After 7pm over the weekends, Chinatown’s hippest enclave – Ann Siang Hill and Club Street – close its roads to vehicles to cater to all sorts of pedestrian merriment. And boy is there revelry: when choices range from rare whiskey and well-made cocktails to cult-followed craft beers, you know there will be some form of drinks-fuelled debauchery. We’ve put together an honest list of 17-and-a-half establishments – and some grub recommendations too – worthy of everyone’s patronage, starting from the top of the hill.
PS CAFE | Located on a sequestered corner on the outskirts of Ann Siang Hill, one of PS.Café’s five outlets is a bar-cation of sorts for those looking for a quieter respite. Infamous for its no-children policy and an unfortunate accident of a female tourist falling off its open-air balcony and into a coma, the charming café sits right up there with the age-old adage: there is no such thing as bad publicity. If you are willing to shrug it off as a matter of unfortunate circumstances, its reliable European fusion fare and cocktail menu of 24 (not including the three sangrias, 11 wines by the glass, nine bubblies and nine beers) will meet you halfway, in massive portions. We recommend their well-balanced negroni that’s not too sweet or too bitter.
B28 | Over 100 labels of whisky occupy the shelves of this intimate, 35-seat jazz-led basement bar, and you can have most of them by the nip from $10. Mixing these premium malts – like the discontinued sherry casked Ardmore 1977, the rare Glen Grant 1965 and the vintage Macallan 1965 (all ranging from $10 a nip to $7,000 a bottle) – even with water, is frowned upon here. Classical jazz numbers stream from the speakers, the in-wall television, and on stage — the latter whenever the sultry tenor saxophonist Nicole Duffell is in town (performances usually start after 10.30pm). Complimentary pork sandwiches (made near the bar) are served from 5.30pm to 8.30pm. Warning: this is also when the room starts to smell funky.
LE CARILLON DE L'ANGELUS | It’s difficult to find affordable French wines anywhere outside of France, so this one’s a definitely keeper: house wines from regions such as Chablis, Sancerre, Bordeaux and Cote du Rhone go for $8 to $10 during happy hour from 4pm to 8pm. Helps that the vibe – French movie posters on the wall, a quaint basement with a pool table, snooty garcons – and the bite-sized French fare and fresh salads pair well. Note: champagne by the bottle are relatively affordable here too – while Mumm and Perrier-Jouët go for $78++ and $88++ respectively, the Billecart-Salmon and Moët & Chandon can be had at $108++ per bottle. There is also always a bottle on promotion: this is currently the Jean Veselle – a choice of the brut, rose, semi-rose or semi-sweet rose – at $68++ per bottle .
BOOK A TABLE HERE | DING DONG | This hipsterifically tacky-Chinese-themed shophouse bar-restaurant by Ryan Clift – chef, TV host and founder of Tippling Club (Drinks International’s ‘World's 50 Best Bars’) –reinterprets Southeast Asian flavours and delivers them in robust tapas style, drinks included. While its small dishes are punchy (and filling) enough, the savoury cocktails blend Asian spices and herbs with premium liquors well. The spiced rum-based Pirates of Malacca ($18) is an invigorating marriage of scotch and chartreuse.
LOLLA | With close ties to Lollapalooza (its owners started guerrilla-style underground supper club, Lolla's Secret Suppers, in 2008), expect the selection to be hand-picked and boutique: from Legras & Haas champagne ($30 per glass) and Isole e Olena dessert wine ($130 per bottle) to Paul Bara vintage champagnes ($172-$280 per bottle) and Glen Garioch 1986 Vintage whiskey ($66 per shot). Note that this industrial chic, warehouse-styled space, adheres to a no-reservations policy, except for lunch. When you do get a spot, seats at the 13-seat open kitchen-bar counter are the ones to hanker for so you can watch all the action. There's also a 22-seat communal table in the basement.
BOOK A TABLE HERE | THE SCREENING ROOM | Trip straight down to Mamounia Lounge in the basement or up to the La Terraza bar on the rooftop. The former’s a cosy space that serves Moroccan, Turkish and Iranian fare (from $24) and wines ($16 per glass; from $88 per bottle) from Australia, Italy and New Zealand, to name a few. At the sometimes breezeless rooftop (bring a handheld fan if you must) the selection of cocktails is standard, but the locale has continued to be a favourite for those looking to pick up.
OXWELL & CO. | We are holding our breath in anticipation of the day Gordon Ramsay berates his former right-hand man Mark Sargeant for the blasphemy of offering poor cocktails on tap. Yes, drinks are an acquired taste, and there are a few who swear by Oxwell’s offerings. Not us – the gastrobar’s gin and tonic, sangria, and Cuba Libre (each $12) is overly sweet, and piped from a keg that has been christened as a diabetes catalyst. Still, it’s packed to the rafters and out onto the sidewalk on most weekend nights. You be the judge.
BOOK A TABLE HERE | GEM BAR | Located on the intersection of Club Street and Ann Siang Hill, Gem Bar isn’t just a luck-struck tavern brimming with human traffic: quick-flowing standard drinks, bar food, and discerning music played through a top-of-the-line sound system makes it an ideal pre-party spot. For those who aren’t familiar with the establishment, it has ties to some hidden, uh, gems: occupying its second floor is The Manor The Balvenie, a hush-hush whiskey bar (next slide). Next door, is its decent sister of a dim sum bar – Zui Hong Lou – with an interior that flashes back to ’80s Singapore.
