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 bar programme here is good as well – a progressive interpretation of classics infused with a cross-continent touch. While they have yet to find a resident bartender (at the moment Bar Manager Navin Raj leads the bar teams across The NCO Club), it’s worth noting that the menu is curated by Proof & Company, the same group behind 28HongKong Street and the now-defunct Crackerjack. In other words, it’s top-notch.
The 20th century classic White Lady ($20) traditionally comprises gin, lemon, sugar, and egg white. The version here uses the herbal Citadelle Gin with orgeat syrup and amaretto instead of sugar, giving it a distinctive nutty taste that’s very welcome. Narvin’s Mezcal Negroni ($22) is another worthy choice, opting for a sweet and vegetal mezcal (Alipus San Juan del Rio Blanco) instead of gin for its smokiness. Still smooth, still simple, and for mezcal aficionados, it’s magical. Speaking of which, aren’t negronis the bartending community’s favourite playthings of late?
Want something on the sweet side? The Queen’s Park Swizzle ($22) is a rich drink that typically sees aged rum with mint, syrup and Angostura bitters. The one here is particularly intense, with double-aged Plantation Original Dark Rum that’s further mixed with a special Spiced Honey Apple Syrup from Crawleys and particularly aromatic house bitters. The result is a more profound cocktail with strong spicy notes and a tad of smoke from the rum.
To sum up, Cool Cats features more as an upscale lounge than a traditional speakeasy. When inside, you get an air of sensuous secrecy that blends well with the refined jazz performances and of course, progressive tippling. Perfect for a music nerd like me.
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.