In a branch of the service industry where bartenders are called ‘drinks architects’ and their concoctions have Latin names, cocktail entrepreneurs walk a fine line between sophistication and gross pretension. Say what you like about the movie – at least Tom Cruise looked like he was having fun. But when it comes to boutique-concept bars, Singapore specialises in seriousness – the very word ‘cocktail’ brings to mind that splendid Singlishism, ‘cock-talk’. The fusty air of Absinthe Artisan (now 10 Feet Up), for example, lent it the comical pseudo-gravitas of an eccentric museum.
While bar-owners’ intentions to contextualise their tipples with lessons on technique and history are laudable, the best cocktail joints never forget a drinking den is, for all but the strokiest of chins, a place of relaxation and enjoyment. It’s a balance only a handful of niche-audience bars – Speakeasy, Maison Ikkoku, Club Street Social, Drink Culture – have neatly pulled off, but which Tree and the expert (but nannying) 28 HongKong Street never quite perfected. When Jigger & Pony joined the party in March amid Amoy Street’s heritage shophouses, with its name alluding to time-honoured bartender’s measures and lofty talk of 19th-century nostalgia, a yawn-athon of professorial geekery sprang to mind. But that was before we entered this chic, capacious 65-seat space and received a masterclass in the art of mixing education with entertainment.
Though it exudes the polish of seasoned veterans, this classic-cocktail hotspot is the first bar its founders have run. And to their immense credit, Guoyi and Indra Kantono have invested much ingenuity (not to mention capital) into cultivating an ambience blending a cheery, almost familial welcome with studious cool. Inviting red and yellow seats hark back to the duo’s field studies in Madrid and Barcelona; Italian spirits figure prominently; and vintage French booze posters splash colour onto otherwise spare walls. But Japan is the clear inspiration: witness the whisky and beer menu (18-year Yamazaki, Coedo), mixing methods and even chatty head bartender Anthony Zhong’s shaking technique – little surprise, then, to find he cut his teeth in Tokyo, as well as Milan and The Dorchester, London.
Still, the emphasis is on pleasure, not science. So soak up the artistry if you wish – we’d advise it, since Zhong puts on an absorbing show, and the cushy layout zones in on the bar – but don’t forget to enjoy the results. The grid-format menu makes it easy to pick your poison, dividing 24 same-price cocktails ($20) into simple categories – Classic, Forgotten, Modern Twist – bookended by more innocuous drinks towards the top and brain-scramblers at the bottom.
The Negroni is the hardcore standout, a blood-red dream of 1:1:1 gin, vermouth and Campari, its bitterness offset by flambéed orange zest. Among the moderate-ABV options, a sparkling wine injection renders the Maharajah’s Cup (cognac with sugar soaked in bitters) a mite too sweet; while at the lighter end, the sensational Balalaika and Tequila por Mi Amante evince an expert lightness of touch, fusing vodka and house-blended strawberry tequila respectively with Cointreau and lemon.
Only too aware high spirits can’t run on empty stomachs, Guoyi and Kantono have installed a full-scale kitchen too, offering an evening bar-nibbles menu: mushroom crêpes ($12), crisply rendered bruschettas ($12) and tartines ($16). Spurning conceptual quirks to obsessively pursue cocktail excellence in convivial surrounds, this is a seriously good night on the sauce. Jonathan Evans
101 Amoy St (6223 9101, www.facebook.com/JiggerandPony). MRT: Chinatown. Mon-Thu 6pm-1am; Fri, Sat & eve of public holiday 6pm-3am. Cocktails $20; wines $16 per glass; spirit shots $12-$24; bottled beers $14-$18; evening bar bites $6-$20.