From underground haunts to London’s oldest cocktail establishment, Natarsha Brown sips her way through the world’s most amazing bars.
An expertly crafted cocktail alone doesn’t make for an unforgettable bar experience. It is as much about the atmosphere, the space itself and the slick service as it is about the liquor. From dimly lit nooks that couldn’t possibly be metres from the humming streets of London and New York to innovative watering holes already making their mark on the burgeoning Singapore bar scene, these after-hours haunts are mixing the best concoctions in the world.
The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog, New York
Taking its moniker from Irish boxer and criminal-turned-senator John Morrissey’s 19th-century street gang, the Dead Rabbits, this part Irish pub-style bar, part Victorian tea room is the Financial District’s go-to establishment. The founders, Belfast natives Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, studied countless mid-19th-century cocktail books before polishing them to suit contemporary tastes – 50-70 versions of a single drink were often created to find the perfect blend – with a vision to create a space that was a mix of the lounges they had worked in and the pubs they had drunk in.
The result is a three-storey institution teeming with old photographs, sports memorabilia and Civil War mementos that capture the conviviality of Old New York and the Irish-American tradition. Downstairs in the sawdust-strewn Taproom you can choose from an array of craft beers and bottled punches, while upstairs in the Parlor, the mixologists shake with an almost religious zeal. There is, of course, an entire Irish whisky menu, but with cocktails such as the Moby Dick – Remy Martin 1738 Cognac, Power John’s Lane Irish Whisky, Pale Cream sherry, fig, elderberry, lemon, Orinoco bitters and vanilla soda – enjoying just a shot on the rocks is a squandered opportunity. Foremost, the Dead Rabbit is challenging the status quo of what an Irish bar can be, bringing the 1850s into the 21st century.
The American Bar, London
This legendary establishment in The Savoy hotel is the city’s oldest surviving cocktail bar, one of the many to crop up in the late 19th century as transatlantic travel increased and bars serving American-style drinks became the trend. Designed in lavish Art Deco style, with a musician seated at the grand piano most nights and regular live swing music, this is a place to dress up and enjoy the retro glamour.
It is little wonder that American Bar’s 126-year history has led to the creation of a number of icons and the special position it holds in the drinks industry is upheld by its current stewards, who follow in the footsteps of Ada Coleman, Harry Craddock and Peter Dorelli, three of the most famous bartenders in history. Entitled ‘Savoy Songbook’, the current menu takes inspiration from the many legendary musicians who have performed at the world famous bar, with each of the 20 cocktails based on a particular lyric. Each song will appear on a live album recorded by the bar’s resident pianist Jon Nickoll and will be available to stream on Spotify. Once you’ve tried Coleman’s original Hanky Pany, sample Playing In The Stars, borrowed from Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, a mixture of Grey Goose vodka, Martini Ambrato vermouth, violet liqueur, yuzu wine, pistachio orgeat, lemon and champagne.
28 HongKong Street, Singapore
Hidden behind an unassuming 1960s shophouse, this tiny tucked-away bar in a deceptively rundown building is known as one of the pioneers in Singapore’s emerging modern speakeasy scene. Getting a reservation here feels like being admitted to a secret Prohibition-era club and is a welcome departure from the flashy high-end bars for which the city is known. The low-lit booth-style seating, boisterous background music, no-nonsense drinks and friendly staff lends the word-of-mouth venue an unpretentious air.
The menu focuses on artisanal spirits and American-style craft cocktails, and always contains a mix of classics, the team’s original creations and experimental sips from its workshop. For something bespoke, give the award-winning bartenders free rein by ordering a custom-made creation based around your favourite flavours, or ask for the signature Old Fashioned and be treated to a perfectly balanced classic with Piña Colada accents and an ice block hand-stamped with the bar’s logo.
The Baxter Inn, Sydney
The brainchild of Anton Forte and Jason Scott, this no-bookings basement inn has become renowned for its enviable whiskey selection. Channelling an 1800s Boston boozer, rows of backlit shelves behind the bar hold some 630 varieties, which are only accessible by scrolling library ladders; part of the experience is watching the white-shirted bartenders swinging along and climbing the mountain for your malt. The room is dark and candle-lit, with a backdrop of blues tunes adding to the plush feel.
The whisky board starts at the ceiling, sweeping down under the counter and out of sight, and spans top-shelf Scottish standards, stylish Japanese bottles and American classics, along with local drops from places like South Africa, India and Taiwan. If you order anything with fruit expect it to be juiced right in front of you; the Rye & Apple combination is now a staple for unseasoned whisky drinkers and self-proclaimed aficionados alike. True connoisseurs should seek out the Whisky Room, tucked away in the cellar, for a taste of the premium blends.
