Get to know the Singaporean cocktail scene from Jigger & Pony and Manhattan Bar's mixologists

Stepping into terrific tipple territory across the Causeway.

Jigger & Pony principal bartender Adrian Foo and Manhattan bar manager Rusty Cerven (Photo: Jigger & Pony; Manhattan Bar)

Over the years, the bar scene in Singapore has evolved to become one of the most vibrant and innovative in the world. It comes as no surprise. For a land so well known for its competitiveness and dynamism, the Little Red Dot is home to top-flight talents due to its excellence in global connectivity and social assimilation.

The city’s diverse and cosmopolitan culture, combined with its love for food and drink, has instigated within the bartending community an intrepid attitude that pursues the far corners of mixology. When it comes to crafting cocktails, there is clearly no shortage of creativity. Experimental and unique drinks borne out of tribute to regional ingredients and flavours abound, but so are true-blue classics, mastered to distinction.

There are countless bars across the island, ranging from trendy rooftop lounges with stunning views of the skyline to hidden speakeasies serving up radical creations inspired by the locale’s heritage and culture. One of the best ways to explore them all is undoubtedly through the annual Singapore Cocktail Festival. The ninth edition, which took place from May 5 to 21, was a 17-day affair that welcomed enthusiasts from all over the world. Participants engaged in a wide range of events, including workshops, tastings, takeovers and parties, all while mingling with some of the biggest names in the industry.

It kick-started with the Festival Village right by Marina Bay Sands (MBS), where brand and bar pop-ups populated the iconic Bayfront Event Space for three days. After wowing guests at the fest, headlining bartenders from Taipei’s Indulge Experimental Bistro, Sydney’s Maybe Sammy, Manila’s ReCraft, Hong Kong’s Penicillin, New Delhi’s Sidecar and Bangkok’s The Bar at The House on Sathorn stayed on to participate in the City Takeover, commanding the counters of some of Singapore’s most popular venues, including Analogue, Origin Bar and Republic. Roving cocktail enthusiasts were also able to join in on weekend boozy brunches and themed bar crawls, the latter being the perfect way to explore the city after dark while luxuriating in their favourite libations.

If you happen to miss out on the gaiety, fret not. Just because this party is over, it does not mean something better will not come along. Besides, there is the World’s 50 Best Bars awards ceremony to look forward to. Singapore will be playing host to its 15th edition come October, where international talent will work hand-in-shaker with local bartenders to create outstanding cocktail spectacles for drinks aficionados. In the meantime, get to know the local institutions that have made frequent appearances on the coveted list and the ways in which they continually carve a unique space for themselves in the Lion City.


A household name

“Our purpose has not changed since the first day,” says principal bartender Adrian Foo of Jigger & Pony. Many know of its journey from Amoy Street to Amara Hotel, but pay attention to the interactions over the counter and one can easily understand the reason behind the steadfast support of loyal customers who have moved along with them. Jigger & Pony’s tagline of convivial hospitality rings true. “We just want it to be a place of community where people can find comfort in friendship and shared happiness. Everybody who comes to the bar, they’re not just customers, we treat them as friends.”

This is best embodied in its Super Lemon Highball, a fizzy concoction of Suntory World Whisky AO with lemon water, concentrated lemon and Hokkaido super soft water. Its sunshiny hue reflects the vibrancy of the local cocktail community and, let’s face it, there is nothing quite like a tall refresher after a long day, is there? Foo quips easy highballs are often what mixologists order themselves so as to give the person behind the bar a break.


Jigger & Pony ushers in a new era with a refreshed visual identity (Photo: Jigger & Pony)

It has been a little over a decade since Jigger & Pony established itself. The company has grown leaps and bounds since, bagging Best Bar in Asia at the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, ranking at No 12, and awarded No 2 at Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2022. The group also boasts a handful of F&B outlets under its belt, including Caffe Fernet, a go-to at MBS for new-Italian cuisine; Gibson, an effortlessly cool bar in Chinatown; and Rosemead, a modern Californian restaurant in the heart of the CBD. Foo points out the different styles and approaches the various outlets undertake and readily guides according to preference. “For something more serious, head to Live Twice. The drinks there are much more spirit-forward and precise.

“Jigger & Pony is more towards progressive classics,” he says, but notes that there is a little bit of a Japanese influence. This is owed to Yokohama native and bar programme director Aki Eguchi, who joined the group in 2013. He currently oversees the cocktail programming across the group’s brands, as well as the training and development of bartenders in the company. It is also through Aki that the spirit of kaizen, whereby one strives for continuous improvement, is practised here. 


