Get the skinny on the neighborhood bar with Singaporean flavour
Nick Haas, owner of Skinny’s Lounge, on why no one need put on their fancy shoes. As told to Natasha Hong.
“How interesting is it to be able to come to a place like Skinny’s, where you can sing karaoke and drink a Gin Basil Smash with good lighting, good service and good atmosphere? I’ve always been a big fan of bars like Mother’s Ruin and Holiday Cocktail Lounge, that are unpretentious neighbourhood drinking spots in New York City that serve solid cocktails. That’s what I felt was missing in Singapore. One of the things I really love about this place is it feels like an accessible experience where you can still get really good drinks, but in a worn-in, well-loved space.
We looked for a KTV because no one’s ever taken over a KTV to do something unique. For the interiors, I was very lucky to have designers EDG meet me at my price. They usually work on massive hotel projects around the world, but picked me for their small project of the year – it helps them stay close to their roots. It was important to me that it didn’t feel like it’s been put together by a designer, like it was new in 1987 and has fallen into disrepair since. The bar structure, all of the furniture, 90 per cent of our glassware, our cocktail towers were leftovers from the KTV and kept not only to cut costs, but to give it a more interesting and authentic feel. I wouldn’t call us a dive bar though – I think of them as really gross, dirty places you go for two dollar drinks. You don’t make a dive bar; they pretty much become it.
Boat Quay is one of the most interesting areas in Singapore, and we’ve got wonderful foot traffic from the riverfront in our corner. Hannah Waters leads an amazing floor team of young women, and behind the bar is myself, Leo Tanemo and Brendan Lim. We serve accessible classics or modern classics that need to be approachable to someone walking in from the street who might not necessarily be a cocktail geek. Our drinks are all shaken and a bit more citrus driven and refreshing, and our Penicillin’s one of our best-selling cocktails. I like to think that it’s the best one outside of Attaboy. When Sam Ross was in town, he showed me how to make their sweet ginger juice – we do it his way, except for the candied ginger and the large rock ice. We also wanted to price them according to the location – there are no cocktails over SGD20 in the neighbourhood, and I want to see if we can keep them this way.
I took a loan and own the bar 100 per cent. I wanted to have complete control over everything and I like being able to say that this is my baby. It’s easy to think that I have all the right answers all the time, but I’ve surrounded myself with people with different skill sets and may do things differently. I trust if they say something needs to be done in a certain way, then don’t hold resentment against that choice later on. Giving my team a say in how the business is run gives them greater ownership in the bar – it’s something I learned from Nathan Beasley from Melbourne’s Black Pearl about building a bar family – and it speaks more than words when Leo and the girls come in on their off days to hang out till last call, help clean up and have a beer before heading home. This is almost more important than having good drinks, because at the end of the day, if you’re having a great time, and have solid drinks coming out, the customers are going to have a blast.”
Skinny’s Lounge / 82 Boat Quay, Singapore / fb.com/drinkskinnys