One story below us in one of the few parts of Singapore that resembles a proper grid, the lights came on. While the city didn’t cool as much as one would expect as the sun fell1and rarely does, truth be told, an orchestrated dance of fans, some styled to resemble those from a more, colonial time, moved the air above us, cooled the room with the peanut-shell covered floor, proved proof against sweat in a city covered with it.
We were at the iconic, historic, tourist trapping Raffles Hotel, at the Long Bar, having Singapore’s signature drink, the Singapore Sling.
Oh, don’t worry – we called the bank before and cleared the funds before we went. After ten months of living in Singapore, I have my banker on speed dial before going out for a night of drinking. My parents were in town, so I knew we wouldn’t be going too deep down the rabbit hole. A truly epic bender requires one to take out a second mortgage on their house. For that night, I think some simple collateral was enough, but Jean-Luc down at United Overseas was getting worried. What if your family orders one of the fancier seasonal derivatives – the Summer Sling or the ironically named Winter Sling? Can you guarantee fiscal solvency in the face of that much gin?
Yeah, I said, don’t worry, Jean-Luc. I got this. We’ll limit ourselves to the $32 cocktails, thank you very much.
Later that night, we ended up at “Vatos,” an amazingly named taco place not far from the hotel. There were less fans and there was considerably more exposure to the humid tropical night, so I betrayed Jean-Luc a bit and ordered a few beers. Margaritas were served too. Mexican food is not a common find here, and good Mexican less so, but this was twice now that the four of us had found good food from south of the border – and I’m not talking Indonesia.
Last time, my dad ordered tequila. I think that’s what put Jean-Luc in a cautionary mood.
Having boozy nights in Singapore is no small feat. There are bars aplenty here in town, but if you haven’t gathered by now, alcohol is not cheap here. Being an island nation and having to import everything is part of it, but more pertinent is the “sin tax” applied to alcohol, as the Singaporean government has done to discourage heavy drinking. It’s an admirable goal but the resulting price tags are truly shocking, as exemplified by our $30 cocktails at the Raffles, or the $14 pints of Tiger – Tiger!2Tiger beer is the local lager, a step above the swill we call Budweiser. I’ve had $14 pints of craft beer on tap here, which is still insane. – last night.
One of my first nights out in this town was back on our house hunting trip, when Bev and I met up with some of her co-workers at Level 33, a brewery and fine dining restaurant on the 33rd floor of the Marina Bay Financial Center. Level 333they style it LeVeL 33, but fuck me if I’m going to do that three times in this paragraph is well-known for its amazing view of the marina, the Sands hotel, the Singapore flyer4our version of the London Eye and the rest of downtown, as well as the harbor and the beach. It’s absolutely one of the best views in town and you will absolutely pay out the nose for that view, tossing down $20 a pint for their beer. It’s good beer, but it’s not that good. Still, since three-quarters of our party worked for the tiny shoe company in Beaverton, dinner and drinks were on Uncle Phil. Which made for a happy me when Bev’s coworker Brian suggested that we cap the night with some Macallan 12.
Yes, please. Thanks, Phil.
Jean-Luc keeps a running list of good happy hours here, which is to say, if I may drop the LA Story-inspired narrative here, means that I often search Google for awesome happy hours. A good happy hour in Singapore is quite literally gold, as one-for-one deals5ie, buy one, get one do double your booze purchasing power, a significant increase in personal disposable wealth. Holland Village is silly with one-for-ones, making it a popular place for drinking beer and wine. Jean-Luc approves, saying that he’s only really concerned for my financial well-being.
Still, not nearly concerned enough to tell me to stop buying booze in Singapore.
If he did, I doubt I’d listen.
This city is a marvel when it comes to getting around by train, taxi or bus. One really doesn’t need a car here, which is of course, fantastic when one wants to cut loose a bit from the day to day and enjoy a few with good friends. Often with the writers’ group, I find myself over on the other side of town, a 30-minute train ride away, in Bugis, where the tight streets and alleys hold all manner of bars and restaurants. The Artistry is a regular stop for our socials – an artist-friendly venue that looks part high-end expat cafe and part bohemian refuge, the mish-mash collection of unfinished wood tables and clashing couches and chairs. I haven’t found a one-for-one there, but they often do have $10 glasses of wine or bottles of good craft beer.
You learn to adapt to the prices. One can swallow anything as truth if they hear it enough, after all6Thanks, America, for illustrating this..
Haji Lane, really an alleyway coming off Arab Street, is filled with live music, clubs and bars, even on a Sunday night. The whole alley is a scene out of Ashland, the funk of a small town’s creative vibe, smack dab in the middle of the big city. Bike shops and craft good boutiques border cafes-turned-bars, venues for weekly spoken poetry, and places like Bar Stories, which offers no drink menu, but rather bartenders infused with the knowledge of how to translate “I’d like to drink something fruity” into a personalized booze experience.
For my part, I just order the whiskey sour and flinch as I hand over my American Express card.
Bugis has become a bit of an area of interest lately as I’ve been going to more events and poetry nights in the area. Bev and I have yet to truly explore the area, something that we plan on rectifying with haste – especially after I learned of a Southern restaurant that offers chicken and waffles and the bourbon to back it up. Non-Americans take note; I don’t often give the South much credit for anything other than dragging the rest of us back on our march towards progress, but heaven, hell and everything between bear witness: Southern American food is the fucking BEST. It’s terrible for you, it will likely kill you at an early age, it’s all lard and butter and frying oil, but praise Jesus and pass the cornbread, brother; them Southern folks know how to eat.
Them Southern folks know how to drink, too, though bourbon is not my preferred means of drinking fermented grains. Still, I can’t deny the craft and care of well made booze, so, as I often preach as one should look upon people, so too must I look upon booze. Besides – bourbon is one of America’s great contributions towards inebriation in style. It would be unpatriotic of me not to support our Kentuckian brethren.
Someone has to stand up for the land from whence he came. Might as well be me.
I’ve written often of “kopi” – the local coffee that is served often with sweetener and watered down like an americano. The coffee is strong here in the tropical part of the world, and thank the Gods for that. One does need to keep in mind the dangers of drinking in the tropics. The humidity here creates a lot of sweat, and between that and alcohol, that’s a lot of dehydration, making the waking moments of the morning after a bit tenuous at times, despite how much you’re blasting the air con.
There’s a good reason I write this blog from my office in the coffee shop. While they’re not serving up kopi “O” here, the long black cuts through the fog just fine, thank you very much.
The abundance of fried food, rice and noodles in Southeast Asian cuisine is another godsend. The morning after, nasi lemak, rice served typically with a fried egg and fried chicken wings is as perfect of a hangover cure as one can get. Fried bee hoon – rice vermicelli noodles – is another favorite, often served with battered chicken breasts, stir fried veggies and an egg, though fish, hot dogs, wings are all often available too. The Singapore hawker centers are great places for recovery – most, if not all, have a kopitiem, and some sort of fried goodness. And as most hawker fare hovers around the three to four dollar range for a healthy portion, it’s the perfect counter-balance to having blown your life savings at Bar Stories for a drink that you’ve ordered by description, sight, sound, hell, make me something that makes me think I’m secretly a 1920’s Russian ballet dancer, homie. Don’t worry about the French banker outside pounding on the window telling you that I’m not cleared for a drink of that level. In eight hours, I’m going to be recovering on the pocket change after you break this last fifty dollar bill of mine. Uncle down at Holland Village knows exactly how strong to make my kopi “O”.
In short, praise Jesus and pass the chicken rice, brother.