A lifeline for bars

The Singapore Cocktail Bar Association was formed to help the pandemic-wrought industry stay afloat and recover

Singapore Cocktail Bar Association founding members (from left) Andrew Yap, Paul Gabie, Gan Guoyi, Vivian Pei and Ivy Woo.
Singapore Cocktail Bar Association founding members (from left) Andrew Yap, Paul Gabie, Gan Guoyi, Vivian Pei and Ivy Woo. PHOTOS: SCBA, NICHOLAS EE, SAGO HOUSE, IB HQ

With many cocktail bars struggling to stay afloat after being closed for almost three months, a new non-profit, the Singapore Cocktail Bar Association (SCBA), has been formed to give them a lifeline.

Its immediate target is to raise $150,000 from corporate donations, which will be channelled into three relief funds to support individuals who are affected by pay cuts or have lost their jobs, give newer bars a fighting chance at survival and help the industry recover.

The association, formed in April, comprises leading lights in the industry such as founding president Gan Guoyi (co-owner of Jigger & Pony Group), vice-president Vivian Pei (academy chair for Asia's 50 Best Bars) and treasurer Andrew Yap (co-owner of The Old Man Singapore).

The founding board members are Mr Paul Gabie (chief executive officer of Proof & Company and director of 28 HongKong Street) and Ms Ivy Woo (owner of Food News Integrated Marketing and co-founder of the Singapore Cocktail Festival). Other members include representatives from spirits brands and cocktail bars.

Establishments that wish to join SCBA must fulfil criteria such as having a beverage programme with a strong emphasis on cocktails. Membership fees for the first two years are waived.

So far, more than 50 bars have come on board.

Ms Gan tells The Sunday Times: "Our findings show that nine in 10 bars saw an 80 per cent loss of revenue during the closures."

Immediate concerns, she adds, include "pay reductions, unpaid staff and a dip in employee morale".

Establishments with bar licences remain closed, while those with restaurant licences are allowed to open from last Friday. SCBA is hoping to help everyone in the bar - from the cleaner to the hosts. It hopes to roll out the first tranche of support for them by the end of next month.

Applications for the support fund for new bars - which aims to offer a month of rental relief to bars that are less than a year old - will also kick off next month.

The third fund for industry recovery is set to be launched in August.

"During the circuit breaker and phase one, many bars had to pivot the business to delivery and may have lost staff, like marketing staff, to cut costs," Ms Gan notes.

"Through our partnerships with designers, public relations companies and photographers, member bars can select from a list of service providers and SCBA will pay, capped at $1,000 worth of services," she adds.

For the new bar and industry recovery funds, SCBA is partnering the SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience scheme, where Enterprise Singapore will match $1 for every $2 raised for industry-led initiatives.

In the longer term, SCBA will also work to reinforce Singapore's role as a leading cocktail destination and identify opportunities for industry growth.

Ms Gan acknowledges that there might be bar closures in the coming months. "We are reopening in a different climate," she says. "The market size has shrunk and consumers' spending ability has changed - these factors will also determine the viability of businesses."

Four of her five bars and eateries under the Jigger & Pony group, which reopened last Friday, had to pivot to deliveries in the past 10 weeks. Jigger & Pony at Amara Singapore remains closed, but will still do cocktail deliveries.

"Covid-19 really pushed us to think out of the box," Ms Gan says. "While we did not get back to full revenue, we learnt that the business can still transform."

• For more information, go to facebook.com/SGCocktailBarAssociation

New bar openings


Where: 17 Stanley Street

Open: Noa: 8am to 4pm (Mondays to Fridays); Laut: 5 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays)

Reservations: Call 8878-8018

Info: www.lautcollective.com.sg

The pandemic halted the opening of seafood-centric South-east Asian restaurant and bar Laut in April, but it has been rolling out bottled cocktails and food delivery to test and familiarise customers with its offerings.

The 60-seater joint - co-founded by Mr Frank Shen, founder of American Taproom, and Mr Leon Tan, formerly of Native bar - finally opened last Friday. It doubles as coffee bar Noa in the day.

Freshly made cocktails - like the popular Pineapple, made with native Malaysian ingredients like aged molasses, grilled Sarawak pineapples and Trigona mead - start at $21+.

Prices for food items like Otah Sandwich and Thunder Tea Rice with king prawns, century egg and petai range from $11+ to $33+.


Where: Level 2, 76A Duxton Road

Open: 5 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays)

Reservations: Call 9152-4550 or book via Chope

After less than two years at a shophouse in Bugis, cocktail bar IB HQ opened last Friday at a new 30-seat location. It took over the bar space above one-Michelin-starred Restaurant JAG in Duxton Road.

While it will have a separate identity from the fine-dining French restaurant, IB HQ's co-founder Kamil Foltan will still work with chef-owner Jeremy Gillon on food-driven collaborations and cocktail pairings every month.

Its opening menu features some of its bestsellers, including Hong Long (made with lapsang souchong tea and rum) and Stars & Bars (made with green mango gin). Cocktails are priced at $22++ and a new menu will be rolled out next month.


Where: 40B Sago Street

Open: From Wednesday, 5 to 10.30pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays

Reservations: www.sagohouse.sg

From a self-built back bar made from salvaged dresser drawers and wine crates to an eye-catching mural painted by Filipino artist Distort Monsters, the 35-seat Sago House promises plenty of character when it opens on Wednesday.

Almost a year in the making, the bar was built by hand with the help of YouTube tutorials and upcycled materials.

It is founded by former Monkey Shoulder regional brand ambassador Jay Gray; Ms Desiree Jane Silva, formerly of craft spirits distributor EC Proof; and Mr Abhishek Cherian George, who also owns cocktail bar The Spiffy Dapper.

The six drinks on the core menu, priced from $18 to $20, are takes on six core cocktail styles - Old Fashioned, Martini, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Highball and Flip.

The team will also be rotating the drinks list weekly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2020, with the headline 'A lifeline for bars'. Subscribe