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Movers and Shakers: A Bartender's Guide To Singapore's Best Cocktail Bars

10 Jun 2021

Movers and Shakers: A Bartender’s Guide To Singapore’s Best Cocktail Bars

Dario Knox, founder of Asia’s 50 Best Bars-ranked speakeasy The Other Room, knows all about what makes a good drink. The world-respected bartender talks about his favourite local bars and the contribution each has made to Singapore’s cocktail scene. 


In the space of a decade, Singapore has established itself as a cocktail powerhouse: not just in Asia, but globally. 


Singaporean bartenders and bar owners watched this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars reveal with interest following Singapore’s strong showing in the preliminary list of bars ranked 51 to 100. (Six Singaporean bars featured in this supplementary list). At the end of the night, 12 of the top 50 bars – and four of the top 10 – were in Singapore, reinforcing the island nation’s status as a force to be reckoned with. 


Among those that have witnessed this change first-hand is Italian-born bartender Dario Knox. After working in bars across Europe, he relocated to Singapore in 2012 to open an ambitious restaurant cocktail bar with some alumni from groundbreaking Catalan restaurant, El Bulli. His arrival was something of a shock.


Prior to 2012, it was very tough to get a decent drink in Singapore,” says Knox. “Not a great drink or a good drink, but a decent drink. When I moved here, there were just a couple of places that had the knowledge and international experience of running a cocktail bar.


The rate of change over the next five years was, in Knox’s words, “extremely big and super-fast” with many notable bartenders opening cocktail bars throughout Singapore. Knox was part of the movement and opened The Other Room, a Prohibition cocktail bar at the Marriott Tang Plaza in Singapore. In addition to being hidden inside the hotel, the bar also barrel-ages its own spirits and has built up a back bar of 300 spirits that Knox and his team use in cocktails. According to Knox, this house-spirit program is unique not just in Asia, but internationally.

“We are the first and only place in history and in the world that creates all of its own spirits in house.”

Dario Knox - The Other Room, Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel

When he’s not keeping tabs on The Other Room and its spin-off rooftop bar The Other Roof, Knox makes time to check in with his peers at venues throughout Singapore. These are the places he thinks defines Singapore’s cocktail scene.


On Singapore’s Cocktail Scene

Singapore’s cocktail bars have come so far and I like so many of them that it would be a struggle to pick one as my favourite. Instead, I want to talk about the influence different bars have had on the industry. The following is a good mix of the people that made a difference to Singapore’s craft cocktail scene.


A Bar That Does Things Differently

When I first arrived in 2012, one of the first places I was taken to was 28 Hong Kong Street. It had just opened and was the first American-style bar in Singapore. The bar had an edgy, bad boy, misfit vibe, but in a good way. Given the country’s pristine and conservative image, it wasn’t at all what I thought Singaporean bars would be like. Michael Callahan was at the helm and he did things differently. I like what he does and I’m happy to support him. One of the last outings we did before the recent lockdown was a team night at his latest place, Barbary Coast. We had an awesome time.


The Value of Experience

One of the few other places that was open then and still is now is Bar Stories. It’s a bar that operates on a no-menu policy which is unusual for the market. I was also taken to Coffee Bar K. Although the bar is no more, this is where I first encountered Anthony Zhong, a Japanese-style bartender who climbed up the ranks and has gone on to open Shin Gi Tai, his own place that continues to uphold Japanese-style bartending practices and precision.


Combining East and West

Another stalwart from the early days is Jigger & Pony which was started by a young couple who wanted a place that they could enjoy. Its original location on Amoy Street was something of a hybrid. It wasn’t 100 percent New York, but it wasn’t fully European, although it had a great swing playlist which was very common at the time throughout Europe, especially in England. Meanwhile, the drinks were strongly influenced by Japanese bartending culture. Owners Guo Yi and Indra have contributed a lot to the Singapore cocktail bar scene and I’m a fan. The bar’s move to its new location has upped the game even more.


A Ginza-Style Cocktail Bar

Finally I want to give a shout out to D.Bespoke, owned by Daiki Kanetaka. This was the first, and I think still the only, truly Ginza-style cocktail bar, complete with table charge and oshibori – those lovely refreshing towels – on arrival. While its style may not be for everyone, it serves a certain demographic with aplomb. The plush leather armchairs and serious, professional hospitality provides the place with a certain mood, and the drinks are truly excellent. This is the place for an upscale Japanese experience.