Cocktail bars often anchor their concepts around a particular place and time. It doesn’t take much to recall an example — just think of the armada of Prohibition Era-inspired bars that popped up across the country two years back, and the revival of classic cocktail recipes that came in tandem. That sense of escapism and the liquid tickets dished out by these bars are a reason many of us keep frequenting these institutions.
But after one too many bastardised speakeasies, the thirsty crowd in Singapore is crying out for something fresh, for a new masterclass in cocktails and its history that doesn’t involve a hunt for a discreet entrance or the gimmick of a password at the door. Idlewild, the new hotel bar at Intercontinental Singapore, has stepped in to fill that very gap.
Idlewild is inspired by the golden age of air travel, a time where flights were only first class, and the novelty of being in the air was so immense that the gilded masses would don their wardrobe’s finest just to jet set across the globe. At the hand of bartending veteran Andy Griffiths, Idlewild recaptures that mood of excitement and the possibilities of travel from the 40s to 60s with impeccable attention to detail across its décor, food, and most importantly, its cocktail menu.
When you step into Idlewild, you’re immediately greeted by a glowing cabinet of curiosities. A closer look reveals a collection of rare and vintage bottles sourced from around the globe, alongside travel paraphernalia that intrigue. This visual passport is your gateway to the rest of the bar, designed in a luxe-retro style that transports you to the age it embodies. Dominating the 2,200 square feet space is a sprawling curved bar that comfortably seats six, but if you prefer being away from the action, there are leather-clad booth seats and intimate tables to pick from.
The cocktail menu is a map that traverses 10 different cities parked along the Atlantic Ocean. These span familiar booze hubs like Dublin and Havana, glittering capitals such as London and Paris, as well as exotic locales like Lima and Lisbon. For every city, Griffiths has created two cocktails that encapsulate the ingredients, spirits, and the overall native drinking culture.
The journey for our palates began in Paris with The French Cook, a cocktail that flaunts Griffiths’ skills as a bartender and chef. Many of the drinks on the menu are integrated with culinary techniques and in the case of this effervescent cocktail, it is the cordial made with the herbs one gets in the bouquet garni.
Accentuating the aromatic syrup is the junipery Citadelle gin, a dose of chartreuse génépi — a herbal liqueur from Grenoble — finished with some absinthe. This may seem like an overtly herbal cocktail on paper, but Griffiths cleverly cuts the weight with Chardonnay and citrus, before carbonating the whole combination to order. What results is a fizzy jolt of recognisable French flavours, with a balance of sweet, zest and a welcome touch of bitterness. The French Cook is dangerously delightful.
From France, we sojourned to Morocco, where spices and mint become the mainstay. Griffiths freestyles with the popularity of mint tea and spice blends in the country to create the Berber Smash, a long drink that evolves the longer you let it sit. Crushed mint leaves perfume Rebel Yell rye, an already spice-forward spirit that’s given more oomph with cardamom bitters supercharged, if you will, with more cardamom pods in-house.
Finished with a preserved lemon syrup and topped with a mound of crushed ice, the final cocktail tickles nostalgia for most local drinkers familiar with the sour plum and calamansi juice found in hawker centres upon the first sip. The comforting memory then is then taken over by the prominence of fresh mint and sweet spice as the drink dilutes. Take your time with this one.
A final favourite sees us in Mexico, where pineapple and plantation rum offer a fantasy of the tropics. Griffiths builds on the sugarloaf, the sweetest type of pineapple there is, for this namesake cocktail that also draws because of the sustainable method behind the magic.
Griffiths recognised that the hotel breakfast buffet results in an excess of pineapple skins and offcuts being discarded every day, so he retains these from the kitchens to make a spiced tepache, or pineapple beer unique to Mexico, with some tamarind and gula melaka added to temper the acid. There’s some cognac in the mix for notes of Christmas spice, which adds heft to the candied mosaic of pineapple flavours. For those who enjoy a fruity cocktail done right, order the Sugarloaf.
Apart from the 20 cocktails, Idlewild also has two large format drinks for sharing, as well as beers and wines also sourced from far-flung locations on the menu. Griffiths also shares that they will potentially offer tasting flights of the curious liquors the bar has collected.
The travel theme extends to the tapas menu as well. Each city has a signature dish, some familiar, such as the endive cups of Waldorf salad synonymous with New York, while others bank on notable ingredients, like the creamy avocado fries crusted in nuts from Mexico.
Most of the bites we tried were moreish, but don’t end your night without ordering the Cubano sandwich sliders. The chef at Idlewild sourced the recipe directly from the chef of local ambassador to Cuba, so this is authentic as it gets without hopping on a plane. Toasted soft bread hugs juicy ham that puckers the mouth with salt, heightened with gherkins and mustard for a savoury bomb that cuts through all the booze you’ve been knocking back.
Singaporeans adore travel and a good, stiff drink, so the union between both worlds at Idlewild makes the new establishment the perfect fodder for all you keen cocktail lovers out there. Clever mixes in the drinks and the lush décor just amplify the sense that you don’t want to leave. We didn’t.
Sunday to Thursday, and public holidays
5pm to 1am
Friday and Saturday, and eve of public holidays
5pm to 2am
Recommended drinks: The French Cook, Berbere Smash, Sugarloaf
Price: S$22-26 for cocktails, S$15-S$18 for tapas
Noise level: Expect buzzy contemporary jazz music through the speakers, and a live band to play from Wednesdays to Saturdays.
Service: Warm, friendly and attentive.