Bar and speakeasy hopping in Asia

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Bar and speakeasy hopping in Asia

Happy New Year dear readers of my CEO stories! Thank you for your loyalty, for reading my stories, and for your comments and anecdotes. I wish you all a wonderful, healthy, peaceful and successful 2020.

Christmas and New Year is the time of the year when many of us enjoy bonding with family and friends, good food and wine, joy and laughter. I want to extend the festive mood with my first story of 2020 on bars and speakeasies.

According to ‘The Worlds 50 Best Bars’ (, 13 are in Asia. I was quite amazed at this number, remembering that just a few years ago there were virtually none. Out of these, five are in Singapore and two in Shanghai, China.

Many of our readers familiar with Singapore will know Atlas, the highest ranking bar of the 13 and truly an institution on its own. It’s not just a bar, it’s a venue where one can hang out from early afternoon to late at night, it’s classy and fashionable, and it’s a favourite among locals and visitors alike.

I took the opportunity during a recent visit to the Lion City to go bar hopping, or rather speakeasy hopping. Historically, the word ‘speakeasy’ originated in the US and was used to describe an illicit drinking den or nightclub that sold illegal alcoholic beverages. Such establishments came into prominence in the Prohibition era (1920 to 1933) where patrons had to whisper code words to enter.

Today, the usage of the word ‘speakeasy’ is rather vague and is sometimes misused; so for simplicity I’ll call them bars without outdoor signs. Patrons who do not know the entrance to such an establishment have to look or ask around before finding the hidden door. Sometimes one needs to ring a bell or punch in codes to gain access.

I have to say that many of these speakeasies in Singapore are truly entertaining. The fun starts with trying to find the place, which can be difficult to spot. Some are so popular with locals, particularly during weekends, that they either limit the number of guests or require booking tables or seats in advance.

For lovers of cocktails, many speakeasies will surprise them with creations they have never tasted before. Some of the drink combinations are so weird and sound so toxic that I wonder what my head will feel like the next day after downing a few. And trying out these signature cocktails is the other enjoyable part of speakeasy hopping.

One of the best cities in Asia for speakeasies is Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. Some of them can truly be called dens. One I went to looks like a picture-perfect Halloween party venue, another conveys images of China in the 30s, while a third is in a building that appears it’s going to be torn down soon.

In Bangkok there are so many speakeasies popping up that it’s difficult to keep track of them. Admittedly, some are old bars that try their luck in reinventing themselves. They used to have names and now they don’t because they are branding themselves in more fashionable ways, but many are really different and hip. Bar hopping in the Thai capital does not have to be confined to rooftops or famous hotel bars. A much more entertaining evening is to start on a rooftop with a drink, go for a nice dinner, then continue speakeasy hopping in the famous and not so famous parts of the city.

For our MICE clients we have speakeasy programmes built on team-building activities where participants need to solve clues to find these bars. Once ‘unearthed’ the action continues with them guessing ingredients of particular cocktails, creating their own drinks with local alcohol they most likely have never heard of, and getting new clues to find the next place.

Some of our evening tours include stops at speakeasies off the beaten track that are patronised by locals.

Our offices will be happy to share information when arrangements are booked through Asian Trails.

Happy Trails in 2020!

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