If you’ve come looking for a drink, you might be confused by the diner-like counter serving tacos and guacamole. Continue walking, though, and you’ll find Paris’ first ‘hidden’ bar. Concealed behind a humble taqueria – perhaps the only one in the world with a doorman – at this agave-focused bar you don’t just sip on a margarita; you immerse yourself in Latin American culture. Don’t be fooled by the minimal décor – low-lighting, wooden shelves, concrete walls, flickering candles and a single communal table – as this pocket-sized, sultry space offers some of the city’s cleverest cocktails.
Offering a drinks list teeming with mezcal, tequila, pisco, cachaça and avocado, as well as the French staples of cognac and absinthe, the menu pays homage to its overseas influences with drinks like the Guatemalan El Sombrerón, made with Altos white tequila, Otto’s vermouth, hibiscus and pink pepper tonic. The now-classic spicy tequila Guêpe Verte from the original menu, however, is the perfect introduction, before moving on to newer creations.
Atlas Bar, Singapore
A celebration of 1920s beverage traditions, this bar personifies classic style inside Singapore’s Parkview Square and is home to one of the most diverse gin collections in Asia, with each of the more than 1,000 gins carefully considered for its extensive menu. The collection is showcased from behind glass cabinets in a breathtaking tower of gin that ascends high into the building from behind the bar. Gems in the collection include samples of London dry gins from as far back as 1910, in addition to a host of today’s finest modern gins. The bar is now under the watch of head bartender Jesse Vida, who has come to captain the bar after his success at New York’s Dead Rabbit. Although part of the hotel, the bar welcomes cocktail connoisseurs and the cocktail curious alike in the public.
The Coral Room, London
This recently-refurbished bar at The Bloomsbury has added a touch of glamour to Tottenham Court Road, previously a no man’s land for city suits or theatre-goers wanting a slightly slicker cocktail hour. What was once a simple lobby in this Sir Edward Lutyens-designed Grace II-listed building is now the striking Coral Room, a 195-square-metre double height space that could’ve been pulled straight from the set of a Wes Anderson film. Designer Martin Brudnizki kept the original panelled walls, updated in a vivid coral and giving the bar its moniker. What really draws the eye, however, is the central bar: a Calacatta marble counter atop a glossy wooden front with antique-style mirroring and brass hardware. Five bespoke Murano glass chandeliers, specially crafted for the drinking den, hang high above the heads of guests and 36 original art works by British illustrator Luke Edward Hall create an almost mini gallery. Velvet armchairs and scallop back sofas dot the space and a Jazz Age drinks cabinet sits beneath the large sash windows. Miami Art Deco-inspired, with a touch of Roaring Twenties razzle-dazzle, the overall effect is both design-conscious and fun.
Start with a couple of glasses of Ridgeview Bloomsbury, the Coral’s Room’s house sparkling wine, before moving onto the extensive cocktail list. Many have wonderfully British names, such as the Apple Bobbing, Wiltshire Warrior and Rose Blossom, and the Gin Lane is the standout – a mix of Hendrick’s Gin, Viognier, St Germain, rose syrup and agave – both sweet and velvety smooth.
One to watch
The Pontiac Stardust, Bali
One of Hong Kong’s most famed bars has now stepped foot in Bali with the arrival of The Pontiac Stardust. For those not familiar with the brand, the original drinking den remains a firm fixture on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. The Bali-based incarnation will likely prove just as popular – the project a collaboration between renowned bartender Beckaly Franks, the Roopchand Brothers (co-founders of Hong Kong’s The Pontiac and the Rummin’ Tings) and the Dandy partnership (founders of Singapore’s Neon Pigeon and Fat Prince).
Heavily inspired by 1950s Palm Springs, the 82-seat Seminyak cocktail bar boasts a fun yet sleek design with playful features such as a vintage photo booth and a tie-dyed teepee where one can often find a tarot card reader telling fortunes. Visitors should try menu standouts such as Last Resort & Spa, a concoction of Nusa Cana Rum, dry Vermouth, Maraschino and butterfly kisses, or The Hobnail #2, which combines a house-blend of Irish and Scotch Whiskey, ponty jamu, Drambui, Angostura, lemon and orange oil.
This article is a Signature Luxury Travel & Style digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter here.
© Main image © EK Yap / Atlas Bar, Singapore