By Tarun Sibal
It’s difficult to beat the view at Smoke & Mirror, a cocktail bar on the terrace of the Singapore National Gallery. The bar looks out on Marina Bay Sands in the distance, with the historic Padang field in the foreground.
The bar menu which opens up like an accordion from loop to loop has the guests – mostly millennials – enthralled. Inspired by the art in the gallery, the menu has 16 cocktails, each related to a painting. You can do a dekko of the artwork and then sip on the inspired cocktails as part of a tour. Take, for example, The Man From Manila, a bourbon-based cocktail that is poured from a container with an image of a painting of bar supervisor Eduardo Zamora. Then there is the Magic Queen which is served with a theatrical magic-trick performance.
A few kilometers away at Jigger & Pony, number #2 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars, the service is warm and welcoming, offering a sociable and lively experience. The bar menu offers classics with a twist. The menu itself is like a lifestyle magazine with glossy images of the cocktails and detailed descriptions. On a Tuesday evening, the bar is full and a table is available only through prior booking.
With 11 bars in Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, Singapore’s bar culture is booming. The use of regional craft spirits has grown, with the Philippines, South Korea, and even Singapore producing their own gins brimming with tropical botanicals. Local ingredients are now at the heart of the city’s cocktail culture that has come a long way.
Cocktail bars were few and far between in the late 2000s, with most drinkers opting for beer or whisky. Fast forward 15 years and the city is strewn with world-class venues, many of which champion local and regional flavors in their craft, all being patronised by a younger generation, eager to step out and live it up now that the Covid restrictions have finally been lifted.
As per Statista, the alcobev market in Singapore was around USD 3 billion in 2022, expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.39 per cent between 2023-2025. Interestingly, by 2025, 79 per cent of all spending on alcohol will be attributable to out-of-home consumption that is bars and restaurants. At an average of SGD 30 for a cocktail at most watering holes in the city, an evening out is not a cheap proposition. However, bars are brimming with locals and holidaymakers alike.
Gone are the days when one planned a holiday on the basis of sightseeing alone. Today people are looking at a nightlife-focused vacation be it in Singapore, Bangkok, Vietnam, or Dubai. With excellent connectivity, and simple visa rules (visa on arrival available at most places), a weekend or short trip to these destinations to enjoy the nightlife with a group of friends or as a couple is as much the norm as doing a weekend getaway to Goa. Goa too has become more of a nightlife hotspot rather than a beach destination.
In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is where most of the action is. Once the sun sets, Bùi Viện and Phạm Ngũ Lão streets in downtown HCM City, are lined with tightly packed bars, where tourists come for fresh beer, great finger food, loud music, and fun. From rooftop bars to speakeasies, there is plenty to explore for both locals and tourists alike. The nightlife and bar scene is buzzing and relatively cheaper for Indian tourists as compared to Singapore with an average cocktail costing below USD 10.
Move to Bangkok and it’s the same story. Long considered the party capital of Asia, Bangkok’s nightlife continues to thrive. With five entries in Asia’s 50 Best Bars list in 2022, it’s even more reason to visit the Thai capital. There are few places in the world that bring together so many people from so many countries. Whether it is the night markets, the raucous bars on Khao San Road or the trendy set at Sukhumvit, there is enough and more to do at night in Bangkok, making it super popular with Indian tourists. And there is something to match all budgets.
International bars across the globe have often been popular destinations in youth culture and have played an essential role in shaping the nightlife landscape. This has enabled people from different countries and cultures to meet at common ground, share experiences, and understand local cultures while having a great time.
A three-hour flight to Dubai makes it almost an extension of Mumbai. It’s the perfect weekend getaway for those looking for a couple of nights of fun. Restaurants and bars such as Zuma, Masti and Namos offer great music, food and drinks. Plus you hobnob with a truly international crowd, with Dubai being full of expats. With bars doing roaring business, the nightlife scene is truly rocking in Dubai. However, like Singapore, it’s not cheap with average cocktails costing USD 20, at most places.
International bars are so popular with young travellers that they provide a fun and accessible way to experience local culture. By visiting these bars, travellers can sample local cuisine and drinks, listen to music popular in the region, and meet local people who can offer insights into the local customs and traditions.
The author is Chef-Entrepreneur.
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