It was 2pm in the afternoon in Singapore. We were walking down a street, looking for a cafe to kill time while waiting for our ride to the next stop, when out of nowhere appeared a huge but adorable Old English Sheepdog named Tofu, greeting us excitedly and drawing our attention to the bar she had just leapt out of.
And that was how we stumbled across an amazing afternoon bartender guest shift by Byrdi, at one of Singapore’s finest bars, No Sleep Club.
Welcome to The World’s 50 Best Bars week in Singapore. The annual awards ceremony honouring the world’s most acclaimed bars was held last month, and while the main event itself, held inside an old power station, was a glitzy affair, the real action was happening all over Singapore. The bars there played host to an overwhelming number of guest shifts by some of the world’s best bars and bartenders, featuring wonderful hospitality, and of course, awesome drinks.
They came from all over the world – from London, New York, Athens (Greece), Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne, Bangkok, and even Kuala Lumpur and Penang, holding court at some of Singapore’s best-known bars.
While it was almost impossible to make it to all the activities and takeovers happening all over the island, I did manage to catch some unique experiences. Here are some of the ones that stood out the most for me in the two days I was there before the awards ceremony.
A bar that promises “Good Drinks, Good Food, Great Times” seven days a week, No Sleep Club’s neighbourhood bar concept makes it a decent alternative to some of the glitzier establishments in the city.
That afternoon, the bar was hosting a special “Early Byrd Australian Aperitivo” session by Melbourne bar Byrdi, which was recently named No.61 on the World’s 50 Best Bars (51-100) list. But that’s not what made this guest shift special – it was the fact that all four drinks on the menu were some of the tastiest and most unique drinks I had that week.
Byrdi is well known for focusing on local produce, and creating ingredients unique to their environment in Melbourne. That includes making their own distilled spirits, with founder Luke Whearty mentioning that the bar doesn’t stock any imported spirits at all.
Highlights of the menu at the No Sleep Club shift included the refreshingly tangy Watermelone, made with carbonated watermelon, Last Summer’s Berries and Karkalla; and the Gazza, a Garibaldi-like drink made with lacto-fermented orange, salted davidson plum and red okar.
While I may not have been able to try out the signatures at No Sleep Club (I hear they make a mean tequila-based espresso martini), the great drinks by Byrdi more than made up for that. And to think I wouldn’t have made it if not for Tofu. Give that dog a raise (or more doggy treats)!
Another memorable shift I managed to catch was at the Manhattan bar, located inside the Conrad Singapore Orchard hotel.
Named The Best Bar in Asia by The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2017 and 2018, and subsequently given the Legend of the List award in 2019, Manhattan is perhaps one of the most famous and highly-acclaimed bars in the world.
Therefore, this was the perfect venue for an evening of wonderful Martinis by London’s Connaught Bar, which placed No.5 on this year’s World’s 50 Best Bars list.
Connaught is famous for its Connaught Martini, which they obviously had to serve at the Manhattan shift. Made on the day with Farmer’s Dry gin, a blend of dry vermouths, and a selection of bitters (tonka bean, black cardamom or “Dr. Ago”), it was worth the almost 15 minute wait to get a glass that day.
But the drink wasn’t the main highlight that day. I was fortunate enough to sit right in front of Riccardo “Ricky” Lugano, one of the bartenders from the highly acclaimed bar, who apparently had only one job that night – make Martinis. A lot of Martinis.
And what Martinis they were. The bitters give a slightly more aromatic note to the drink, but the balance and dilution of the the Martinis were exceptional, even considering how many the bartenders were making that day.
Still, the hospitality of Connaught’s bartenders never let up no matter how busy it got. The whole time Ricky was stirring, pouring and spritzing the drinks, he never once stopped talking, greeting and smiling at the horde of guests in front of him.
That was a masterclass in hospitality, and it was a privilege to have witnessed it at one of Singapore’s best bars.
For the few days leading up to the awards, almost every single cocktail bar in Singapore seemed to be having a guest shift. Everywhere you looked, there were famous bartenders popping up in most of the big-name bars.
The night before the awards, I checked out one of my favourites, Sago House (No.45 on this year’s list), for a shift by the famous Harry’s Bar from Paris, and was not disappointed at all.
From there, it was a short walk to The Elephant Room, where the “flavour focused” Bar Us from Bangkok was wowing guests with their culinary-themed creations.
I went for a drink called Beef + Onion Beef Jerky (The Botanist Gin, Chili Oil, Ginger & Kaffir Lime, Red Onion, Cucumber, Modern Sour) and got a drink that tastes exactly like beef and onions. Whether you think that’s a great flavour for a refreshing cocktail is another matter, but I certainly loved how rich and complex the flavour was despite the drink being pretty much clear through and through.
My final stop for the night was Gibson, where another team of flavour maestros were holding court – The Savory Project, a bar founded by Hong Kong bar stalwarts Jay Khan (best known for COA) and Ajit Gurung.
And lo, there was another beef-themed drink there – the Beef Salad (Mount Gay Black Barrel, beef, peanut, coconut, chili, kaffir lime). And yes it tasted like a beef salad, full of vegetal and savoury meaty flavours, but still perfectly balanced at the same time. And yes, it made me want to go for supper right after that.
There were so many more events and shifts I wanted to go for, but unfortunately, there’s only so many bars one person can visit in a night. But one thing is for sure though – after this, there can really be no doubt that Singapore is truly Asia’s cocktail capital of the world.