5pm rule that stunned me in Singapore

Singapore, hey? City of Hawker markets, clean streets, Marina Bay, Changi, three-shirt days, taxi drivers who understand airconditioning, and many of Asia’s absolute best bars. What’s not to love?

Damn, that city is hot. Always hot. Long pants in Singapore are a pain. There should be a law dictating only shorts are allowed at any commercial enterprise in the city.

Which is why I got so upset on arrival at one of the world’s great bars, Atlas, when I was there last month. I arrived about 5.15pm and asked for a table for three.

I didn’t have a reservation, which I should have, so book ahead on the internet if you’re in long pants. I had nice shorts on and groovy white sandshoes wholly approved by my 19-year-old daughter, Audrey, who was with me, plus my best short-sleeve Steve collared T-shirt and frankly very nice sunglasses, but that bit is moot – because it was all about the shorts.

“Sorry, sir, no shorts after 5pm.”

In Singapore? In this heat? I hate dress codes of any kind except at weddings and the races. The rest of our lives you should leave us alone as long as we’re half-decent.

So I’m sorry I can’t tell you how good Atlas is. I’m sure it’s great, but dress codes really grate. I won’t be going back.

Everyone’s drinking tour of Singapore inevitably starts at the same place: the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. It shouldn’t.

When we arrived at the Long Bar around 5pm the day after the infamous Atlas Rejection, we found a queue of at least 40 people outside the entrance. As my daughter reminded me, “Stu don’t queue” and I remembered a mate telling me not to bother with the tourist trap and its outrageously priced, and frankly dubiously flavoured, Singapore Sling, but instead to go around the other side of the gorgeous colonial building and settle into the Writers Bar. Absolute genius advice.

The Writers Bar is everything a great hotel bar should be: small, discreet, classy, and of course it serves delicious snacks with drinks that are really tremendous and Champagne that is surprisingly not outrageously expensive. Big win for the Writers Bar.

Around the corner at 8 Purvis Street is one of Singapore’s most-fêted bars, Nutmeg & Clove – a regular in Asia’s 50 Best (currently No 7). This is a bar that’s all class. It’s an especially beautiful tribute to Singapore – the menu tells stories of its identities and landmarks and the drinks are exquisitely crafted. And the best bit is from 5pm to 7pm weeknights, drinks are solidly discounted and if you ask, they will serve you mini chicken katsu sandwiches for free.

While on the World’s Best Bar lists, this year, a bar born in the depths of Covid in 2020 shot to a high of No 10 in Asia and also won the hospitality award, none of which I knew when I entered Sago House at 37 Duxton Hill. And what an entrance!

Behind a velvet curtain and a very small sign I found a packed bar with the sort of vibe and groove you can’t curate and Audrey and I got a rousing reception as if we’d both just walked on stage at the Oscars. Aud was nonplussed, I of course hammed it up better than Jon. What a great place.

A joint that makes you feel that good on arrival could just about serve anything and you’d still love it, but Sago serves up world-class drinks from a small, ever-rotating list and they’re all good. Trust me – a six-drink list isn’t that hard to go through when there are two of you.

If you make it to Singapore and have one night for a fancy dinner that maybe isn’t chilli crab and chicken rice, then do whatever you can to get a seat at Burnt Ends. If there are just two of you, beg for a seat at the bar.

Burnt Ends is the best Australian restaurant in the world, including Australia. It has the best Australian wine list in the world, including Australia. Last year it moved from its humble 30-seat home in Chinatown to an area that feels a little more like Double Bay or Toorak. It’s called Dempsey and it’s zhuzhy, which is why I’d never been before.

The new Burnt Ends is about 10 times the size of the old one but standards have not skipped a beat – now there’s just more great food and wine and an expanded, awesome bar to park at for cocktails and snacks. Burnt Ends is my favourite restaurant in Asia and Aud said it was the best meal of her life. Enough said.

And on Aussies in Singapore, a shout-out to an Aussie doing truly great things on a minuscule budget. I speak of Sammy Ng – formerly one of Australia’s most-celebrated cocktail slingers, who moved to Singapore first for Four Pillars and then Monkey Shoulder whisky, who just a few months ago opened Puffy Bois Pizza & Slices.

Up some rickety stairs at 20a Bali Lane in the Arab Quarter, Puffy Bois is fast becoming the joint where all the cool bartenders hang out. Sammy slings great drinks, as he always did at the legendary Black Pearl in Melbourne, and his business partner Zhul makes some of the best pizza slices in town. All of Sammy’s drinks are great but his Daiquiri – well, it’s the best in the business. Tell him Stuey sent you.

This article originally appeared on Escape and was reproduced with permission

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