A View from the City: Singapore

Joe Alessandroni, general manager of 28 Hongkong Street, Singapore, shares his insights on the city’s cocktail scene


Tell us a little about the history of the Singapore bar scene?

The roots of Singapore’s drinking culture can be traced back to the city’s British colonial heritage, and it was centred around grand hotels such as Raffles, home to the world-famous Singapore Sling. Some of that formality and glamour has remained, and there is definitely a bit more. Local bars tended to be informal and communal; think large groups drinking cheap beer outside on plastic chairs. 

How has the cocktail scene developed and is an Asia bartending style emerging that differs from the Japanese and western styles? 

The Singaporean cocktail scene has developed incredibly rapidly in the last couple of years, and we enjoy some unique advantages as a diverse country that doesn’t have much of an established drinking history. We have experienced bartenders who have migrated from across the globe, and an enthusiastic crop of homegrown talent that are great students of the craft. 

Lacking that cultural history or distinct style frees the scene to draw from the best practices and influences of a variety of traditions. A willingness to try new things and lack of preconceived notions of “what is good” from the drinking public – as well as the high prices charged by nightclubs and cheesy expat bars for mediocre service and drinks – gives our cocktail bars a lot of room to innovate and provide a great experience at a variety of price points. 

At its best, the Singapore style that is developing combines some of the polish and showmanship of the European tradition, the focus on flavour driven by great spirits and artisinal ingredients from America, the ceremony and service of Japan and the goofy experimentalism of Australia. I feel this all adds up to an amazing opportunity.

Who and what are the pioneers?

Ken Loon kicked off the cocktail scene here with Klee, which was a breeding ground for an entire cohort of Singaporean barmen and was highly influential in developing their style. Tippling Club was way ahead of its time when it opened in 2008. It continues to evolve and thrive under the leadership of Kamil Foltan (formerly of Zetter Townhouse in London) and just won an award for Best Bar in Singapore. 28 Hongkong Street was the first American-style bar, combining a high energy, informal vibe with a great craft spirits collection and no-nonsense, booze-forward cocktails. Founding barman Michael Callahan was influential in bringing international attention to the Singaporean scene and building connections among the local bar community. 

Are the locals enjoying cocktails or are wine, beer and straight spirits most important?

Singaporeans love cocktails. A combination of an adventurous public, the fact that most Singaporeans are
not heavy drinkers, the relatively high price of alcohol
and the hot, sticky climate, make this an ideal place for
craft cocktails.