We all remember the White Rabbit with the pocket watch in Alice in Wonderland, who leads Alice down a hole into a phantasmic world. Back to reality – and Harding Chapel, where Singapore’s own White Rabbit has emerged from its ‘hole’. This church was abandoned for 15 years but now invites patrons into a restaurant and bar that, with its high ceilings and generously proportioned dining and drinking areas, has the mise-en-scène of a mead hall. The third-highest bidder, The Lo and Behold Group, received the deed to the property after convincing the Singapore Land Authority that measures will be taken to preserve the façade and interior of the original structure. ‘We didn’t have a church in mind, but when we came across this site, we were amazed at the space and the potential it held,’ says ‘Teng’ of Lo and Behold (he asked to remain anonymous, since he rarely speaks with the media).
The arched entrance to The White Rabbit sets the mood, a scene straight out of the Middle Ages replete with intricate stained-glass windows. For the interior, Teng scoured antique stores from Jalan Sultan Road to Little India for one-of-a-kind finds: antique chemist bottles containing the gunk of yesteryear, empty bottles of Old Spice, a 1930s art-deco lamp, a banker’s lamp and a golden butler boy (from a Craig Road antiques store) that greets you with a smile as you enter the toilet, which Teng pointed out excitedly. Working closely with design company Asylum and interiordesign firm Takenouchi Webb (whose owners plan to get married in The White Rabbit), Teng was adamant about balancing old and new, his handpicked treasures complementing Webb’s custom-designed furniture and lighting.
And with more than 40,000 square feet of property at their disposal, Teng did not ignore the lush greenery surrounding the chapel. Located at the back of the church is the bar area, which opens to a grassy knoll. At the moment, a family of animal sculptures made of wire and grass occupies the backyard, but in time Teng promises the space will also host picnics, barbecues and even a bandstand for outdoor concerts. ‘We want people to experience the nightlife in other ways by pushing the garden scene and letting the party spill outdoors,’ Teng says. Considering the success of last month’s Night Festival and Beatnik Picnic, events held at the National Museum of Singapore and SMU Green, perhaps outdoor partying is a trend-in-the-making.
Teng and young Swedish mixologist Dannie Sorum also predict the rise of Singapore’s cocktail culture. ‘People are travelling more these days and are [more] discerning when it comes to what they drink,’ says Sorum excitedly. ‘We’re experiencing a cocktail culture here in Asia, and it’s only the beginning. As our customers become more adventurous, the more fun we’ll have concocting or reinventing classic drinks like Gin Fizz.’ For the record, the team has differentiated its version by adding a squeeze of grapefruit and a trace of elderflower to give it a twist.
At the moment, The White Rabbit bar staff is still hard at work fine-tuning its cocktails and mocktails menu. Hasnor, who used to have regular nights deejaying at MoS
, has sworn allegiance to the new venue, and reckons ‘it will be the place for pre-clubbing drinks’. Only time will tell whether this new haunt will survive the transient tastes of nightlife-seekers in Singapore. But it’s our guess that when you make your way through the rabbit hole, you’ll find the bottle that says ‘drink me’ and the dish that says ‘eat me’, and shrink into the ambience.
Review: The White Rabbit restaurant