Local cocktail joint Manhattan named Asia’s best

Singapore cocktail bar Manhattan is the top bar in Asia, according to the World's 50 Best Bars Awards.
Singapore cocktail bar Manhattan is the top bar in Asia, according to the World's 50 Best Bars Awards.PHOTO: REGENT SINGAPORE, A FOUR SEASONS HOTEL
"Secret bar" Operation Dagger is new to the list and enters at No. 21.
"Secret bar" Operation Dagger is new to the list and enters at No. 21.PHOTO: OPERATION DAGGER

The Singapore cocktail bar is joined on the World's 50 Best Bars Awards list by 28 HongKong Street and Operation Dagger

Singapore cocktail bar Manhattan has been named Asia's best in the 2016 edition of the World's 50 Best Bars Awards, announced in London on Thursday evening.

It is joined on the list by two other Singapore brands - 28 HongKong Street and Operation Dagger.

Manhattan, located in The Regent Hotel Singapore, clinched the 11th spot, climbing 24 spots from last year's ranking.

But speakeasy 28 HongKong Street fell seven spots, to No. 14.

A brand new entry this year is "secret bar" Operation Dagger, at No. 21. It is in the basement of the junction between Club Street, Ann Siang Hill and Ann Siang Road and run by the same group behind bar-restaurant Oxwell & Co.

New York's The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog, which placed second last year, clinched the top spot. London's American Bar and Dandelyan came in second and third place, respectively.

The annual list, released by London-based Drinks International magazine, is in its eighth year.

This year, Asian bars have done better than ever before with seven bars in total on the list, hailing from Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Manhattan bar manager Philip Bischoff, who was in London to accept the award, says: "To be recognised as No. 11 in the world, and as Asia's best, has been a humbling experience."

Mr Bischoff, 35, acknowledged that the global cocktail industry is a "very competitive one with many stellar bar teams and establishments around".

"While this is something we worked hard towards, it was definitely not expected, especially with us being just slightly more than two years old," he says.

Manhattan's top spot among Asian establishments is a reversal of an earlier result.

In March this year, Drinks International released the inaugural edition of the Asia's 50 Best Bars Awards, where 28 HongKong Street was named the best bar in Asia.

Eight other bars in Singapore also made it to the Asian list, including Manhattan Bar (No. 5), Operation Dagger (No. 7) and Jigger & Pony (No. 8).

The Asian list was decided by more than 150 industry experts from Asia, while the world list is the result of a worldwide industry survey conducted by the magazine, with the final list based on votes from more than 400 leading figures of the global bar industry.

Mr Hamish Smith, World's 50 Best Bars editor and deputy editor of Drinks International, describes Manhattan bar as "one of the most exciting bar launches in the last few years".

He tells The Straits Times: "Its ambition to create not only a stylish and beautiful bar interior but also one that takes its drinks seriously is unrivalled around the world - it's a worthy winner of the Bols Genever Best Bar in Asia."

He called 28 HongKong Street an "academy favourite... which is not only a great cocktail bar but a champion for the Asian cocktail scene".

Operation Dagger's debut on the list, he adds, is no surprise to the organisers behind the awards - it has been on their radar for a few years.

"It's great to see it enter the list this year as it's one of Asia's shining stars of the cocktail scene," he says.

Led by head bartender Luke Whearty as well as partner Aki Nishikura, Operation Dagger was voted Best New Bar at the Singapore Bar Awards last year; the same year it also made the top 10 for Best New International Cocktail Bar at a New Orleans industry event, Tales of the Cocktail.

Mr Whearty, 33, says he and his team are "still overwhelmed by it all".

"We have never modelled ourselves on anyone else and never sought to follow the crowd, so it is a huge validation to know that people enjoy what we do," he says.

"It seems like yesterday that Operation Dagger was a bare shell and the team and I were screwing in the thousands of bulbs above the bar. It is hard to believe how far we have come."

The importance of a bar's team cannot be underestimated.

London's Artesian, which was named the "world's best bar" four times between 2012 and 2015, was completely out of the running for the main list, dropping 53 spots to 54.

Located at The Langham hotel, the bar took a hit as the duo behind it - Alex Kretena and Simone Caporale - left last year to pursue other projects. They were with the bar for eight years and their departure triggered an exodus of staff.

The bar's 54th place listing was accompanied with a note that said: "With a dozen staff leaving after last year's top-spot finish, Artesian's fall from grace proves it's the team, not the four walls, that make for excellence in hospitality."

Bars that placed from No. 51 to 100 were revealed in August under the organisers' Bars To Watch 2016 list, with four Singapore bars making the cut: D.Bespoke (No. 63), Gibson (No. 65), Nutmeg & Clove (No. 72) and Jigger & Pony (No. 92).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Manhattan bar is Asia's top'. Print Edition | Subscribe