Super Lemon Highball and Ugly Tomatoes (Photo: Jigger & Pony)

That said, there is no harm in being a little retrospective once in a while. This year, Jigger & Pony launched its fifth menu-zine, with a focus on its identity. It examines the years and wealth of experiences that have put the company where it is today, while also questioning the uncharted path ahead. The brand new menu features 24 cocktails, each with an accompanying anecdote which unveils the multi-faceted layers that add to its character.

One section that piqued our interest is its approach to sustainability, a challenge many high-volume bars like itself face. Jigger & Pony opted to reduce produce waste from the source with Ugly Tomatoes, a gin-based cocktail with fragrant spices. It uses B-grade heirloom beefsteak tomatoes from Genting Highlands that are deemed too ugly for sale. Here, their imperfections are celebrated in an elegant and luscious drink with a beautiful trail of caraway, fennel and cumin. It is served in a crumpled Kimura glass, whose wavy silhouette suggests, again, that shape really does not matter.



Over at Conrad Singapore Orchard, the Golden Age of cocktails and fine drinking inspire the grand hotel bar that is Manhattan. Modern with a touch of old New York glamour and sophistication, the bar has been a constant on the 50 Best Bars lists over the years. From its inception, Manhattan’s menus have spanned New York’s rich history, cultures and flavours and previous iterations have taken guests through its intriguing neighbourhoods and time periods.

A few years ago, it introduced a new concept, New York Personified, where drinks were created to honour iconic Manhattanites who made their mark spanning the circuits of music, film, fashion, culinary and politics. They included Anthony Bourdain, Ella Fitzgerald, Eleanor Roosevelt, The Ramones, Vera Wang and Robert Downey Jr. In its latest version, the likes of Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Whoopi Goldberg, Irving Berlin and Lin-Manuel Miranda take centre stage.

Bar manager Rusty Cerven explains the amount of research it took to adequately showcase the personalities through cocktails. “We involved the entire team, not just the bartenders. The team was really into this project. Once we had the selection, we started to do a massive research into their lives and found the best stories that became the backbone of our cocktails.” For example, there is a drink that commemorates Yoko Ono’s Pea Piece movement, where the artiste planted peas (as a symbol of peace) in random places for strangers to find. Peas and Love is a herbaceous tipple of Tatsumi Gin with cucumber cordial, basil and green peas.


Manhattan is a grand hotel bar inspired by the 19th century’s Golden Age of cocktails and fine drinking (Photo: Manhattan Bar)

There is also one that traces the Puerto Rican roots of Pulitzer Prize winner and creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Vega Alta is a rum-based tiki-style cocktail with ingredients that are as manifold as the community it represents: Bacardi Reserva Ocho, pineapple, turmeric orgeat and hot coconut lime foam.

In addition to the personality-driven offerings, there is also a Rickhouse menu that features spirits slumbering in the hotel’s ageing room of custom-made oak barrels. Regulars would tell you that after having a classic Manhattan here, all future orders will pale in comparison. The barrel-aged Manhattans are prepared tableside from a trolley. The New York Sour, infused with lavender and maple and topped with Ruby Port Wine, is also a solid contender.

“The other staple is our Negroni. It’s very hard to actually mix a proper Negroni,” opines Cerven. “So what we’ve done is literally put the ingredients together inside the barrels and use a system normally for sherry ageing. Every six or seven weeks, we take one-third of each barrel, blend and bottle it and serve it at the bar.”


The Barrel-aged Manhattan and a look inside the hotel’s ageing room (Photo: Manhattan Bar)

There is also a Friends of Manhattan section — comprising cocktails barrelled from guest bartender shifts held over the years, including creations by Bannie Kang of Mu Taipei and New York’s Katana Kitten. “At this point, we are ageing around 30 different cocktails. We always try to experiment. It’s a lot of work, a lot of writing notes. Hopefully no junior bartender will mix it up for me!”

Cerven is a natural at disarming guests with his genuine hospitality. “Seven years ago when I came here for the first time as a guest shift from London, I was blown away by the strong community. You can see it through the cocktail festival, how the community here supports each other and it’s very important to keep that alive. We understand we don’t fight each other. We send our guests to their bars.

“Our final target is making good memories for our guests. That’s where Singapore’s excellence is. Because of its accessibility, it has brought a lot of uniqueness to the bar scene.”


This article first appeared on May 22, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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