The best gin joint in the world

Business World - - ARTS & LEISURE - SHER­WIN A. LAO

IF YOU are like me, one of those new­comer gin lovers, then the six­month-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.


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 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.


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 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.


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 pro­tegeinc@ya­ He is also on Twit­ter at twit­­win­lao.

The At­las Bar has over 1,000 gins — eas­ily the world’s largest gin col­lec­tion — and I was told by the wait­staff that the list might grown to 1,200 or more by the end of the year.

THE At­las Bar Gin Tower

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