 floors up, overlooking the Marina Bay area, with fine dining options and a wine menu that includes more than a few $1,000 bottles. With five year round beer offerings, plus seasonal releases, there is plenty to drink in along with the views. For those who don’t love a solid stout or wheat beer as much as I do, the team at LeVeL33 even has beer cocktails. The Stout Mojito combines their signature full bodied and silky stout with Havana Club, along with generous accents of blueberries, blueberry jam and lime. LeVeL33 is certainly worth a visit, day or night.
Daytime Detox – Or Not
Staying in Chinatown means you’ve got great options to occupy yourself during your visit, night or day, boozy or dry. Chinatown has its own stop on several MRT routes offering a quick ride to downtown attractions such as the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel (and rooftop bar), Gardens By The Bay, Clarke Quay and multiple museums.
Travellers who include the ArtScience Museum in their plans are rewarded with some straight up cool exhibits, capable of wowing adults and kids alike. My top pick, without a doubt, is Crystal Universe, within the Future World exhibit, which immerses you in a representation of the universe and dark matter. The installation composed of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of hung crystals, comes alive with dynamic light and sound elements. It also happens to make you feel like a runway model as you walk through it. Entry to the permanent Future World exhibit is $16 SGD, or you can bundle it with multiple temporary exhibits such as Nasa: A Human Adventure for $30 SGD.
If free art and fancy food is more your thing, check out the Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore. The hotel houses over 4,200 pieces of contemporary and modern art, worth over $5 million. The collection includes 350 ‘museum quality’ pieces, some of which are by the likes of Andy Warhol and Frank Stella. Both in house guests and passing travellers are welcome to participate in self guided tours around the property with guidebooks obtained from the concierge. The option of lunch or cocktails at Chihuly Lounge is a tempting follow up.
As day becomes night, perhaps consider a drink at one of the Quays or taking in the views at Gardens By The Bay. Clarke Quay overflows with cool restaurant options including micro brewing outpost Paulaner Bräuhaus Clarke Quay, while Boat Quay is home to RedDot BrewHouse. Both offer a solid after work crowd. Once you’ve had your fill of people watching, shift over to the Rhapsody Light Show at Gardens By The Bay. The impressive music and light show runs at both 7:45pm and 8:45pm daily, and like general admission into the gardens, is free. I suggest paying the extra $18 admission to ‘Cloud Forest’ or ‘Flower Dome’, two astonishing biospheres created on the grounds.
Chinatown Food & Drink
Hotel Mono itself is located on Mosque Street – just one block west of Chinatown Mall and three streets east of Smith Street – remember that name. Within the Chinatown Food Complex on Smith Street, you’ll find Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, one of two Singapore hawker stalls awarded Michelin stars in 2016. A historic first for street food. In the same complex you’ll find craft beer stalls, The Good Beer Company and Smith Street Taps. The latter pours up to twelve rotating taps of brews from around the world. I didn’t think I’d travel half way around the world only to be presented with Ontario based Flying Monkeys, but I was. Ultimately, opting for accommodation in this neighbourhood means that in a relatively expensive city, you’re able to get your fill of curries, noodles, dim sum, and award winning soya sauce chicken for under $5 per dish. Savings you can apply towards the steep price of all those cocktails.
While in Chinatown, and perhaps taking a break from drinking, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum is a remarkable destination. Opening to the public in 2007 with much fanfare, the Tang-styled Chinese Buddhist temple has become one of the most iconic visuals within Chinatown. The fourth floor of this stunning red temple houses a massive gold stupa containing the sacred relic.
Rest At Hotel Mono
Hotel Mono, as in monochromatic, stands out as one of the latest chic boutique entries in Chinatown. It joins the likes of nearby Wink Hostel ($40/SGD dorm bed), Cube Boutique Capsule Hotel ($140/SGD twin room), and The Club ($260 SGD/night). To maintain the integrity of the six historical shop houses which it occupies, Hotel Mono’s construction is somewhat unique – none of the 46 rooms have the same layout. While it doesn’t include breakfast, and space is at a premium in standard rooms, this is the norm for the area. In the face of major Singapore attractions and a bustling neighbour just steps away, Hotel Mono offers a cool sense of calm thanks to it’s design from William Chan, Chief Designer and Founder of Spacedge Designs. Rooms are simple and stylish. Wifi is strong. Perhaps just as important after a night exploring the city’s bar scene, the curtains are surprisingly effective at blocking out daylight.
Though he’s new to the world of hotels, General Manager Glenn Quah has done a great job empowering his small young team to really over deliver on guest expectations. Even before I had officially checked in, Cassandra at the front desk and I had bonded over a spirited conversation about travel to various dream destinations. The team is also certainly willing to share their tips on Singapore’s best bars.
While my time in the city was without question memorably thirst quenching, I recognize that I barely scratched the surface of the best bars in Singapore. If you’re heading to Singapore and have an extra few days, plus a pension for whisky, check out this great resource from Time Out Singapore – The Best Whisky Bars In Singapore. Their list of Best Craft Beer Bars In Singapore is also a good read for the thirsty traveller.
While I was a guest at Hotel Mono, the opinions expressed in this article are unbiased and completely my own.