Friday, 7 August 2020

Opinion: What will Singapore’s bar scene look like in the near future?

Michael Callahan

With bars bottling cocktails to be delivered anywhere, alongside easier access to the tools used by fancy bars, you no longer need to leave home for a good drink.

But people still want the curated experience. From the seating, lighting and the smells to what you see upon entering the space and the energy of other people around you – these atmospheric elements are points of attraction.

Things have been quite difficult over the past few months, as the circuit breaker kicked in just as we were about to finish a soft opening phase for Barbary Coast. Having to pivot so quickly to deliveries and takeaway was not sustainable, but with supportive landlords, investors and loyal staff we were able to weather the storm and are ready to welcome the community again.

“The rise of micro bars with interesting drink programmes is worth highlighting”

The venue was, thankfully, designed with smaller groups in mind, with the layout developed to support groups of four to six people with ample space between them. This was an unforeseen benefit, as we have been able to comply with safety measures without losing any seating capacity.

We’ve also transformed Deadfall [on the first floor of Barbary Coast] into a more secluded cocktail bar. Our shophouse doors now close at dusk, with entrance just through a single door, allowing us to better manage ebbs and flows of the patrons while transforming the venue into an adventurous new experience. This system has worked wonderfully, and guests seem to appreciate how we took safe-distancing measures and incorporated them into a fun addition to the Barbary Coast experience.

While the pandemic has undoubtedly slowed things down, there are a number of industry trends to watch out for. In particular, the rise of micro bars – similar to what Japan has been doing for years – with interesting drink programmes is worth highlighting.

Barbary Coast’s interior was designed with smaller groups in mind

In Singapore, there’s Junior the Pocket Bar, which has a rotating concept and space for just 10 guests. Meanwhile, over in Sydney, there’s Cantina OK!, a micro mezcal mecca located in a tiny alley and housed in a garage space that’s not much bigger than a storage unit. This style of bar – where you’re 100% in front of the bartender, and they are 100% engaged with you – is much more intimate, and it’s how you gain regulars.

The first drink is like a first dance: it starts off a little awkward, but after a couple more, you start to get into a rhythm, becoming like a single unit gliding across the floor. The ability to converse with your guests, to understand and help them get to the right answer with a few “dances” is a lovely experience. For guests, it’s this uniqueness, exclusivity and intimacy that drives them to seek out micro bars.

“The first drink is like a first dance: it starts off a little awkward, but after a couple more, you start to get into a rhythm”

As a small country, Singapore’s bar scene is arguably one of the best when it comes to variety and level of execution. In one night, you can drink the world: you can go to a proper Japanese bar helmed by a Japanese bartender, pop into an Aussie-style watering hole, whisk through a cheeky pocket bar or perhaps walk into one that feels straight out of New York – and they’ll all be authentic representations of those places despite being located in Singapore.

In a way, because Singapore’s bar scene has never had its own identity, it’s also not been trapped by an expectation of what it shouldn’t be. As a result, the scene is really exciting and diverse.

“It is ingrained in the fabric of our society to be social, and this has traditionally been done over a meal or drink”

There is no place in the world better positioned to bounce back stronger than Singapore. Singaporeans are generationally fond of staying connected to their neighbours, family and friends. It is ingrained in the fabric of our society to be social, and this has traditionally been done over a meal or drink at a coffee shop and eateries throughout the Little Red Dot.

Similarly, bars and restaurants offer a place for people to reconnect with those that they miss and hold dear, while enjoying fantastic food, unique beverages and the cultivation of lifelong memories. Because of this, I believe that we will all come away stronger than ever before.

SEE ALSO: Opinion: It’s important to be progressive and push boundaries in the bar scene

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