Tag Archives: Singapore

Bar review: Library, Singapore

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Viewed through 3D glasses, the colourful creatures in this artwork suddenly reveal their black-and-white counterparts that are hidden away on a secret layer beneath. And in a way, that sums up Library, a speakeasy in Singapore that’s been called everything from ‘Singapore’s worst kept secret’ (by Traveller.com.au) to ‘the kind of bar I could happily live in’ (by, er, me). The bar is on trendy Keong Saik Rd, opposite Potato Head Folk , and it’s hidden behind a foyer right next to a restaurant called The Study. The foyer’s decor changes every so often; when I visited, it was an art gallery featuring the above work, but by the time you read this it could be a pop-up shoe shop or a tailor. (When the bar first opened, the foyer looked like a library, which is how the then-unnamed bar got its moniker.) Spend as much time in the foyer as you like, but you’ll need a password to go through to the bar. (If you’re lucky, as I was, the staff will give you a clue; otherwise it’s sometimes secreted away on The Study’s Facebook page.) And then you’re on your own, surrounded by mirrored walls in a space about the size of a phone booth (if you’re too young to know what that is, kindly picture a changing room in a department store). One of the walls is actually the door. Still with me? Good. Because if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a drink.

There’s a kind of Alice in Wonderland feeling as you finally set foot in the bar, a dimly lit space that’s all hushed tones and reverence on the night we visit, though I’m told it gets raucous on weekends. Decor-wise, the word ‘Prohibition’ springs to mind, though I doubt whether any Prohibition-era bar would be this classy – or feature a full-length bar made entirely of riveted copper that looks like a cross between a patched-up aeroplane wing and a Marc Newson couch.

Over the next two nights (yes, Library is so good we visit twice) we try a range of carefully made cocktails from the quirky menu, which is arranged into categories named after celebrities; try a fruity, sexy number from the Marilyn Monroe page, or skip straight to the Andy Warhol section if you’re after something more experimental. Just how experimental does it get? Alcohol-wise, there’s lots of house-made infusions featuring unusual ingredients such as brown butter or cough lollies. Local herbs such as curry leaves appear as garnishes. And one of our drinks is served in a miniature bathtub, complete with a tiny rubber chicken (‘We’ve run out of ducks,’ says the bartender with a smile). But if you’re after a classic, you can get those, too; indeed, one of our fellow guests, a bartender from a different bar who ‘always comes here on a night off’ simply orders a string of well-executed Old Fashioneds because he considers them the test of a good bar. And they must be good because he gets through several as we test various excellent drinks served in test tubes, topped with wooden pipes filled with ceremoniously lit cinnamon sticks, and set upon cubes of dry ice for that ’90s-club-in-a-glass vibe. There’s even an ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ moment when I glimpse another customer’s vivid green, brulee-topped concoction and simply have to have one myself. It turns out to be a Coco Bongo, aka heaven in a glass. Pandan (Asia’s answer to vanilla) gives the drink its colour, and the sweet brulee is made with gula melaka (sugar from a coconut tree), so I’m counting it as a great way to try the local cuisine. Everything we try is worth the pricetag (Singapore is not known for its cheap drinks, and prices hover around the $23 Singapore dollar mark), the bartenders are super friendly and even write out a list of bars to check out in Kuala Lumpur, one of our next destinations, and we leave  – reluctantly – only because we’ve got a flight to catch. Author Jorge Luis Borges once wrote, ‘I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.’ Turns out he was right.

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Bar reviews: Potato Head Folk and Loof, Singapore

The 52 Cocktails crew is in Singapore, checking out such cultural institutions as rooftop bars, speakeasies and hangover cures. First up – up being the operative word – is rooftop bar Potato Head Folk, and if that name sounds vaguely familiar it’s because it’s an outpost of Indonesia’s super-popular Potato Head (you can read about the one in Bali here). It’s inside a super cool deco building on a road full of well-maintained shophouses near Chinatown – even if you don’t make it inside (sometimes there’s a queue, judging by the door staff and roped-off area on the pavement), it’s a great area for a stroll.

The rooftop bar is up a couple of flights of stairs, the stairwells rather cutely decorated with David Bromley-style artworks. On the way up we pass the ground floor’s burger bar and a retro-themed section of the bar (think vinyl chairs and laminate tables) that looks like fun, but we’re aiming for the top and don’t stop until we get there. There’s a sense of anticipation as we arrive; for years we were fans of Potato Head in Bali and this is our first rooftop bar in a city known for its rooftop bars (if the numerous articles we’ve Googled that led us here in the first place are to be believed). Unfortunately the anticipation is greater than the reality. The view is mostly of the shophouse roofs over the road (not surprising, given we’re not very high up) and the drinks are much like the service and the surroundings themselves: there’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re not exciting or memorable either. In fact, the next day I can’t even remember what we drank, and for once that’s not because we drank too much. Indeed, we kept it to one drink each because the prices, unlike the bar, are astronomically high – more than $22 Singapore dollars each. And in a city where you can get dinner for two for $10-$15 Singapore dollars or less, that’s a lot.

There was only one thing to do: find another bar. So the next day we hit Loof, which I was prepared to like based on its name alone; Loof is Singlish (Singaporean English) for ‘roof’. Cute. Despite our fairly bedraggled appearances, owing to the hours we’d spent that day schlepping about in the heat, we were given a warm welcome – you get points for that alone, Loof – and settled in to enjoy the happy hour specials.

Happy hour was something of a misnomer, as it ran for three hours, but hey, I’m not complaining. Not when it meant we could get basic spirits and mixers for less than $8 Singapore dollars a throw – decent value for a place that’s been named Singapore’s best rooftop bar.

The bar itself, with its rows of overlapping wooden shingles reminding me of bird feathers, was as cool as the view, which stretched from the famous Raffles hotel over the road all the way to Marina Bay Sands off in the distance (you can just glimpse it in the pic on the right – it’s the building that looks a bit like cricket stumps).

But hey, we weren’t there to admire the decor – we were there to try the cocktails. Who could resist when they had such pun-tastic names as ‘Honey, dew like whisky’ and ‘Shiso fine’? I tried the Kopi Cat (‘kopi’ translates as ‘coffee’), a mix of salted caramel vodka, kopi, hazelnut, condensed milk and orgeat served in a plastic bag inside an enamel mug. (In Southeast Asia it is very common for street vendors to sell drinks in plastic bags, which miraculously never spring a leak – not even when the customer ties them on to the handlebars of their motorbike and zooms away. In all my trips to Asia I have never been sold a drink in a plastic bag – it seems to be something reserved for locals – and was rather chuffed to finally get one!) The Kopi Cat was a much sweeter, milkier version of an espresso martini and a great way to beat the heat. I confess I couldn’t taste much in the way of salted caramel or orgeat – the overriding sensation was that I was drinking a tricked-up Kahlua and milk – but to be honest, I didn’t care. At $19 Singapore dollars for a cocktail (and cheaper drinks at happy hour), and with friendlier staff and better views, Loof left Potato Head Folk for dead. My only regret was that we had to leave before the sun set – I’m willing to bet the night time views would be worth seeing – but we had important business to attend to: finding another bar…

 

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