Lion City’s sophisticated bar culture

MICHAEL FERRANTE sips on cocktails at some of the world’s best bars

Singapore’s size by no way reflects its standing as a giant in hospitality, boasting world-class hotels, a famous food culture and, now, some of the world’s best bars.

Manhattan, a grand hotel bar inspired by the 19th century’s Golden Age of cocktails and fine drinking, old New York-style, is one such establishment and the current No.3 on The World’s 50 Best Bars list.

Housed within swish five-star hotel Regent Singapore, its ambience and decor is reminiscent of old New York, complete with leather chairs and sofas, dim lighting and drinks menus that reflect the various eras in New York’s storied history. Manhattan held the No. 1 spot on Asia’s 50 Best Bars lists in 2017 and 2018 and in May was voted as the region’s No.2 for 2019.

Backed by industry heavyweights including Campari, Hennessy, Asahi and Perrier, the awards celebrate the best of the international drinks industry, with bars ranked by more than 500 drinks experts worldwide.

At just five years old, Manhattan has wasted no time in reaching dizzying heights in an ultra-competitive industry.

With early success has come expectation, but assistant bar manager Gabriel Carlos maintains a simple yet pragmatic approach for his team.

“We’re very happy to have received (awards); at the end of the day we focus on the people that come into the bar,” he says.

“If we are giving the service, smiles and the fulfilment for everyone that walks in here, I think it’s more than the awards we receive ... I would be lying if I said we don’t care about them (the awards), of course we do. “But if you ask me if it’s a priority, definitely not.

“Hospitality is a lifestyle, it’s something you have to live on a daily basis.”

Innovative and bold, a tour of the Manhattan premises is an adult’s version of being in a candy store. Part of that is the establishment’s Rickhouse — a collection of more than 100 American 13-litre oak barrels from Minnesota used to finish whiskies and other spirits, and to age single-cask, or one-off, cocktails. Another feature is its special “ingredients room”.

I try a solera-aged Negroni, a classic Manhattan cocktail, using the Spanish-Portuguese solera blending system.

It’s delicate, spicy — the ideal nightcap.

The rotating “from the Rickhouse” selection, never-to- be-made again concoctions, are served at the bar and offer a special touch for guests.

Also part of Manhattan’s strategy is continuous learning and improvement for its bar staff that includes guest masterclasses and team sessions, to maintain its high standards.

Eleven of Asia’s best

Singapore is a serious player on the world bar scene and is being recognised as such, with five establishments making the world’s top 50 in 2018, while 11 bars made Asia’s Best 50 in 2019.

Manhattan capped its latest accolade by winning Legend of the List — the bar that performed most consistently over the award’s history — and the Best Bar in Singapore 2019 title. It was also recognised as the Best Nightspot Experience 2018 in the Singapore Tourism Awards.

But there is a plethora of top-notch bars in the Lion City to savour, a few of which I got to sample on a recent trip. The Other Roof at Ann Siang Hill, Chinatown is led by master bartender and innovator Dario Knox.

The bar opened in October and offers spaces inside and out in a rooftop setting with nice views of the city.

Its cocktail menu is where tea meets spirits — tea-finished spirits such as tea gin, tea rum and tea vodka are created in-house by Knox’s team as the base of some pretty wild cocktails, like the “sexy, fiery and passionate concoction” Flamenco Martini.

It’s a new concept that’s sure to have others taking notice. And of course, a name synonymous with Singapore — Raffles, home of the Singapore Sling — has reopened its famous Long Bar ahead of its namesake hotel, fully restored in its original location and having lost none of its 19th century charm or popularity.

People queue outside to make sure they don’t miss out on the experience.

Fact File

Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019

No. 1 The Old Man (Hong Kong)

Singapore placegetters:

No. 2 Manhattan

No. 4 Native

No. 5 Atlas

No. 9 Jigger & Pony

No. 11 Tippling Club

No. 15 Gibson

No. 21 28 Hong Kong Street

No. 22 Operation Dagger

No. 25 D. Bespoke

No. 41 Employees Only

No. 46 The Other Room

Other bars worth a visit

Raffles Long Bar — newly refurbished and back serving its iconic Singapore Sling.

The Other Roof — Rooftop bar at Ann Siang Hill, Chinatown.

Ce La Vi at Marina Bay Sands SkyPark is worth the $S23 entry fee and premium drink prices if you’ve never been up there, just for the experience. From level 57 you feel like you’re in the sky. A small but nice selection of cocktails, plus beers and wines, including Italian and French.


Michael Ferrante was a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board. They have not seen or approved this story.