To say Manhattan (the bar, not the borough) is held in great esteem by those in the know is perhaps an understatement. Located on the second floor of Regent Hotel in Singapore, the hotel’s website proudly lists a couple of the bar’s recent awards. It’s built to give patrons a sense of old world charm; the entrance is grand, if not slightly mysterious, and the staff are smartly dressed, with pearl necklaces on the female wait staff adding a touch of class to the uniform.
After being led through the door by the front of house staff, the bar counter immediately catches the eye, thanks to its central position and well-lit shelves, hinting at the delectable spirits that rest proudly behind the bartenders. In contrast, the rest of the interior is dimmed to the point where you can just make out where you’re walking and the features on the face of your drinking companion. The atmosphere strives to be lively but there are occasional reminders that you’re in a hotel, instead of the heart of Singapore’s nightlife.
Manhattan’s charm lies in how it is modelled to recreate the grandeur of old New York, fuelled by a mix of classic and forgotten cocktails. The menu is organised into sections named after some of the city’s more famous boroughs, comprising Central Park, Harlem, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and Lower East Side; each section of the menu contains cocktails and food selections that represent the corresponding area of the city.
Not from any of these areas is the menu of cocktails from the rick house. Managed by the team at Manhattan, more than a hundred American oak barrels from a family cooperage in Minnesota are used to age spirits, cocktails and bitters. From this labour of love comes one of the most well-regarded cocktails, the solera-aged negroni. Made from a blend of gins, Campari, Gran Classico bitters and Mancino vermouth, the negroni is aged in the rick house for at least six weeks using the solera-ageing method. The additional time allows the ingredients to really blend. The flavours also mature and take on some of the characteristics of the barrel they’re aged in.
This technique was originally developed by the Spanish and Portuguese to ensure a constant average age for sherry and port. Glenfiddich also uses this method for its 15 year old single malt, which has helped the spirit become the first 15 year old expression among the top ten best-selling single malts.
As it would be rather poor form to drink on an empty stomach, we ordered some food with our cocktails. Despite the substantial prices accompanying most of the items on the food menu, they’re in fact portioned as bar snacks, so it’s best to manage your expectations as you contemplate your orders. How does one justify such prices? I suppose it’s part of being a hotel bar. If you’re feeling the pinch, the complimentary popcorn that regularly gets topped up by the staff can probably get you through your drinks before you head elsewhere for a more substantial meal.
The dark conditions make it less suitable for photos on social media, but I don’t think the bar needs or wants that sort of publicity. I found the lobster roll quite disappointing, and I struggled to find a reason I would order it again on my next visit. The rest of the dishes were decent both in taste and price – albeit bearing in mind I’m comparing them against what’s essentially a S$27 roll of crab (yes, it used crab meat instead of lobster) roll and dip. I’ll probably swap the ‘lobster’ roll for the chicken & waffle the next time I’m there.
Uninspiring food aside, it’s been a while since I had a cocktail that I’ve kept thinking about and craved so frequently. Manhattan’s negroni is a truly well-crafted drink that deserves your attention, and it’s probably the only cocktail that will tempt me away from my favourite old fashioned. I’m already looking forward to having another solera-aged negroni.