Legend has it that cocktail lovers were born with a rare, mythical power for finding any excuse to celebrate. Even so, we know over at Popspoken that not all celebrations are made equal. Case-in-point: birthdays in Singapore’s fast-paced cocktail scene are truly ones worth showing up for. Especially at Bitters & Love.
Tucked into an unassuming corner in Telok Ayer, the bar’s trifecta of heritage furnishings, warm service and inventive tipple (name your own bespoke cocktail and have it forever anyone?) has made it an alcoholic-in-the-know’s paradise for the past 7 years.
Armed with a new menu that pays homage to, you guessed it, Bitters and souped-up bar bites (tuna tartare with nachos anyone?), co-founder Beverly Yeoh sets her sights on the future with a drink in hand.
Popspoken: How has the cocktail scene evolved in the past 7 years? Notably, what sort of trends do you see in consumption of cocktails – is there a particular type of alcohol in the past that isn’t as popular now?
Beverly Yeoh: The evolution of cocktail drinking has become more experiential for customers over the years. The cocktails play a role, but the bigger role is the hospitality, music and ambience.
Running a bar, I need to be armed and ready to answer any questions and educate our customers on certain spirits and what to pair it with, if needs be. There has been a higher demand for premium spirits — more so than 7 years ago. Gin popularity is still riding a high, but others like Mezcal and Cachaca are slowly gaining popularity as well.
Popspoken: Where do you look towards for inspiration in relation to the decor and set up of Bitters & Love?
Beverly Yeoh: The backbone of the bar is there and everything else is built around it (For e.g: We’ve got trinkets from our travels to keep it homely). We’ve also kept a lot of the original conservation like flooring and sunlit roofing. It is important for us not to design too far off from the heritage of the area.
Popspoken: When you first decided to delve full-time into this venture, what were the responses from your friends and family?
Beverly Yeoh: I used to be a huge party-goer and would always sneak out past curfew and get caught by my very strict parents. It was a complete nightmare when I told them I was keen to invest and do this full time.
It took them a couple of years to break through the stereotypical view of a bar, and more of them understanding that people are now more knowledgeable and appreciative of what they are drinking vs people going to bars because they want to get drunk.
Popspoken: What was your inspiration to start Free The Robot? How did the name come about?
Beverly Yeoh: We have always been interested and fascinated with the world of coffee, so the idea of opening a coffee shop has always been on the back of my mind. We couldn’t find it then, but realised it was staring at us the entire time.
The location for Bitters & Love is at Telok Ayer Street, an off-shoot of the CBD and one that only operates at night. I thought to myself, ‘People drink coffee during the day, so why not spin-off a different brand and co-share the space? I mean, offices have blazed this trend years ago. It’s economical and we offer different products’.
How the name came about was very interesting. We hired a branding agency to work with us, but never quite found “the name” — the feel, the ring in the ears that made it unique yet relatable.
We decided to come in at lunch time just to observe the crowd and see if there was any organic traffic. Come 12 noon, it felt like every building in the area sounded their fire alarm. Crowds plied the streets and it was then that we realised these people looked like “free robots”. It was a eureka moment for us and that’s when we found the name of our coffee shop.
Popspoken: What are your top 3 spots around the world to imbibe?
Beverly Yeoh: London for the stunning cocktails and concepts. Barcelona for the really cool decor and friendly service. Singapore for the culture integration from European to Japanese styled-cocktails and world class hospitality!
Popspoken: How did you convince your head bartender, Naz, to take you under his wings and teach you how to bartend? Could you share with us his background and what are some memorable moments through this journey so far?
Beverly Yeoh: He didn’t need much convincing. There was a point where we were short-handed and he needed to quickly train me up so that I could be a useful pair of hands. He has been in this industry for over 10 years — from working bar back, bartending in clubs and working in one of the pioneer cocktail bars in Singapore — so he has a belt of experience under him. I was probably one of his slowest students (it took me a very long time to hone the skill), but thankfully he had a lot of patience to teach me the basics and work efficiently as a bartender.
Popspoken: Does your team have any plans to expand Bitters & Love in the future? If so, could you share with us your ideal brand partners and countries you’re keen on?
Beverly Yeoh: Bitters & Love has only one flagship and it is in Singapore. There will be no other Bitters & Love anywhere else. However, we have opened up another cocktail bar with two partners in Manila called Run Rabbit Run. It is 1.5 years old and has been doing pretty well. Manila is a different market and definitely on the climb to becoming another top-notch cocktail city. For now, we are happy with what we’ve got and it is important for us to focus our resources on that
Popspoken: How would you like to be remembered?
Beverly Yeoh: For Bitters & Love — definitely playing a huge part in giving our customers the best night out in Singapore!
Raising the Bar is a Popspoken series for kindred spirits by kindred spirits, about kindred spirits on our sunny island. As the saying goes – it’s 5pm somewhere in the world.