Alcohol tax hike? Don't panic, booze hounds. There are still relatively cheap drinks to be had around town.
About two months after Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced in his Budget statement that liquor tax has been raised 25 per cent, some bars have chosen to absorb the cost increase. Others have introduced more food items to menus, while yet others have extended their happy hours - banking on patrons staying longer and spending more to make up for any dip in profits.
At least five watering holes are maintaining their prices.
Tanuki Raw in Orchard Central, which serves Japanese-inspired dishes with a focus on raw food such as oysters, is sticking to charging $10 for martinis during its happy hours. "$11 just isn't as catchy", says owner Howard Lo, 37.
Mr Lo, who also owns Standing Sushi Bar (which has two outlets in Queen Street and Marina Bay Link Mall) and The Secret Mermaid in Collyer Quay, says he will wait and see before adjusting his bar prices. Raising prices, he says, might mean losing customers. Nor does he want people to feel that they are not getting great value and hesitate over what to order.
The tax hike took effect on Feb 21, with the tax on beer going up from $48 to $60 for every litre of alcoholic content, and that on wine and spirits increasing from $70 to $88.
Last month, however, Tanuki Raw chalked up its best sales performance to date, going up by 15 per cent from February, says Mr Lo.
Over at American-style diner Suprette, at Kam Leng Hotel in Jalan Besar, happy hours have been extended post-tax hike, from 9pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Mr Jacob Pang, 35, Suprette's co-director, says that raising prices abruptly because of the tax hike may drive away some customers or discourage them from ordering alcoholic drinks.
"It is more important for us to retain existing customers and keep them happy," he says.
A price increase is out for at least one chain of bars because it would necessitate a name change.
The Five chain of bars, with outlets at Collyer Quay, Changi City Point and Cuppage Terrace, is named for its $5 mugs of Asahi beer. Inspired by the 300-yen (about S$3.70) Tachinomi Izakaya or casual drinking bars in Japan, a glass of 330ml beer - a little smaller than the usual 473ml pint - changes hands here for a fiver still.
Mr Luke Lee, 37, who is one of the four directors, says that chain was marketed as a five-dollar bar and they have tried their best to absorb the tax so that it can stay that way.
Asahi beer makes up 20 to 30 per cent of its sales.
Prices have increased for other brands of alcohol, however, going up by 50 cents for bottled beers up to $10 a bottle for spirit.
The chain also plans to beef up its food offerings - expanding the menu from 30 items to 50 - to increase takings from food.
Its outlets at Collyer Quay and Changi City Point serve Japanese cuisine, while the Cuppage Terrace outlet serves international tapas such as garlic chili cockles and seafood glass noodles. A new Maxwell Chambers outlet, opening next month, will serve Vietnamese dishes.
The move has found favour with the chain's customers. Banker Charlene Ng, who frequents the Collyer Quay outlet about once or twice a week, has noticed an increase of $1 to $1.50 for alcoholic beverages at other bars in nearby Boat Quay, and feels "lucky" that there was no sudden price increase at one of her favourite watering holes. She goes there more often recently because of this, she says.
Other bars tell Life! that they have raised prices slightly, but try to keep their happy hours affordable.
At Wine Bos, a glass of house wine now costs $8 instead of $7. The charge for free flow of wines during happy hours has also increased from $18 to $20 at the bar located in North Bridge Road.
Owner Charles Stephan, 55, says: "It is a misconception that drink prices will go up by 25 per cent just because the tax did. The alcohol content in wine is only about 12 to 15 per cent, which works out to be about a $2 increase per bottle if you buy from a supplier."
He adds that he is able to keep his prices competitive because he also imports and distributes wine. Despite the increase in his bar prices, sales have shot up by about 25 per cent in March and April - possibly due to more people looking for a bargain or its marketing efforts on social media.
Mr Joe Foo, who is in his 50s and works in the real estate industry, finds an increase of $1 to $2 acceptable but balks at anything more than that. A regular at Sauce Bar in Esplanade mall, he says the ambience, service and good finger food make up for the steeper price of drinks now.
That said, he has sworn off another bar in the Central Business District after it increased the price of its draft beer by more than $4 to $18.95.
He says: "I travel frequently for business and the cost of alcholic beverages here is just crazy compared with other countries. It is easily half the price in most countries."
Meanwhile, Mr Leonard Ng, 28, director of a local ink firm, is feeling the pinch after some bars he frequents raised prices by $2 to $3.
"That adds up after a while," he says.
He drinks once or twice a week after work and on weekends, usually about two to three pints of beer or a bottle of wine shared with another friend.
