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28 HongKong Street

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28 Hongkong Street, Singapore 059667

By Alexander Barlow

IT’S BEEN ALMOST FIVE YEARS since the founders of 28 Hongkong Street hired a PR firm to keep what has since become one of the most famous addresses in world bardom a secret. By now, you know the story.

For those who don’t, it’s worth repeating as a masterclass in how to enter a fragile, sensitive market. By his own admission, founding bartender Michael Callahan was by no means the first flown-in firebrand to land in Singapore. Nor, he might add, was he the biggest.

Still, he might just have been the first to sensibly not unzip his fly and show everyone how big his cocktail balls were. As he said to a local newspaper on the eve of the bar’s opening: “It happens all too often – somebody who didn’t earn his stripes in the local market coming in and expecting everyone to ‘worship’ him simply because he’s a big foreign talent from another country. That’s definitely something I wanted to avoid”.

And he did, masterfully. An instinctive collaborator, Callahan balanced craft and community from the get-go – and it paid. 28 Hongkong Street was not, by any means, Singapore’s first good cocktail bar. But it will undoubtedly be remembered as the opening that did more than any other to nurture the city’s bar talent. No other drinkery in Singapore has given the trade a surer sense of self-belief than 28 Hongkong St – a shift in mind-set captured in an interview with one-time bar-back Jeremy Chua with a local magazine in 2014, just after he’d been appointed head barkeep. “It’s no longer as case of: ‘Oh, you’re a bartender?’ It’s: ‘Oh! You’re a bartender!’ You hear the difference now,” he said. “Before, it was a job. Now, it’s a profession.”

Chua, like most of the original team, is still part of the family of self-styled ‘spirit evangelists’ (staff turnover is close to zero). Other members, such as Zdenek Kastanek, Jason Williams and David Cordoba, still turn shifts at the bar but day-job at Proof & Company, the bar’s holding group.

But there are new arrivals: formerly of PDT, New York, and Ounce, Taipei, shakesmith Payman Bahmani joined this January to work alongside former 28 general manager now creative director Joe Alessandroni as ops director of Crafty, a sub-company that will manage 28 Hongkong Street and Proof & Co’s second Singapore venture, an as-yet-unnamed space that will be a collaborative creative hub by day and bar by night, co-tended by original bartender Peter Chua and Tippling Club alum Zac de Git. The group has also launched Proof Flat – part event space, part bottle shop.
There’s a new face behind the 28 stick, too. Now head bartender, Logan Demmy joined in October 2015 via Mouton, Ohio, and will lock down what Alessandroni promises will be a new, tech-forward, geek-pleasing era in the history of what is likely one of the most important bar openings in Asia. New menu launches in April. You know the address.