For those with a sense of adventure, you might want to head to the heart of town to discover an unlikely hunting ground for interesting spirits: Samsu Huay Kuan.
You probably recognise Concorde Hotel Shopping Mall as one of those old-school shopping malls in the heart of Orchard Road. Indeed, it is amongst a dwindling number of places in the heart of the city that are remnants of a now-forgotten era – or perhaps it’s just my memory that’s starting to go.
For those old enough to remember, this also means that they have their fair share of bars of another variety, which often adds to the charm. In the digital social kingdom of fleeting nanoseconds we speak fervently of cultural diversity – back then we had these places where you can find a tailor, a pub, a store selling religious trinkets under the same roof and no one bats an eyelid.
Though not explicitly advertised, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to think of Samsu Huay Kuan (SHK) as somewhat of a speakeasy spirits bar; not in the purest sense of the word, but it’s certainly nondescript in spirit. The only thing that gives away the game is the tastefully designed calling card: a humble Samsu Huay Kuan window decal. But unlike the samsu (moonshine) distilleries of old (where they even had to retreat into the forests), SHK has the luxury of hiding in plain sight. First in the mall, then in the heart of town.
But lest I get carried away in trying to set up a visual narrative it can’t live up to, it has to be said that SHK has more modest leanings; it just serves you drinks and isn’t trying to be anything more than that. And that goes a long way in setting up a casual, laid-back vibe.
Because SHK is the brainchild of local whisky distributor Interco-MLE, it’s safe to assume that this is a whisky-themed bar. Or is it? As it turns out, SHK is more of a spirits bar, and you can expect to see a diverse range of offerings ranging from cognac to Korean gin, more so than the average bar that stocks quality sipping spirits. While there are plenty of whisky bars that diversify their range of offerings in the name of inclusivity, SHK won’t strike you as a bar with whisky roots unless you already know the people behind it.
And therein lies the experience of SHK: trying out different spirits in an environment that doesn’t define – or impose on you – what spirits appreciation should be like.
And you can be assured of an eclectic trove of offerings with every visit. It can range from ‘conventionally’ unique offerings like Shizuoka whisky, which is distilled using Karuizawa’s stills to a more Asian take in the form of Omar whisky finished in plum liqueur casks. How about Amarone-casked rum from Renaissance? Or Kori, a Korean Herbal Gin with a distinct hint of ginseng?
I suppose that’s not surprising, given that the owners tend to gravitate towards offerings that tread off the beaten path. Whisky bars are a dime a dozen these days, so it’s always refreshing to see one that embarks on a more adventurous approach rather than a check-the-boxes safe route. SHK is a cafe by day, so you can always tell your significant other that you’re heading out for coffee with a straight face.
Hiding in plain sight, indeed.
Samsu Huay Kuan
Address 100 Orchard Rd, #02-33 Concorde Hotel & Shopping Mall, Singapore 238840 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 5pm to 12am Mondays to Saturdays; closed on Sundays