Cool Cats, the last of four concepts to open within Singapore’s latest lifestyle destination The NCO Club, can be entered through an unmarked wooden door. My first thought as I step in is “another secret bar?” The concept of the speakeasy is one that’s overdone here – a repetitive portal of sorts to the glamorous 1920s Prohibition era. Except that this place is less speakeasy than it is a bar that specialises in live music – jazz, to be precise.
It’s no secret that the industry here has not taken kindly to such spots. There was Orchard Road’s Montreux Jazz Café, the classier B28 at Ann Siang, and then the numerous reiterations of Sultan Jazz Club along Jalan Sultan. They were all promising – good, even – and yet, they’ve all closed their doors, since.
Like them, Cool Cats aspires to be a world stage for music. At 60 seats, it’s not a large place, but neither is the world-famous Blue Note in Tokyo, or Village Vanguard in New York City. There is minimalist décor and plush seating, so yes, all the hallmarks of a jazz club. Hidden from view behind is a sunken salon dedicated to those who want extra privacy away from the reverie, or you know, people who’re just not into music.
To date, Cool Cats has seen the likes of Perth swingters Adam Hall & The Velvet Playboys, London’s R&B sweetheart Janine Anice, and The New Orleans Singapore Revue, a contemporary funk and R&B collective marked by traditional jazz beats. Earlier this month, the bar held its first ticketed event, inviting the legendary Australian multi-instrumentalist James Morrison down for two night. In the year ahead, I’m told to expect names such as Dan Barnett, Sulene Fleming, Nat Adderly Junior, and Paulette McWilliams. Ambitious.
The beverage programme is good too. And since its opening last year, the drinks menu has seen a revamp under the auspices of resident mixologist Nicola Patero. Consisting of 14 carefully-curated concoctions that put a spotlight on the bar’s artful nature, the tipples are inspired by music legends, from Bessie Smith to Charlie Parker.
We start off slow (and light) in the early 90s with By The Mississippi Railway (S$26), repping the “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy. The simple enough combination of peated whisky, dry vermouth, and pickled watermelon mirrors the backstory of his tune Yellow Dog Blues. And not-so-coincidentally, that’s the colour of the cocktail as well. We see what you did there, Nicola.
We were more than excited to try the cocktail inspired by Bessie Smith, who was dubbed “Empress of the Blues”. Ways of a Diva (S$24) certainly ups the ante with a spirit forward, mezcal-based cocktail that is boldly and effortlessly flavoured with Mozart Dry Chocolate, cinnamon, and pear. Talk about the royal treatment.
The East St. Louis Toodle-Do (S$28), named after the number by Duke Ellington, will take you a vibrant beachfront with its Tiki vibes. Featuring Michter’s Rye whisky and vermouth infused with mango and peach, look forward to a symphony of complexity that leans towards the sweeter side of the palate. Garnished with coriander for a tropical whiff, which might also make it a great poolside companion.
We finish our session on a honeyed note with Holiday’s Protest (S$24) – inspired by Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit. A riff on the classic Tom Collins, Beefeater 24 Gin finds playmates in sencha and yuzu for a balance between sweet and sour, while dragonfruit adds a lovely red hue that makes the cocktail stand out visually from the crowd. Despite what it looks, it packs a punch, just like what you’d like a strange fruit to do.
Cool Cats is located at L1 The NCO Club, 32 Beach Rd, Singapore 189764. Open Wed-Sat 8.30pm – 1am. Performances start from 9.30pm to late.