Few Asian bars have experienced a trajectory as explosive as The Old Man. The Ernest Hemingway-inspired bar from Sheung Wan may be small, but since it opened in 2017, The Old Man has proven a mighty force, debuting at number five on the 2018 edition of Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. This year, it reigns as top dog on the acclaimed roster.
Praised for its experimental cocktails that border on conceptual and the handsome décor, The Old Man has become an unmissable highlight for visitors to Hong Kong. At least, until recently, when the same bar quietly established its first outpost outside of its native land with The Old Man Singapore. Good news, you no longer have to board a plane to partake in The Old Man experience.
A modern take on Hemingway’s Cuban estate
We’ve all seen the photographs of Hemingway lounging in his Havana estate, surrounded by bottles of booze. The idyll charm captured in those photographs gets a modern interpretation within The Old Man, which looks like a living room/library we never want to walk away from. Boxy wooden shelves house tomes that nod to the author and cocktail culture in general, while subtle tropical accents spruce up the space and add colour to the muted palette. It is the original The Old Man transplanted to Singapore, though our edition is twice the size of Hong Kong’s, with an added lounge area for more intimate seating.
The centrepiece of The Old Man Singapore is, naturally, its unique bar structure. Shaped like an “I”, the table facilitates social interaction, with little demarcation between the bartenders and drinkers. Running down the middle is a bronze strip that defies pure aesthetic — it also keeps your drinks cold for much longer.
Cocktails made with cheese, marshmallow gin and more unusual additions
Beyond the suave bar area lies a miniature laboratory, teased by a red neon sign that reads “#No Campari No Negroni”. This area, outfitted with a massive rotovap machine and centrifuge, is where the magic all happens. The experimental approach (and a fair amount of cocktail geekery) the bartenders have at The Old Man, when combined with these machines, have resulted in drinks that feature truly unusual ingredients like gruyere cheese, pandan yoghurt and more.
All the nine cocktails you see on the menu are a direct replica of The Old Man Hong Kong’s original selection. Each is named after one of Hemingway’s texts, and most follow the blueprint of a tried-and-true classic. Islands in the Stream, for one, toys on a gin and tonic. This drink is a medley of sea salt gin and pink grapefruit juice that has been clarified to crystal, then carbonated for effervescence. Though the components of this refreshing recipe seem simple, the process to create this cocktail is rather intensive, so much so that we felt guilty for downing a glass in five minutes.
For something with a touch more oomph, order The Little Wax Puppy, the bar’s play on an Old Fashioned with beeswax-infused bourbon and eucalyptus honey. Balanced, with the syrupy bittersweetness one expects from an Old Fashioned with a slight menthol touch from the eucalyptus, Little Wax Puppy checks all the boxes for a drink you want to nurse all night.
To really dive into the thick of what The Old Man offers, get The Snows of Kilimanjaro. On paper, the combination of lacto-fermented raspberries, marshmallow gin, citrus and 30-month-old gruyere cheese sound like a boozy nightmare from Li Ho, but the reality thwarts that misconception completely. Fizzy and tangy with a savoury kick, this unorthodox pour is one you’ll be talking about for a week. Just don’t let the smell of the gruyere put you off before you take a sip.
The Old Man is the kind of cocktail bar you would have no issue spending your whole evening in. Apart from it being an extension of the region’s current best bar, you get highly inventive, spirit-forward cocktails at a price that can’t be beat — S$17++ for every single item on the menu.
The comfortable atmosphere and convivial vibes also adds to the draw of The Old Man, as you can easily while away a Friday night there with your friends over quality cocktails or impress a date within its snazzy confines.