Few places in Asia can compare to Singapore. This once Malay Kingdom turned British trading Mecca has become one of the strongest of the “Asian Tiger” economic success stories of South East Asia. Since I was not alive to meet the Malay kings or interact with the trading empire of Sir Raffles, all I am familiar with is the modern city-state that exists today. With this said, I know this country fairly well since I had the honour of studying at the prestigious National University of Singapore in my third year of university and have visited the country twice since then, including my most recent visit a month before the writing of this article. The thing that strikes me most about Singapore is that no matter how much things in the world change, the city stays the same, which is very comforting in many ways. The purpose of my most recent adventure was to visit a close friend’s wedding, but more importantly, to have a gentleman’s adventure in Singapore!
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What do I mean by a “Gentleman’s Adventure?”
This is a very specific type of travel focused on solo male travellers who hope to grow in intelligence, style and charm as they traverse the world. Since it can take someone a lifetime to hone these skills, I have narrowed the focus of this article to the ideas of good grooming, good drinks and good thinking. On this quest, I visited Jermyn Street Barbershop and K Tailors which are located within walking distance of Singapore’s finical hub. I experienced cocktails at Bar Stories and L’Aiglon; two of the city’s premiere craft cocktail bars. This article will then end with an informative visit to the newly built National Gallery and a revisit to my favorite museum in Singapore, The Asian Civilization Museum, after their recent renovation.
I think before embarking on any adventure in Singapore, it is important to know a couple of things. Singapore is tiny, extremely organized and highly regulated. In addition to gum being illegal, so is bungee jumping and openly criticizing the government. Alcohol and tobacco are highly taxed and, with the exception of shopping and eating, which are both an art form in Singapore, there is not much else to do. Because of this lack of stimulation and high government regulation, I find locals spend a lot of money on fashion and other aesthetic pleasures. This atmosphere is perfect for the trend of barber shops exploding around the world. After some research, I came across the “Jermyn Street” barbershop located in the Telok Ayer, an area famous for Korean restaurants and its walking distance to Club Street and the Raffles Place MRT. My contact here was Steven, the head barber and expat from London. He was not only fabulous at his job, but a true gentleman, character-cultivating relationships with local tailors, cobblers and bars in the area.
A Gentleman’s Adventure in Singapore — Jermyn Street
What I found most interesting about Jermyn Street was that there is a membership system. For around $330 a year, you can expect discounts on your grooming, products like beard oil, and a free drink. In a country where craft rum goes for $50 a glass, this is not too shabby a deal. Though the shop offers everything from beard trims to manicures, haircuts are still their most popular service. The entire shop’s focus is on service, from the coffee at the beginning to pointing out the right products to maintain your style. Like its namesake in London, Jermyn Street is the place for anyone hoping to look like a true gentleman.
A Gentleman’s Adventure in Singapore — K Tailors
After getting an expert haircut, the next logical step is clothing to go with it. Now Singapore has always been famous for its tailors. Areas of Little India and China Town are lined with experts ready to stitch together anything your mind can think of. Though these experiences are good, they do lack a certain personal touch. Here is where K Tailors comes in and dominates. From the minute, I walked in and QQ, the name of one of the shop’s tailors looked after me. Before discussion of business could begin, I was given a glass of scotch and time to recover from the Singaporean heat. The tailors were mostly Singaporean born and trained in Thailand, where most of their fabrics also originate. The store also sells great accessories ranging from shoes to jewelry supplied by local venders. The hope is to expand into producing these accessories themselves. If you are a local or visiting and like their products, then join them on their Facebook page and other social media channels. Every couple of months they announce special gifts to be given with any suit they customize and no modern man should turn down a freebie!
Now that you are well-groomed and well dressed, it is time to grab that drink. Take note: drinking in Singapore is not cheap. I remember in my student days paying $30 for a shot of tequila – crazy anywhere else in the world. To be clear, a cocktail in Singapore will run you on average $25-$30, but depending on where you drink, this cost may be completely worth it. During this recent trip to Singapore, I had the pleasure of visiting two bars – the L’Aiglon and Bar Stories – both famous for their high quality craft cocktails.
