IF YOU are like me, one of those newcomer gin lovers, then the six-month-old Atlas Bar in not so far away Singapore is a must-see and must-experience visit. Atlas Bar is located at the very high-ceilinged lobby of the towering 24-storey Art Deco style Parkview Square building complex in North Bridge Road that easily stands out in the Bugis district. The Bugis district is in Central Singapore and conveniently accessible via the Bugis and Lavender MRT stations. A few honorary consulates and international embassies are also housed in this luxurious building complex, known popularly among locals as the Gotham city of Singapore.
FAMILIAR PLACE BUT NEW CONCEPT
When I was brought to the Atlas Bar by a friend, I was surprisingly familiar with the extravagant interiors and classic Euro-style setup. Then I realized that Atlas Bar replaced the former Divine Wine Extraordinaire.
I had been to Divine Wine Extraordinaire over a decade ago and it was quite memorable so my recollection of this venue and experience came back in a flash. To me, Divine Wine Extraordinaire (even if I was not fond of the name) was one-of-a-kind then, and still unduplicated till now when it came to its massive wine selection, inimitable grand scale, and its’ gimmickry. The main feature of Divine Wine Extraordinaire was the central display of a 15-meter, almost three storey-high customized vertical wine chiller – or what they coined as the Wine Tower – that contained thousands of wines. The coolest wine gimmick I have ever encountered in any wine place was experienced at the Divine Wine Extraordinaire, when I got to witness female bartenders, dressed as a fairies complete with wings and harness, being hoisted into the air to fetch the premium wines that guests chose from the suspended wine chiller.
But as you could imagine, the wines being fetched by the “wine fairies” from the wine tower cost hundreds to thousands of Singapore dollars per bottle. The Divine Wine Extraordinaire was definitely on the pricey side, even by First World standards. I was already sure that the Atlas Bar was no different even before I opened the menu to check its prices.
THE GIN FOCUS APPROACH
The gin resurgence has caught on all over the world, and Atlas Bar purposely prioritized gin in its drinks offering. The former wine tower which was the centerpiece during the Divine Wine Extraordinaire time has now been converted to the Gin Tower, with over 1,000 different gins – easily the world’s largest gin collection, and I was told by a waitstaff that the list might grow to 1,200 or more by end of the year.
The Atlas Bar liquor menu comes in the form of a thick, almost 90-page book, half of which covers gins, but which also includes extensive selections of champagnes, wines, whiskies, cognacs, rums, and all the spirits you can think of. The gin list of over 1,000 labels come from 42 different countries, including unfamiliar sources like Luxembourg, Estonia, Moldova, Columbia, Mexico, and even Sri Lanka. The Atlas Bar even carries an-over-a-century-old Bell Sec Dry Gin (from the 1910s) among some 37 exclusive old collectible gins. The biggest commercial gins from the most recognized English brands like Tanqueray, Gordon’s, Bombay, Beefeater, Plymouth, Bulldog, to more artisanal ones made up an incredible 267 different gins from England alone. Other popular brands like Hendricks from Scotland, Monkey 47 from Germany, Gin Mare from Spain, and Four Pillars from Australia are all expectedly available too.
Gordon’s and Tangueray gins are the cheapest at similar S$16 or P640 per pour/shot (most likely standard 1.5 ounce/45ml) – ironically, that one shot of Gordon’s costs more than the retail price of a whole 700ml bottle sold in Manila. Most gins are in the S$22 to S$24 per pour range. A shot of the 1910 Bell Sec Dry Gin is an obscene S$165 (P6,600). And the prices are without the tonic water yet, if you are to ask for a gin tonic. And these prices are even without the 10% service charge and 7% GST.
THE ‘GIN RATION’
Atlas Bar introduced a unique house rule called the “Gin Ration.” This decree states that due to the rarity and scarcity of many of the gin collections (the noncommercial brands), these are to be rationed or strictly allotted. Guests are therefore only allowed one pour of these gins per visit.
It took me quite a long time to decide what gin to order, as I was dumbfounded by the humongous selection before me. I ended up ordering a Swiss gin I have never heard of called Arctic Velvet Gin, and paired it with an East Imperial Old World tonic water from New Zealand as suggested by the waitstaff. Incidentally, Arctic Velvet is among the majority of gins under the “gin ration,” so even if I enjoyed the Arctic Velvet gin tonic, I could not order a second serving.
THE CHAMPAGNE COLLECTION
The Atlas Bar also boasts of what is probably Singapore’s most expansive champagne list, with almost 300 amazing labels, with the detailed segregation in the list by Champagne villages, the availability of rare old vintages, verticals of iconic brands, and a dedicated Champagne Room.
The most notable champagne is the shipwreck recovered 1907 Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Gout Américain,” a champagne recovered in 1998 from the 1916 shipwrecked Swedish vessel Jonkoping. This ultra-rare collectible champagne bottle is being sold at Atlas Bar for a whopping S$190,700 (P7.6 million) plus taxes.
IN SEARCH OF PHL PREMIUM GIN
The Philippines is the world’s number one consumer of gin (our Ginebra San Miguel is the world’s largest gin brand based on consumption – 22 million cases per year), and home of the world’s largest gin manufacturer, Ginebra San Miguel, Inc. (formerly La Tondeña Distillery, and owned by San Miguel Corp.). I really feel that our country should have at least an entry in Atlas Bar, especially since there are entries from Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. Our Ginebra San Miguel is obviously catering to the masses, and admittedly of low quality, and low price (the 350 ml or half bottle costs less than P40 – just S$1), but it may be time for San Miguel Corp. or any other liquor company to come up with a high quality gin. Ginebra already started with an upgrade by releasing its more premium GSM Blue, but still I expect more and better.
We probably need to start by importing real good juniper berries (the essential difference between vodka and gin) and other staple ingredients like coriander seeds and angelica roots. Since the Philippines is abundantly rich with exotic fruits, herbs, and other flavors that can be part of a gin’s unique botanicals, there is serious opportunity waiting. And perhaps the majority of Filipinos will not look at gin as mere alcohol bliss, but as a more versatile and serious spirit.
The author has been a member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.