A travel dispatch from roving reporter, Nico Martini.
Down a back alley in the heart of Singapore, there’s a hidden door that leads you to an even more hidden gem of a cocktail bar called 28 Hongkong Street.
It’s not necessarily a speakeasy. There’s no special knock. It’s not hidden in a hot dog stand or a phone booth, but it can certainly be difficult to find both physically and virtually. There’s no real website or Facebook page, and without its placement on various top-ten-bars-in-Asia lists, you’d literally have to be told about this place. Preferably even guided by hand. And once you’re in the general area, there’s no sign. The name is simply the address, and it’s pretty non-descript from the outside.
“It’s not a speakeasy. It was never intended to be a ‘speakeasy’ but I’ll admit, you do need to know which door it’s behind.”
Anyway, once you think you’re at the right place (your Google map says so, at least), you’ll cautiously open the door to see… nothing. Just empty blackness. But don’t worry; turns out, it’s just a curtain.
Michael Callahan has guts. He left his life in San Francisco to journey to Singapore to start 28 Hongkong Street, one of a handful of true craft cocktail bars in Asia. He and his partners took a risk they’d even be allowed to import the things that make cocktail bars extraordinary.
“There was not a stable supply chain for things like varietal bitters or Mezcal, so we just had to figure out how to get it here.”
Our first drink was the Border Wars – Bulleit Bourbon, Sombra Mezcal, apricot brandy and cherry-bark bitters. First, we always appreciate a drink that mixes spirits. Second, the smokiness of the mezcal is cut substantially by the brandy and bourbon. There is, however, a noticeable smokiness that lingers on the back of your tongue.
This drink is incredibly balanced and very easy drinking (maybe too easy drinking for a cocktail with 3 spirits in it), as the apricot brandy gives enough of a sweetness to keep the drink from tasting too boozy. The Border Wars is a mezcal lover’s dream, however can also serve as an savvy introduction to the spirit for those less familiar. This, alone, was worth the trip to Singapore.
“I had hoped people would come in and experience this place for themselves. I didn’t want any preconceived notions. So yeah, that’s why we’re not on Facebook.”
The next drink of choice was the Hard to Port – house made porter beer reduction, Rittenhouse Rye, fresh lemon juice, egg white and allspice dram. The first thing you notice is the bittered “28” on top of the white foam. This serves two purposes: 1) it looks cool as hell. 2) you get a nose-full of bitters when you hoist the drink, rather than a nose-full of egg white.
Thanks to a good shake, the foamy egg white was seamlessly incorporated into the drink, resulting in a silky smooth libation. The key here is the balance between the tartness of the lemon, the bite of the rye and the sweet note of the porter reduction. It’s quite clever, and in the best way possible, this drinks like a milkshake. It’s so incredibly smooth and even. High praise, yes, but honestly, this might be the best cocktail in the whole damn country.
The only disclaimer to give you about this place — well, beyond the fact that you’ll probably get lost on the way — is that it’s pricey. Like, $18 to $21 per drink pricey. See, Singapore taxes alcohol at a rate of about 300%, meaning beer, wine and spirits are all incredibly expensive. Around town, a simple vodka tonic might cost upwards of $15. But Michael has worked to build his own supply chain, thereby cutting out the middle man. So his bar is actually more affordable than many others in Singapore, and from my experience, the pours are also heavier. So when you think about it that way, this place is a relative bargain.
In my humble opinion, 28 Hongkong Street is one of the best cocktail bars I’ve encountered. The drinks are flawless; the atmosphere is perfect; the program is stellar; and the man behind it all: total badass. Now, off to get a second job so I can keep drinking here.
For more from Singapore, check out: Drinking a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel