“Who is the old man?”
The Old Man is a Hemingway-inspired cocktail bar that is located in Hong Kong and Singapore, with each cocktail a story to tell. (Image Source: World’s 50 Best Bars)
The server swiftly gestures to a group of balding baby boomers ensconced in their sofa seats at the back of the bar.
When he realised his joke was met with confused squints he quickly explained “Oh, this bar is named after the book The Old Man and the Sea.”
“By Ernest Hemingway? Ah, I see.”
The bar never keeps its menu fixed, mixing it up every so often with each cocktail named after a key year in Hemingway’s life. The Moveable Feast #1964 mirrors everything from the fresh ocean catch to cherry tomatoes. (Image Source: The Old Man SG)
The Old Man is a discreet bar along Keong Saik. It’s a rather tired and overused expression to say it’s blink-and-you-may-miss-it but this cliché is indeed true. There are no signs at its entrance save for a pineapple-shaped lamp looming above the entrance. Ranked at #58 on the World’s Best Bars, The Old Man is a bright and surprisingly spacious bar with remarkably warm hospitality and attentive service with beautiful tropical aesthetics - palm leaf print stools and green jewel tones.
The drinks available are each named after a year, presumably a significant milestone in Ernest Hemingway’s life (on hindsight I should had asked them about the we drinks ordered).
A 1954 and a 1917 for our intrepid duo’s night out.
“What would you recommend for a gin-based drink that is fresh?”
“1954” – This is a Nordic-inspired concoction of monkey sloe gin, homogenized pine and rosemary, rotovap juniper distillate and bubbles evokes fresh, pine forests and herbal, woodland flavours. Completely out of my comfort zone as it is a woody herbal taste, but it was refreshing, as promised.
“What’s your favourite drink that is whiskey-based – I’ll just have that.”
“1917” – Clearly my companion was feeling adventurous and straying from her usual allegiance to gin which I am terribly partial to. Ingredients such as cheese wax and fungi would have been enough for me to politely decline but not for her. The menu describes this as perfect for adventurous and indeed this savoury cocktail is rather poetic for a young lady on the brink of relocating to Bangkok amid a global pandemic.
#1932 Death in the Afternoon is a concoction of Absinthe, Prosecco and Coco-Pandan Yogurt, Froth and Nutmeg. (Image Source: The Old Man SG)
As we typically do, we observed the intimate bar and studied the crowd – an eclectic mix of expats, local baby boomers and colleagues bonding over drinks.
“What would you miss most about Singapore?”
And like clockwork, the servers at The Old Man, between furtive glances at our table would ensure our glasses were filled with water while we slowly attended to our drinks.
“You know, I have an acquaintance in Bangkok and she told me that she watched the National Day Parade. I don’t even watch it but she says once I leave I definitely will as I will definitely miss home.”
“I wonder if Hemingway ever felt this was when he was away from the States.”
Fermented textured vegetable protein harvana rum, soy milk kefir, rotovap pandan distillate, gomme and orange phosphate. (Image Source: The Old Man SG)
Shortly after, the bartenders gently ushered us to the bar where a caricature of Hemingway hung, flanked by tropical leaves on each side. It is worth mentioning that this image does not possess eyes. Maybe it is intended that like Lady Justice, Ernest Hemingway shall be blind to all high jinks that occur at The Old Man?
“Don’t you think this looks like the Meyer Briggs 16 personality test characters?”
“I can really see the resemblance,” she chuckled while downing her second drink – the 1899 which looks like hipster latte comprising fermented textured vegetable protein havana rum, soy milk kefir, rotovap pandan distillate, gomme and orange phosphate.
Homogenised Angostura cacao rum, sous vide coffee vinegar, elderflower, rotovap mentha distillate and phosphate. (Image Source: The Old Man SG)
Alas the hours would fly by in a blink of an eye and the lights would come on signalling the end of the night at 10.30 pm. Guests stream out slowly in waves save for us stubborn few deeply engaged in conversation. With much reluctance we left the bar counter hurriedly putting our masks back on.
“Your friend isn’t waiting for you” the bartenders teased.
As we slipped off the bar counter, I glanced up to take one last look at the imposing image of Hemingway without eyes and felt some relief that it not have sight of the travesty of an empty bar this early on a Friday night.
The Old Man – Singapore
55 Keong Saik Road, #01-04, Singapore 089158
Monday to Saturday, 5:00 PM – 10:30 PM
For bookings, please call +65 6909 5505
Every drink has a story.
When Ernest Hemingway completed his manuscript for ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, he wrote to his publisher that he felt that it was his best work yet. Sure enough, the book went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and is the last significant piece of work of fiction by him before he took his life in 1961.
The Old Man Singapore name takes after this great literary work and honours Hemingway by taking inspiration from his novels, history, and folklore.
Literary giant Hemingway had quite a colourful life. The Old Man Singapore’s latest menu is inspired by his experiences, and the women he loved. The innovative drinks attempt to distil the memories associated with Hemingway’s journey, invoking a sense of nostalgia for a distant past, for romantic and tragic relationships, as well as adventure and travel.