He is now considering drinking at home or at a significantly cheaper place before going to a more upscale bar on a night out.
However, he says: "I actually don't mind the tax hike. It's a small price to pay if it keeps people from excessive drinking or unruly behaviour."
BEST HAPPY HOURS
FIVE IZAKAYA BAR
Why go there: Inspired by the 300-yen (about S$3.70) Tachinomi Izakaya bars (casual drinking establishments) in Japan, Five has maintained its $5 all-day specials for draft beer, sake, house pour spirits and wines since it opened in 2010.
Also try snacks such as chicken karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and ebi fry (Japanese fried shrimp). For a fuller meal, tuck into a burger or donburi (Japanese rice bowl dish usually served with fish or meat).
From Mondays to Fridays, various local bands entertain guests with acoustic pop hits (7 to 11.30pm).
Five has two other outlets in Changi City Point and Cuppage Terrace. A new outlet opens in Maxwell Chambers next month.
Where: 16 Collyer Quay (formerly Hitachi Towers) 01-05B
Prices: Drinks start from $5 for a glass of Asahi draft beer (300ml) to $35 for six shots of Sex On The Beach. Bar bites start from $5.55 for a plate of potato wedges to $25.55 for a party platter of chicken karaage, tofu nuggets, ebi fry and potato wedges
Open: Noon to midnight (Mondays to Fridays),6pm to midnight on Saturdays, closed on Sundays and public holidays
Info: Go to www.fivebar.sg or call 6536-8955
Why go there: The 80-seater Tanuki Raw, which opened in late 2012, serves Japanese-inspired dishes with a focus on raw food such as oysters. It is also known for its $10 martinis during happy hour. A revamped menu will be rolled out as early as the end of this month.
Where: Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road 02-03
Happy hours: Between 5 and 8pm daily, enjoy freshly shucked oysters for $2 each (limited to six per drink), $7 for five slices of salmon sashimi, $10 for a martini and a pint of beer, and $11 for a cocktail with the purchase of any alcoholic drink or mocktail
Prices: Drinks start from $9 for a bottle of Asahi beer to $24 for a martini. Bar bites start from $4 for edamame (boiled soybeans) to $80 for a 35-piece sashimi platter
Open: 11.30am to 10.30pm daily
Info: Go to www.tanukibar.com or call 6636-5949
THE SECRET MERMAID
Why go there: The one-month-old bar, located in Raffles Place MRT's underground walkway, worked with 22 American craft distillers to bring in more than 48 labels of spirits for the first time. The list is expected to grow. By day, it functions as a Japanese-influenced rice and noodle bar, Shinkansen; at night, it becomes a cosy 18-seater bar. Drinks from a featured distillery, which changes every month, start from $10 neat or on the rocks and $12 with a mixer. The price can be enjoyed any time during the month.
Where: 10 Collyer Quay (Ocean Financial Centre),B1-08 to 09
Prices: Drinks start from $10 for a bottle of Budweiser to $20 for a glass of whisky. Bar bites start from $6 for a plate of tater tots (fried potatoes) and tuna ceviche with corn chips for $15
Open: 5pm to 11pm, Mondays to Fridays
COOK & BREW
Why go there: Set up last November, this gastro bar at The Westin Singapore has been offering an opening special promotion where a pint of draft beer is priced at $8 and international and local cuisine such as steak and eggs start from $15. Prices will be revised by June.
There is also a good selection of more than 100 beers from 17 countries, including English ale Fullers London Pride, German lager Bit Burger and Belgian pale ale Duvel, as well as a curated list of fine wines.
Its signature cocktails, such as Kaffir Lime (vodka with kaffir lime leaves) and Retribution (tequila, aperol, soda, lime and grapefruit juice), are worth checking out too.
Also try signature dishes such as the Sushi Bowl with salmon, egg roll and avocado, and the Veal "Schnitzel" with breadcrumbed milk-fed veal escalope and mushroom cream sauce.
The bar also offers a good view of Marina Bay.
Where: The Westin Singapore, 12 Marina View,Asia Square Tower 2, Level 33
Prices: From $7 for half a pint of draft beer to $25 for a glass of premium pour. Cocktails are priced at $14 to $15. Main courses at $15 to $29
Open: 11am to midnight (Mondays to Thursdays),11am to 1am (Fridays), 6pm to 1am, (Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Info: Go to www.thewestinsingapore.com/en/cookandbrew or call 6922-6948
NO. 5 EMERALD HILL COCKTAIL BAR
Why go there: The 190-seater bar, housed within a Peranakan shophouse, opened in 1991. It is known for its cocktails and martinis which come in about 30 flavours, including almond, earl grey and lemongrass. Also try its signature No. 5 special pizza made with chorizo sausage, jalapeno peppers, and chicken wings marinated in shrimp sauce and Chinese wine.
