SINGAPORE — “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” I walk into the most lavish of them all — the Atlas Bar.
With apologies to Humphrey Bogart, who made the aforementioned “gin joints” line famous in the Hollywood classic Casablanca, Singapore’s remarkable Atlas Bar is nothing like Rick's Café featured in the movie.
In fact, Atlas is the Sistine Chapel of bars, complete with a 15-metre-high brass gin “altar” that holds over 1,200 different varieties of the juniper juice.
I almost genuflect when I enter the bar’s glittering 50-foot-high lobby, which features ceiling murals that look like they belong in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The bar’s striking Art Deco design pays homage to the 1920s Jazz Age, when illegal gin was the drink of choice at America’s Prohibition-era speakeasies. Its ambient lighting is designed to consider the diffusion of sunlight during different hours of the day and bounces off the gilded gin tower and the many other brass decorations that adorn Atlas Bar.
Above: The Atlas Bar offers 1,200 different varieties of gin and some are pretty expensive.
The massive (7,400-sq-ft) Atlas Bar opened in 2017 and graces the ground floor of Singapore’s iconic Parkview Square Tower — also known here as the “the Batman Building” because it resembles fictitious Wayne Tower of Caped Crusader fame.
For the longest time, Raffles Hotel’s Long Bar, where the legendary Singapore Sling cocktail was first concocted, was the favourite watering hole of this city’s drinking elite. However, Atlas Bar, which qualifies as the best bar in the world, according to industry insiders, has wrestled that title way from Raffles, which itself recently underwent a multi-million-dollar makeover.
Atlas Bar’s centrepiece brass gin tower is the room’s most striking feature. The three-storey structure holds every variety of gin imaginable and is believed to be the largest collection of the spirit in the world.
The gin is categorized in three tiers, with the top floor in the tower being reserved for the rarest bottles, which are never offered to customers. Gins that reside on the second tier are equally precious and patrons can only sample one pour per visit.
The Atlas Bar gin is not for the faint of heart — all bottles have an alcohol content of at least 40 per cent.
As I thumb through the bar’s 80-plus page drink menu, I notice a door at the base of the gin tower, which my server identifies as the walk-in champagne room. The room’s contents are more precious than a bank vault. That’s because it houses some of the rarest bottles of bubbly in the world, including three bottles of Heidsieck & Co. Monopole champagne that were recovered from a 1900 shipwreck. Each bottle retails for almost $200,000 (Cdn).
Above: The Atlas Bar also sells lots of rare champagnes - some from shipwrecks - and High Tea is still fashionable.
The gin is equally expensive. My eyes bulge when I see a single pour from a rare bottle of 1910 Bell Sec Dry Gin will cost me about $140. The olives are free, though.
Visiting Atlas Bar is like stepping back into Singapore’s colonial days when the elite of British society would gather in posh restaurants and enjoy afternoon tea. Atlas Bar keeps that tradition alive by offering its own version of afternoon teas, where guests can sample prestige selections from the best plantations in the world. Tiered plates feature savoury samples of pumpkin quiche, lobster crostini and traditional finger sandwiches — my favourite is the egg and watercress.
The dining room is also open for lunch and dinner and those menus are spiced with European favourites, like steak frites, which can be washed down with a glass of Atlas Martini or a Tulip of Champagne.
Once you visit Atlas Bar, you’ll quickly realize why it’s the toast of the town. •
JUST THE FACTS
• Atlas Bar is located at 600 North Bridge Rd., Parkview Square. Call +65 6396 4466
• Atlas Bar opens at 10 a.m. daily and closes at 1 a.m. It’s closed on Sunday.
• For more information, go to http://www.atlasbar.sg
• Singapore Airlines offers direct flights from New York.