Singapore bars with no food shop licence remain closed

Nutmeg & Clove co-founder Colin Chia with the bar's bottled cocktails, which it has been selling since the start of its business in 2014. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Nutmeg & Clove co-founder Colin Chia with the bar's bottled cocktails, which it has been selling since the start of its business in 2014. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Every other day, home-grown cocktail bar Jigger & Pony's phone rings as concerned customers call to ask when the bar will reopen.

The staff member on the other end of the line has no answer to that question.

While the majority of bars in Singapore have reopened their doors, there remain a handful that are still barred from opening, including Jigger & Pony at hotel Amara Singapore.

This is because it holds only a bar licence, while those that have reopened have food shop licences that allow them to operate as food and beverage establishments, albeit with restrictions on group sizes and a 10.30pm curb on alcohol sales.

The inability to resume operation is especially frustrating for the owners of Jigger & Pony, which clinched the top spot on the Asia's 50 Best Bars list for the first time in May.

Its co-founder Gan Guoyi, 36, said: "To be really honest, the continued closure does affect our team morale, especially seeing other people resume operations. People in the hospitality industry are very passionate and we want to go back to our home base and press forward with our achievements."

The bar was one of the "first few to close", and it has been around 41/2 months since it rolled down the shutters.

Bars, along with cinemas and other entertainment outlets, were the first to shut on March 27, when Singapore was battling a wave of imported Covid-19 cases.

Before the lockdown, the bar was the biggest earner in the Jigger & Pony Group, bringing in almost one-third of total revenue. Now, it is being subsidised by its other brands that have reopened for business, such as cocktail bar Gibson and seafood restaurant Humpback.

Jigger & Pony started offering its cocktails in bottled and pouch forms for home delivery a week before the circuit breaker kicked in on April 7.

But demand has since tapered off in phase two of Singapore's reopening. At its peak, deliveries generated around 30 per cent of the bar's pre-Covid-19 revenue, but that has now dipped to less than 10 per cent.

Another bar that is unable to open is Nutmeg & Clove, a cocktail bar in Ann Siang Hill that came in at No. 32 on the Asia's 50 Best Bars list.

Its co-founder Colin Chia, 41, said business had already been affected by cancellations before the Government announced that all bars had to close on March 27.

"Truth is, I freaked out for an hour when I saw the news because times were already bad then," he said.

The next day, Mr Chia went straight into action to find creative ways to keep the brand afloat as it rode out this period.

Thankfully, he said, Nutmeg & Clove has been selling its bottled cocktails since the start of its business in 2014, which made its transition to delivery-only much smoother. It also hosts corporate virtual cocktail masterclasses.

Since last month, it has found a "temporary home" at Roketto Izakaya at Frasers Tower, where its pop-up bar offers cocktails paired to the diner's mod-Sin cuisine. The collaboration is on till the end of this month.

"Doing all this is not just to make money, but it's about continuing to keep the brand in the minds of consumers. I spent so many years building the brand, it would be a shame if people forget about us," he said.

He acknowledged his bar is one of the "fortunate ones", as the pop-up collaboration and bottled cocktail deliveries generate around 60 per cent of its pre-Covid-19 revenue.

Bar owners are keeping their hopes up for the light at the end of the tunnel. As Jigger & Pony's Ms Gan puts it: "It's demoralising but we're doing our best to refine our business, so when the Government says we can open, we are ready."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 09, 2020, with the headline Singapore bars with no food shop licence remain closed. Subscribe