Where: 5 Emerald Hill Road
Happy hours: From $8 for a glass of house pour spirit to $10 for house wine, from noon to 9pm, and from 1am to closing, daily. Other deals include one-for-one martinis at $19 from 9pm to 1am.
Prices: Drinks start from $13 for a glass of Carlsberg draft beer to $125 for a glass of premium scotch. Bar bites start from $12 for chicken wings to $22 for mini beef burgers.
Open: Noon to 2am, Mondays to Thursdays; noon to 3am, Fridays, Saturdays and eve of public holidays; 5pm to 2am on Sundays
Info: Call 6732-0818
Why go there: This cosy 35-seater, which opened in late 2012, serves Western comfort food such as pork chop and roast chicken. Drinks are priced from $8 during happy hour. Happy hour extends to Fridays and Saturdays too but drinks prices start from $9. Located at Jalan Besar in Kam Leng boutique hotel, the restaurant is a good choice for those who want to get away from the crowd in other parts of town.
Signature items include The Suprette Burger (beef patty, gruyere cheese and fries) and cocktails such as Kyoho Cooler (gin, lemon Kyoho grape liqueur and soda) and Good... Let The Hate Flow Through You (absinthe, lemon and ginger beer).
Where: 383 Jalan Besar (Kam Leng hotel lobby)
Happy hours: $8 for a pint of draft beer (usual price: $14) and house wines (8am to 8pm daily), $9 for a pint and house pour spirits from 9pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays
Prices: Drinks from $12 for a pint of beer to $20 for a cocktail. A main course starts from $12 for pasta of the day to $30 for steak and eggs
Open: 7.30am to 3pm (Mondays to Fridays),7.30am to 4pm (Saturdays and Sundays), 6pm to 10.30pm (Sundays to Thursdays, closed on Tuesday evenings), 6pm to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays
Info: Go to www.suprette.com or call 6298-8962
Why go there: Sauce Bar by The Butter Factory Group, which opened in 2011, introduced a new cocktail bottle service last year, which provides complimentary mixers with the purchase of a bottle of spirit. Also try its gourmet meatballs, which come in more than six flavours, such as beef, pork, crab and even a vegetarian one made of mushroom and lentils.
Where: Esplanade mall, 8 Raffles Avenue 01-10 to 12
Happy hours: $12 for two (one-for-one) half-pint draft beers to $18 for two (one-for-one) full pints premium drafts (5 to 8pm, Mondays to Fridays and 6 to 8pm on Saturdays and Sundays), five bottles of Asahi Super Dry for $35 to 20 bottles for $110(all-day, daily).
Other deals include free flow of wine and sparkling wine for women on Wednesdays for $19 from 7 to 9pm and a cocktail buffet at $60 from 5 to 9pm on Mondays to Fridays and 6 to 10pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Prices: Drinks start from $12 for beer to $23 for a premium pour. Bar bites start from $5 for potato gratin to $28 for a meatball sandwich
Open: 5pm to 1am (Mondays to Thursdays), 5pm to 3am (Fridays), 6pm to 2am (Saturdays), 6pm to 1am (Sundays)
Info: Go to www.saucebar.com.sg or call 66837-2959
Why go there: The 100-seater wine bar, which opened in 2001, carries over 80 wine labels from all over the world such as Italy, France, Portugal, South Africa, Australia and America. It serves mainly Western cuisine such as sirloin steak and pork knuckle.
There is live music from Wednesdays to Saturdays, from 9pm.
Where: 787 North Bridge Road
Happy hours: $7 for a half pint of beer to $25 for a jug of draft beer 2 to 8pm, Mondays to Fridays; $10 for vodka mixers, 6 to 8pm daily; $20 free flow of house red and white wines, 6 to 8pm from Mondays to Fridays; $25 free flow of sparkling white wine, 6 to 8pm from Mondays to Sundays; free flow of white wine for ladies on Wednesday night from 7 to 10pm
Prices: Drinks start from $8 for a glass of house red or white wine to $35 for a bucket of Tiger Crystal beer(five bottles). Main course from $9.90 for spaghetti vongole to $29 for porterhouse steak (400g)
Open: 2pm to 1am daily, closed on certain public holidays (please check with the bar)
Info: Go to www.winebos.com or call 6538-7886