Coming Together

During this time of crisis, Singapore’s cocktail bars have banded together to preserve one of the world’s most progressive bar scenes.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

"Left to right: Bai Jiawei, Jess Hutchinson, Jesse Vida"

For a relatively young nightlife scene coupled with low rates of alcohol consumption, Singapore has done exceedingly well in building a bar industry.

We have one of the most vibrant cocktail bar scenes in the world. Unfortunately, it’s under threat from Covid-19.

Formed in the middle of one of the most challenging periods for the hospitality business, the Singapore Cocktail Bar Association (SCBA) is already several months into its mission to buoy bars hardest hit by changing circumstances such as severely reduced turnovers and shorter operating hours.

So far, it's managed to secure $120,000 from corporate sponsors, including Monkey 47, Bacardi and Perrier. The money has gone into a fund set up to aid employees of member bars who have been financially impacted by the crisis.

The Peak speaks to SCBA committee members Jesse Vida (Atlas), Jess Hutchinson (No Sleep Club), and Bai Jiawei (Employees Only Singapore) about the association's work so far.

What's the story behind SCBA’s formation?

Vida: The formation had been gestating in the industry for some time, but it became apparent during this crisis that there was an urgent need for an official body to represent the cocktail community. Having a seat at the table when it comes to decisions that affect the industry directly is a huge necessity.

What are some areas SCBA has been working on and what will its role be after the pandemic is over?

Vida: Community support and recovery planning are paramount. As a start, the main goal has been to raise money to help those in need. Applications for the relief fund are now open to staff from our member bars. In the future, SCBA aims to be a voice for the cocktail bar community. We want to receive feedback from everyone in the industry on how we can assist and work together to continue growing Singapore’s cocktail scene in a positive, inclusive and communicative manner.

Hutchinson: Honestly, I'm not sure when this will fully blow over. However, I’m confident SCBA will continue to be helpful to the industry. In times of trouble, we have seen how bars and customers come together to lend their support. I'm grateful Singapore has such a cohesive bar industry and an inclusive F&B scene. As an association, we are able to help employees, both Singaporeans and PRs, as well as those on employment passes. There will always be someone to help and there will always be a cause to give to – not just financially, but with emotional support as well.

How have the bars been dealing with the new rules and regulations?

Bai: Everyone understands the seriousness of Covid-19 and the impact it will continue to have. With new rules and regulations continually being introduced, it is natural that the industry is constantly taking time to understand and react. In such instances, I am proud to say that our bonds are strong. We have different platforms where the community congregates to constantly share advice and exchange information.

What are some of the most pressing current issues for Singapore's bars?

Bai: Like many others in the F&B industry, and as business becomes more challenging with the ongoing restrictions, cocktail bars are struggling to handle drops in consistent cash flow. We know the pandemic is not going away any time soon, so the only way to survive is to adapt and find new ways to supplement our incomes.

How has the lockdown changed the way you approach business?

Hutchinson: We've had to react quickly to changes, and create a system that teams could easily and swiftly follow. For instance, we've always wanted to have a lifestyle section at No Sleep Club, and Covid-19 was the catalyst for that to happen. I'm confident Singapore will now see drinking at home as a new normal and that bars and restaurants will need to come up with new and creative ways to improve that experience. We must find the right balance between the experiences at our cocktail bars versus those at home.

What advice would you give to a new bar?

Hutchinson: Firstly, keep it simple. Set achievable goals and build from there. Secondly, there is no shame in asking for help. There will always be people willing to assist. Finally, don't forget why you started it. There will be tough days, but the rewards of that one good day will make you feel so alive and driven that you'll keep chasing that high.