A Gentleman’s Adventure in Singapore — L’Aiglon
Originally started by a French expat who moved to Singapore, L’Aiglon is self-described as a Franco-Asian experience in style. In this elegant bar, one can find antique Chinese lanterns coexisting with bar tops made by reclaimed wood from French chateaus. Adding a patio for smoking cigars, this place has class written all over it. The honest truth, though, is neither you nor I are here for the décor but for the drinks and boy, do they know their drinks!
Now the signature drink at L’Aiglon is called the “Screaming Tomato.” This is a variation on the Bloody Mary made from 10 small tomatoes imported from France. These tomatoes are then torched and mixed with homemade celery and ghost pepper bitters. Now to be transparent, I hate Bloody Marys and vodka more than any other bar offering, but this was the most amazing drink I have ever had. Every component from the tomatoes to bitters could be tasted. People fly from all over the world to try this drink! Its popularity grew so much that it was hard to import enough tomatoes to keep up with demands and now is served on a “while supplies last” basis. The other drink worth mentioning is the Buck Bone Tea, an original cocktail meant to emulate a local dish known as buk kut tea.
This is an herbal soup made in Singapore with a piece of pork rib. Its origins are from colonial times in the country where rich British merchants took all the good cuts of meat and the working locals could only afford the leftovers. To be honest, the only thing I could recognize here is the gin used as the base, but, with that said, the drink is not bad just different. The closest thing I can relate it to is an alcoholic chai tea; a definite must for any cocktail enthusiast if only to try a famous cocktail only found in Singapore.
A Gentleman’s Adventure in Singapore — Bar Stories
The second bar I visited, Bar Stories, is located in my favorite part of the city known as Haji Lane. The name originates from the old shops selling items to pilgrims on their way to Mecca. In modern times, the street is one of the only in the city with alternative eclectic shopping. Here you will find local fashion designers, cool cafes and all sorts of cool knickknacks. The bar is a little hidden so look for the sign (Haji Lane is no longer than two blocks) and go upstairs. On less crowded days, the bar has a unique theme. The goal was to tell the bartender an interesting story or adventure you had and they would create a unique drink to commemorate it. Now things have changed a little because of how popular the bar has become. You will still find no menu and will still be at the whim of the bartender, but now a lot of standard drinks are getting made, just to perfection. My experience here was pretty awesome.
The drink made for me by Mike the Bartender was exceptional – basically something unexpected. A gin, aged in whisky barrels, mixed with rhubarb and other fruits and bitters served in a crazy glass with edible flowers. Ok, not really a “guy drink,” but delicious nonetheless! As one of Singapore’s first cocktail bars, it lived up to its reputation.
A Gentleman’s Adventure in Singapore — National Gallery
My tour in Singapore ends with a focus on learning. One week before I arrived in Singapore the National Gallery was opened. Basically, the Singaporean government converted the old supreme court building into the largest art museum in South East Asia. The building is impressive in all its colonial glory, but with that said, I found it a little overwhelming. I don’t really consider myself an “Art Guy”, though I do appreciate art for its aesthetic value. The problem with the gallery is that it was too much to take in and I did not know what to focus on – the impressive galleries or the preserved courthouse? Also for a hard-core art lover, the exhibits might have been amazing, but for me they were not really engaging. I am not trying to deter you from visiting, but would advise some research to make sure it is what you want.
A Gentleman’s Adventure in Singapore — Asian Civilization Museum
The second museum I visited was the Asian Civilization Museum, also within walking distance from Raffles Place MRT. This is my favorite museum in Singapore showcasing exhibits depicting all major Asian religions, civilizations and empires. It’s the best place to learn about everything from the empires of Java to Malaysian headhunters. I guess I love this museum because, despite its relatively small size, there are so many interesting exhibits. I was lucky enough to jump on a free tour, which I would highly recommend. The museum has been renovated with two new exhibits, one focusing on a sea wreck of a Tang Era merchant ship and the other focusing on the Chinese literary class. The museum has even created a cool app you can download that, when put into a specially made viewer, recreates the underwater shipwreck. I am a bit biased towards the Asian Civilization Museum because I love history and culture, but with this said the National Gallery is located just next door and should be visited as well.
The whole point of a gentleman’s adventure is self-development: improving one’s self aesthetically, intellectually and spiritually. Despite Singapore’s oppressive nature at times, it has pockets of uniqueness. Whether a haircut at Jermyn Street, a Screaming Tomato at L’Aiglon or a wander through the Asian Civilization Museum, you can only benefit from visiting Singapore.