The results are in: The Old Man in Hong Kong’s SoHO district has taken the top spot at the Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards. But it’s not this elderly gentleman that we’re writing about. Rather, we take a closer look at the experimental cocktail bar‘s first overseas branch in Singapore.
Setting up shop along the hip Keong Saik stretch, it might come as a surprise that The Old Man is in fact inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Old Man and the Sea. I’ve yet to read this particular title, but I’ve always wondered what the man would drink if he was born closer to this era — and now we can guess.
While the Singapore branch officially opened just recently, it’s already gained a fair bit of popularity since its soft launch in March. We suppose pricing every drink at $17++ (great value, considering what we pay for good cocktails in Singapore) makes a big difference, as does the cool ‘hidden bar’ vibes you get when you step inside.
The interior is warm and inviting, and looks more like an avant garde living room than a cocktail bar. Modelled after the flagship establishment in Hong Kong, you’re greeted by shelves of vintage crystal bottles, books, and an I-shaped island designed to encourage mingling between tipplers and bartenders. We look back towards the entrance to see a large mosaic of Hemingway, and we know it’s going to be a fun night.
Two drinks can have the same core ingredients but taste totally different. A Farewell To Arms is like a gin martini, but several times more complex and creamy. Gin is fat-washed with unsalted butter and the dry vermouth sous-vide together with nori. Put together, it’s served with an onion pearl and a rim dusty with powdered seaweed — can you say umami?
In contrast, The Sun Also Rises, named for one of Hemingway’s earlier novels, takes the classic Negroni for a ride down Asia, featuring coconut oil fat-washed applejack, gin infused with curry leaves, and sweet vermouth sous-vide with pandan and kaffir lime. The dark forest green drink is aromatic and bitter at first sip, then evolving with notes of coconut and pandanus.
Split into two sections, the seven cocktails in ‘Best of the Old Man’ are named after the author’s bestselling novels. The Old Man is able to keep prices low primarily because most of its drinks are pre-batched. High-tech equipment like a centrifuge and rotary evaporator ensures the consistency of their drinks.
You might like to try Death In The Afternoon, a deceivingly strong drink with coconut-yoghurt froth that taste like a pandan milkshake — that is, until the absinthe and sparkling wine combo hits you hard. Other imaginative drinks include the refreshing Clover Club-inspired Green Hills of Africa (think rosemary-infused pisco, turmeric, tamarind cordial, and citrus), as well as The Snows of Kilimanjaro, an unlikely concoction of marshmallow gin, lacto-fermented raspberry, and freshly-grated Gruyère cheese. The latter is like liquid cheesecake, and we’re told it’s one of the most popular cocktails here.
There are two cocktails in the second section, titled after nicknames for the Old Man himself. Papa Doble is a daiquiri made dry in Hemingway’s favourite style, with pineapple-sous vide rum and jalapeño maraschino, while Little Wax Puppy comes a bit softer with eucalyptus honey and bitters mixed with beeswax-infused bourbon.
It’s no secret that Hemingway was a man of the booze, and if you think that every cocktail portrays a different side of him, you’re probably right. For now, the nine cocktails make up The Old Man’s first version menu — a copy of the Hong Kong flagship when it first opened in 2017.
And just like the legendary muse, they remain one step ahead of everyone else.
The Old Man Singapore is located at 55 Keong Saik Rd, #01-04, Singapore 089158, p. +65 6909 5505. Open Mon-Sat 5pm – 11.45pm. Closed Sun.