View Gallery 35 Photos

This story featured in the April issue of Australian Bartender.

We’ve written a fair bit about Singapore lately, and that’s because the the bar scene there is thriving. Their bars regularly feature on the big lists, the place has attracted a ton of talent from Australia, and Singapore’s role as a transport hub sees a lot of destination drinkers hitting their bars.

One person who has been instrumental in the rise of Singapore’s bar scene over the last decade is Michael Callahan, who has recently opened the two level, dual concept bar Barbary Coast in Singapore and recently hosted a takeover at PS40 in Sydney.

Callahan opened the seminal 28 Hongkong Street, one of the bars that ushered in a new era of drinking in Singapore, as founding bartender and part owner before becoming a ‘spirits evangelist’ for Proof & Company.

Callahan then teamed up with Celia Schoonraad — whom you may know from such magazine profiles as this one — to open Barbary Coast at the start of this year. 

ADVERTISEMENT
 

We visited the bar for ourselves last month, and were struck by not just the attention to detail in the design of the room — it is, as the photographs here show, a truly beautiful bar room — but also by the level of service we received from the bartenders behind the stick.

Schoonraad and Callahan have some top notch talent on board — overseeing the venue is Roman Foltán, who comes to the bar having served as the bar manager at Singapore’s temple to gin, Atlas — and behind the stick, Leo Tanemo (who is also ex-Proof & Company talent) hosts the upstairs bar with aplomb.

As Callahan describes below, the bar is a two-level venue; your first stop should be a cocktail at the bar on street level, called Deadfall. Here, they’ve got a list of quick to serve pre-batched wonders categorised by colour which won’t disappoint whilst you sit at the street side bar (we tried a Colada twist which was knocked back quickly and had us hankering for more).

Upstairs, at the Barbary Coast Ballroom is where things get a little more refined and opulent: the room is gorgeous, featuring a curved bar you’ll be happy to linger at. Take a Tommy Tomate (tomato mezcal, lime leaf agave, lime, and saline) for a twist on a Tommy’s that is both moreish and refreshing.

But it’s a bar that is more than just drinks; when we asked Tanemo if there were any barber shops about, he took the extra step of making the booking for us and putting in a good word with the barber.

It’s that desire to do just a little bit more for your punters that makes one want to return to the bar, night after night. 

Callahan was recently in Sydney for a takeover of PS40, so we took the opportunity to ask him about Barbary Coast and to get his advice for younger bartenders.

What’s the big idea behind Barbary Coast? How did it come about?

It was something Celia and I both wanted to build for many years; Deadfall is downstairs and a bar built for the everyday worker and industry person and offers a great neighbourhood experience at a very affordable price, the Ballroom is the upstairs wonderland where creativity and attention to detail was lavished with attention. We slowly collected over three long three years the design ideas, interior elements,  recipes and materials in order to offer an experience unlike any in the region.

Can you describe the style of service and the drinks at Barbary Coast?

Service is guest-centric with staff encouraged to sit or kneel when talking to the guest so the patron wont strain their neck or subconsciously feel talked down to when conversing with the team. That is just one of a hundred little items we look at to make sure everyone feels welcomed and relaxed but also attended to and entertained.

To say the drinks are thoughtful is an understatement, Ballroom is Celia’s dissertation on menu and flavour design and she spent months planning and adjusting. That being said nothing is fetishized with little to none of the technique mentioned on the menu. She uses equipment for a purpose and ingredients because they are exactly what that drinks composition yearned for.  Im endlessly impressed with her opening menu.

You’ve been in Singapore a long time now, having opened 28 Hongkong Street. What does the bar scene there look like now?

Diverse.  High level of talent specialises is every form of bar establishment you could ask for and at a world class level. In one night yoy could be whisked away to Japan,  UK, NYC, Sydney and some places that are unique in time.  In Singapore you can literally drink the world in a few fun filled nights.

How would you describe your approach to bartending?

Deeply personal.  Each guest is a relationship and with all relationships there are good times and bad.  In the end we just want you to be happy,  through a good drink, good chat or simply a safe place to hang your head. When you’re here and I’m serving I got you boo.

Why do you do what you do?

Because we get to make people smile while exercising the inner artist.  Best job in the world.

What advice do you have for younger bartenders starting out, who want to make a career in the industry?

Focus on hospitality — both toward the guests but also your coworkers. Listen more than you talk. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something isn’t right (from drink, to lighting, to the way a guest is treating another).