The first thing you see is an eight-metre-tall gilded tower whose brightly lit shelves are neatly lined with seemingly hundreds of liquor bottles. Below, bartenders in crisp white blazers shake and stir with equal parts poise and bravado. You order a gin martini, which arrives in a custom etched coupe glass with one of those thin, rounded lemon peel twists floating on top. But even before you take a sip, you’ve already forgotten where (and when) you’re standing.
You’d be reasonably forgiven for losing yourself at Atlas, the legendary gin-centric bar that opened in Singapore in 2017 yet feels like New York City circa 1920. After all, the 7,400 sqft bar is set in the lobby of Parkview Square, one of the island city-state’s iconic Art Deco skyscrapers whose grandiose bronze facade and stunning geometric designs were meant to mirror the style of Prohibition-era Gotham. Equally attention-grabbing is that soaring pillar of spirits: it’s holding 1,000 or so gins, whiskies and wines—all catalogued meticulously by producer, origin, type of still and more.
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Sitting at number eight in the annual World’s 50 Best Bars ranking, Atlas is Asia’s top performer on the list. Last year, another Singaporean bar, Manhattan, came in third overall—beating out all of its competition in the United States. Suffice to say: as far as international regard is concerned, Asia’s finest bars would hold their own if they were picked up and dropped down in any of the world’s cocktail capitals.
Now with the undivided attention of the drinks world, however, Asia is pioneering a new, exciting frontier for cocktail culture. While the more developed scenes in Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo push the envelope with creative concepts and untapped ingredients, newer emerging markets like Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City are taking note and vying fiercely for a place on the global stage. Challenges remain, of course—namely, a lack of resources, training and access to ingredients—but the competition is spirited and the thirst palpable.
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Raising The Bar
It makes sense that Singaporean bars with a classic ethos would rake in the top honours in the West. After all, it was largely successful US, European and Australian bartenders and entrepreneurs who first saw fertile ground for a cocktail scene in relatively wealthy, globalised Singapore. In 2011, former New York City lawyers Spencer Forhart and Paul Gabie helped kickstart the Asian cocktail revolution with the opening of 28 Hong Kong Street, a then-unprecedented 55-seat speakeasy tucked away on a nondescript block in Singapore’s Chinatown. Nine years and countless accolades later, the bar remains remarkably faithful to its founding ethos: classics and original creations shaken and stirred to a hip hop and soul soundtrack.
The success of that bar would inspire Forhart and Gabie to launch Proof & Co, a bar-and spirits-focused creative agency that’s since become the pioneering force behind top establishments in Singapore—including Atlas and Manhattan—and throughout the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Services include menu and concept development, but also a much-needed supply chain, particularly for spirits, liqueurs and barware not yet available in Asia. With a flagship office in Singapore, Proof & Co has been instrumental in establishing the city-state as the modern capital of cocktail culture.
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