Award-winning Hong Kong cocktail bar The Old Man – which made a stunning debut at No.5 on Asia’s World 50 Best Bars in 2018 after it opened – unveils a Singapore outlet with The Old Man Singapore.
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway’s 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning fictional novel, was the original inspiration behind Hong Kong cocktail bar The Old Man. Aside from being a prolific writer, Hemingway also had a penchant for cocktails. In fact he was a rather sophisticated drinker – and much of his experience with booze goes into his writings – and the central Hong Kong cosy bar pays Hemingway the ultimate tribute with some of the most avant-garde cocktails available this side of the world.
But it seems expansion was always on the cards for The Old Man owners Agung Prabowo, James Tamang and Roman Ghale, and they’ve partnered seasoned Singapore bar industry veteran Andrew Yap to open its first overseas outpost here in Singapore.
The Old Man Singapore is pretty much a carbon copy of the original in Hong Kong despite being twice the size. The design of the bijou bar – including the customised brass plate running down the length of the bar that’s chilled to -35 degrees Celsius to help keep cocktails cold – to the crafting of its cocktails transplants essentially the same experience here. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; if there’s one thing that the owners value, it’s consistency – especially when it comes to the cocktails.
Unless you order a bespoke cocktail – which the bartenders are pretty adept at assuming they have requisite ingredients – the cocktail offerings here are generally pre-batched, and assembled in front of you when you order. Some critics may argue that it takes the craft away from the artisanal nature of a “proper” cocktail experience… until they see the amount of work that goes into preparing the components that go into their glass.
The magic of The Old Man.
If you ask politely – and if the bar isn’t too busy – the bartenders are generally happy to show you the backroom where that initial cocktail magic happens. In this room are also bottles upon bottles of such redistilled spirit, all ready to be used for the bar. It’s also chockfull of futuristic-looking equipment that makes it look more like a criminal science laboratory than a room for bottle storage. The rotary evaporator – used for redistilling alcohol with adjuncts to introduce new flavours – is the largest in Singapore. A visiting scientific researcher commented that The Old Man’s centrifuge -the size of a washing machine – alone is bigger than the one he uses for his experiments.
“If we don’t do such prep way in advance, we’d never be able to cope with the kind of volume the bar sees on a busy day,” admits Andrew Yap, head bartender and managing partner of The Old Man Singapore.
It’s also the reason they can price the cocktails on the menu at a reasonable $17++ each.
As one can expect, each of the nine tipples at The Old Man Singapore is named after a Hemingway book. Islands In The Stream #1970 is a gin and tonic made with clarified pink grapefruit juice and salt-infused gin, while Green Hills of Africa #1935 is a take on a pisco sour using pisco infused with rosemary, turmeric and tamarind cordial, and citrus.
The Sun Also Rises #1926 – with its curry leaf infused gin, sweet vermouth slow cooked with pandan leaves and applejack fat-washed with copra (coconut kernel) – is an Southeast Asian take on the Negroni tastes like liquid nonya kueh.
It gets weirder, though not in a bad way. How about gin that’s been infused with marshmallows in The Snows of Kilimanjaro #1936, or the gin fat-washed with butter and dry vermouth sous-vide with Japanese nori in the Negroni take that is A Farewell To Arms #1929?
Indeed the sheer cosmopolitan nature of the drinks demands that you keep an open mind and a more accepting palate when visiting The Old Man Singapore.
“Our philosophy to the guest experience is exactly the same (as The Old Man in Hong Kong). Exceptional cocktails, cosy vibes, and a welcoming team that is always ready for a story or more,” says Yap.
We think the world-travelling Hemingway would approve.