Speakeasy concept bars have taken to Singapore like a moth to an oversaturated flame. Hidden bars used to be something of an exciting novelty, where trying to locate each new watering hole led one on a treasure hunt towards Prohibition Era-inspired swank and fantastic cocktails. Now, nearly every new bar is marketed as a speakeasy, so what makes the real deal?
We’re looking for bars that don’t have ubiquitous shopfronts. The harder to spot, the better. They don’t have to harken back to America in the ’20s, but they’ve got to embody the spirit of Boardwalk Empire-esque drinking joints, defined by a tincture of glamour and dimly-lit mystery. Most importantly, any secret booze den has to have serious mixology chops and liquor expertise.
To help you cut through the fat, we’ve rounded up a list of local hidden bars truly worth the hype.
Look for an inverted crown shape overlapping a triangle in the alley just behind Oxwell & Co., and you’ll chance upon Operation Dagger. Behind the bar, one immediately notices how the liquors are rehoused in bottles with coded labels, making you feel like you’re appraising a chemist’s counter. It’s a flavour first, labels-free kinda joint that has serious cred, given that it charted on the World’s 50 Best Bars list for 2016.
7 Ann Siang Hill, S069791
DIY salad bar, Shinkansen, transforms into The Secret Mermaid by night. The eight-seater bar is home to the largest collection of American spirits in Asia, boasting some weird concoctions like smoked salmon and bacon vodka. If that’s not your jam, try any of their stellar cocktails made by Kelly D’Cruz paired with their signature snacks. Just pull a metal grill where Shinkansen is to reveal the magic.
Ocean Financial Centre, 10 Collyer Quay, B1-08, S049315
New kid in town, Teepee doubles up as a hidden Japanese-Western fusion restaurant for avid foodies. Look for a cardboard sign that states “COFFEE” along HongKong Street, and walk right through to this indie haven. They might have a sparse cocktail menu for now, but that could give it an added edge as a place to have both dinner and drinks.
31 Hong Kong Street, #01-02, S059670
Is there really anything more to say about 28 HongKong Street? Established in 2011, the joint is often considered Singapore’s pioneering secret bar. Five years down, and the bar has earned the top spot on Asia’s Best Bars list, alongside a slew of other accolades. Once past the nondescript shopfront, you’re greeted by New York-style decor, accented by distinctly American spirits, cocktails and food — all come together to paint a portrait of urban indulgence. Their fruitier cocktails are a personal favourite.
28 Hong Kong Street, S059667
Go behind a curtain in Uma Uma Ramen, and be greeted by the seductive interior of Horse’s Mouth. Fans of Japanese spirits can flock to this joint to enjoy a decent selection of sakes, whiskies and beers straight from Nippon. Unlike most borderline pretentious hidden bars that need some easing into, Horse’s Mouth is a joint that’ll make you feel right at home upon entering.
Forum The Shopping Mall, #B1-39, 583 Orchard Rd, S238884
Hidden behind black drapes on the ground floor of the Marriott Hotel is The Other Room, a true Prohibition-inspired joint run by Dario Knox. The cocktail menu is extensive, and so is the selection of 150 spirits, including some that are cask-finished, smoked or house-infused. Knox takes great care to make guests feel welcome and pique their curiosity in the swish bar, so expect to discover new favourites.
Marriott Hotel, 320 Orchard Rd, S238865
If you need a bar to point fingers at for kickstarting the craft cocktails and speakeasy trend, look to the motherlode known as Employees Only (EO). Subject to much love and lauding, the bar opened a joint in Singapore, the second to its New York flagship. Their menu retains EO signatures, both food and cocktails, so you can get a taste of Americana in Telok Ayer too. Walk under a bright neon sign that spells “Psychic” to get in.
112 Amoy Street, S069932
Enter through the back of Hua Bee mee pok stall, and you’ll find Bincho, a hip bunker-style yakitori bar. Japanese-inspired cocktails are at the heart of their drinks menu, crafted by the bar honchos at The Library. Pair it with their yakitori offerings, or go omakase if you’re feeling adventurous. You’re already drinking in a mee pok shop after all.
78 Moh Guan Terrace, #01-09
If there’s ever a bar name that has more local flair than Ah Sam’s Cold Drink Stall, we want our money back. The bar pays homage to old Singapore with its antique decor, so head up a staircase next to a convenience store and a massage parlour to reach it. They specialise in bespoke cocktails that are easy to enjoy, so tell the bartender your choice flavours, and wait for magic to happen. This is also the place to go if you’ve ever wondered what having Hokkien mee with your classy cocktail tastes like, as the Singaporean hawker staple counts among one of its many local bar snacks.
60A Boat Quay, S049848
Taking the notion of a secret bar to the next level, The Library is a password-protected bar along Keong Saik road, only accessible with a password you glean from their Facebook page. Cite it to the doorman, and you’ll be ushered into a mirrored room, then through a trap door into a gilded, brassy bar helmed by Adam Bursik and team. They’re fond of boldly-decorated cocktails that have quite a flavoursome kick. It’s always fun when your punch bowl comes in a toy bathtub, anyway.
47 Keong Saik Road, S089151