MANOR THE BALVENIE BAR (Address: 2/F, 8 Ann Siang Hill | Tel: 64239562 | Opening hours: Mon-Sat 4pm-1am) | From the founders of Gem Bar, The Manor The Balvenie is distinctively far-removed from the façade of chaos besetting this exclusive invite-only whiskey bar. A collaboration with scotch whiskey label, The Balvenie, this 25-seater above dim sum bar Zui Hong Lou (also run by Gem Bar’s owners) harks back to the opulent gentleman’s clubs in the ’60s: a plush Chesterfield sofa sits at the tip of this hideout and is surrounded by creatively defaced Renaissance art adorning its faux-teak walls. Members are curated at the owners' discretion. Swig liquid gold in its variations here – from a DoubleWood 12-Year-Old (price unknown) to the limited edition Tun 1401 (price unknown) and The Balvenie Fifty (only 88 bottles in the world; retails at $58,000 per bottle).
BEAUJOLAIS | The Montmartre-style tablecloth does not match the electronic dance music that blasts out of Beujolais’ speakers; we blame their banker blue regulars for egging them on. That major detail aside, this is a rather humble joint that aims to please all with its menu: from tapas to pastas, burgers and steaks, with a decent Old and New World wine (house wines $10++ per glass, $50++ per bottle; premium wines $15++ to $20++ per glass, $63++ to $300++ per bottle) menu to boot. For a chill session, arrive for lunch or an early dinner – the bentwood and padded rattan chairs, slate floors and decor evoke a homely French colonial vibe. They serve beers too (13++ per glass of Stella Artois, $12++ per bottle).
PISTOLA | When the affable Min Chan, founder of Club Street Social, decided to open an Asian-Mexican takeaway in a tiny hole-in-the-wall space, it was exactly what famished boozehounds on Club Street needed. Pistola runs like a fast food joint with items starting from $14: pick from tacos, burrito, quesadillas or a rice bowl, then the five toppings (includes pork slices, kimchi steak, Thai-styled fish, tikka chicken or tofu), and then get out of there. There are stools on the premises, but the whole idea is for you to not dawdle. If, after ordering, you have a free hand, save it for the delicious bourbon coke slushie ($14). It’ll take you back to your rebelllious childhood.
83 | From the same group as Parisian bistro L’Entrecôte and Spanish bar-restaurant Sabio Tapas comes this bar with a decent cocktail list that is so aesthetically detailed (and pleasing) you want to recline all night in their funky sofas. The tipple to have while lost in the earthy-toned geometrical tiles and pop art mural is the vodka-based ‘Around The World’ ($18) – a secret recipe we can’t make out, but we do know a few of these will expedite chest hair growth. Happy hour is as good as any, so start your night here (Monday to Friday 5-8pm; Saturday 7-9pm), with drinks priced at $9.36 ($5.85 for house pours on Mondays and Tuesdays) to start.
BARTINI | The boys behind this spill-onto-the-streets bar are known for their strong drinks (priced from $18 upwards). For a cocktail joint catering to a large volume, they have been consistent with their concoctions while maintaining the balance of the varying liquorsand liqueurs – the full-bodied, palate-friendly Espresso martini ($23) comes to mind. They’ve also opened contemporary diner Bartini Kitchen at Boon Tat Street – a two-minute walk from Club Street. Twenty minutes if had one too many.
PLATTERS BISTRO & WINE BAR | It’s all about sharing boards and Old World wines here. Every four months, guest chefs are invited to take over the kitchen of this innovative 42-seat bistro to showcase their distinctive cooking styles. Now in its sixth edition, Jeremy Nguee, Preparazzi’s chef-owner, is in the spotlight till February 2014. The lubricants for conversation at this communal destination are generally French and Italian wines (the list changes frequently; $70-$130 per bottle), European craft beers, and Papa Palheta coffee. Oh, and you’ll probably need this if you're going to split the bill.
IZY | The Killers can’t be wrong. The rock band dropped into this 25-seat Japanese restaurant during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend to have Waku Ghin’s alumni, Tetsuya Wakuda’s disciple, chef Kazumasa Yazawa’s dishes. Not that only food on the company’s expense account can be had here: aficionados of Japanese brews will be pleased that they serve Suntory beer on tap ($11.50) and a collection of 19 labels of sake from $95 a bottle. If you’re looking to turn your party up a notch, Izy has a 40-capacity bar at the back called Cache. You have to ask the staff for access, and will get access only if the bar isn’t already full.
BOOK A TABLE HERE | SENSO RISTORANTE & BAR | White-washed décor, a mezzanine ideal for an impassionate speech of some kind, stiff-spine service staff, a maître d' who tries feebly to suppress expletives at unworthy negative feedbacks, and a swaggering sommelier, Senso’s reputation precedes itself. It does however have a wine list fit for a connoisseur master class that leans towards Italian picks, champagne (from $14 per glass) and rose wines (from $18 per glass). Save this for when you need to impress your old school boss from out of town, and he/she is picking up the tab.
TIPPLETOWN CAFE | Here is Club Street’s only beer buffet: for $35, you can drink the bar dry on Saturdays from 5 to 11pm. Well, almost. On weekdays (4pm to 11.30pm), $35 gets you five bottles of beer and $25 gets you three. On their Wednesday ladies night special (same timing), fruity beers and house wine are one-for-one and includes complimentary dessert. If none of these deals tickle your beer belly’s fancy pints from their 80 label-strong craft brew list start from $10.
CLUB STREET SOCIAL | There is no clever wordplay for any of this high-ceiling-ed watering hole’s seven original cocktails (from $18) – the concoctions are simply numbered alongside its ingredients on the menu. The selection changes every few months, and it seems only its ’tenders know what they are. Currently, numbers 3, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 ($16-$18) are listed; we’ve always been partial to the ‘3’ – Yamazaki whiskey, Madeira port, lime and apricot juice. This bar is heaving after 10pm, so try the sleepier weekdays for a cool respite.