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Idle Hands: We Check Out Cocktail Maestro Jay Gray's New Passion Project

 

Situated smack above Low Tide bar and with barely any signs to lead you to the place, Jay Gray's new bar certainly has some mystique behind it. Take special care not to overlook the stairs that lead to it, I must say.

But after some wandering, I found myself in front of a door emblazoned vertically with "IDLE HANDS".

Not much room for interpretation there.

With the air of a trespassing rodent, I tentatively pushed open and poked my head through the door. 

I was assaulted with a resounding "HELLO!" from two shadow-cloaked figures behind the bar. Two shadow-cloaked figures, that upon closer inspection, were legends in their own right in the bar scene in Singapore.

It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust, but I am met with the smiling faces of cocktail maestros Jay Gray and David Yueng (Or Dave Jony, as some might know him).

 

 

Some might recognise Jay from Sago House fame, where he helped the bar onto the No.10 spot on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 list, as well as the coveted No.32 spot in the World’s 50 Best Bars.

He's also one of the minds behind Tiki bar Low Tide and Underdog Inn (Aside from his staggering number of accolades which would need a whole other piece to get into depth about). 

 

Idle Hands is the latest venture of industry veteran Jay Gray who started the acclaimed Sago Group.

 

David is also a former Campari Group brand ambassador with over a decade of experience in the industry. He now collaborates with Jay on Idle Hands.

The 15-seater Idle Hands was cosier than i anticipated, its low ceiling complimenting the decor and dimmer lighting quite well. Jay says he built it by hand for a chef friend of his before ultimately deciding to have it as his own.

 

A fun little gaming corner.

Glance at the walls, and you'll see Jay's own collection of knick knacks piled in shelves. With a smile, he says its a hobby he credits his mother with when she "dragged me all over to check out all sorts of antiques" when he was young.  

Ranging from a typewriter to a vintage radio, he promises that the decor will change on a whim depending on his mood and feelings toward certain items.

 

 

As I pull up a chair, I have a charcuterie bowl thrust under my nose, piled high with meats, cheese and bread. David smiles as he motions me to tuck in.

With other attendees clustered around the communal table in the center of the room, it feels more like the warmth of visiting your grandma's. I might not know a single face at the table, but I was immediately struck by a sense of camaraderie.

Coupled with an atmosphere of familiarity, Jay and David's warm grins made me feel very much like I was an old friend coming in to have a drink or two (And not like a wet-behind-the-ears intern at his first live event coverage).

For lack of a better word, the sort of vibe is inherently Jay, and he certainly brings it across well.

But enough about the place you say, what about the drinks?

 

Jay's new menu, which includes illustrations by his own hand.

Have no fear. Idle Hands also has a wonderful menu for those feeling a tad snackish.

 

Jay's new menu can be described in three words: Simple but delicious. It's split into three broad groups; a refreshing selection that includes "smashable sours", a stiffer arsenal for that brown-spirit-type nightcap, and even a non-alcoholic barrage for those that are just happy to be there!

It's built on the concept of simplicity, made with ingredients anyone can find or make in a jiffy. Jay says he really wants to "keep it simple, stupid".

He groaned at the thought of highly complex drinks: " I don't want to bore you. Like oh, I did this, added that, refroze this. What's important is to have a delicious drink that you enjoy, that you can have quickly.

"You can have as many or as few as you want, and most importantly enjoy the time with your friends or with us," he added.

And many drinks we had, with Jay's absolute barrage of cocktails he aimed at my table.

 

The Juicy (left) and Whizzbang (right).

 

The first salvoes of the night were two refreshing drinks that catered to my sweet tooth.

The juicy was presented with an apple custard espuma dusted with white pepper. This sits atop a mix of bourbon, calvados and white port. The nose is naturally apple forward, with a gentle peppery kick that does surprisingly well. A mix of sweet and spicy, I admit I would have been content just sniffing away at the glass.

Apples. Or maybe even creamy apple pie. The mix of crisp-apple calvados and oaky bourbon is well-rounded and pairs well with the creamy bed of custard. It has a pleasant dryness with a barely-there vanilla taste, which I assume would be from the port.

It reminded me of a apple macchiato from some bubble tea shop I would guiltily slurp down after my Secondary-school days, trying to get the best of both foam and liquid. 

The Whizzbang beside it was certainly not to be overlooked. Garnished with a nondescript piece of cucumber, I did NOT expect it to play such a part. The fresh smell of the cucumber opened into a crisp watermelon scent that the white rum only served to enhance. It was quite like cracking open a fresh melon and burying your face for a large, unapologetic whiff.

The absinthe within provided a nice herbal undertone, and you know it's only double trouble with the zesty nature of aperol. Everything together tasted like a refreshing glass of watermelon that developed into a gummybear-like taste that was not at all cloying.

 

Duo Fredlands.

 

The next drink was something really quite marvelous. Despite its simple ingredients, they came together in a way that made me quite literally have to put the glass down.

Fredland's base is Becherovka — a Czech herbal liquer — and it goes astoundingly well with the floral notes of pisco and herbacious angostura. There really isn't a way to describe it that would do it justice, but it reminded me of a warm, nourishing herbal soup your mother might serve. 

With notes of dong quai (female ginger), anise, cloves and more, it has a nifty way to whet the appetite. Even if you're in a rush before dinner, find the time to grab one. It'll make the night so much better, and everything else taste so much more delicious.

 

The Chocolate Orange (The grown up version, if you will)

 

With appetisers in mind, Jay also has a creation for those more dessert-inclined. 

The Chocolate Orange is exactly what it sounds like. Dry olorosso pairs splendidly with cacau and cold drip vermouth, making a drink that tastes like a dark chocolate mousse with notes of hazelnut, slightly bitter undertones and a citrus burst from its orange vodka base.

But of course, I must say the highlight of the night would be a drink that was offered by Jay when I began a rather enthused conversation about what spirits I preferred. He paused upon hearing of my love for Vieux Carrés, but it was a pause so brief I barely noticed it. 

A minute later, this was slid over to me.

 

The Marcellus Wallace 

 

Despite its unassuming nature, it tasted exactly like what a fellow attendee dubbed "a baby Vieux Carré". 

With all the care of a good host, this drink was lovely. A mix of peated and irish whisky, it was the gently smoky yet smooth, the vanilla reduction doing rounds around your mouth that makes it more than welcoming despite its more spirit-forward nature.

In the grand scheme of things, Jay's cocktails continue to raise the bar. Hitting all the right spots in the weary, the excited and even the hungry, you can feel the love emanating from his every move and word.

When asked why he began Idle Hands despite his other ventures, he nods knowingly. " I think it comes from me not being able to stand still," he says, "I also find it hard to be creative for someone else within the boundaries they set me." 

He says that while his other bars continue to have a special place in his heart, he wanted to have his own place solely to create and destroy at a whim. "Regardless of whether I succeed or fail, I do it on my own merit," he says.

"It’s also a lot easier to work for yourself," he adds with a grin.

Of course, there's more in store from Jay aside from wise words.

He plans to have days with a revolving menu based on the classics by younger apprentices, as well as plan a monthly concept that is not unlike Tiny Desk Concerts — a video series of live concerts hosted by NPR Music at the desk of former All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.

He even has a wall dedicated to "coaster recipes", where guests come up with their own cocktails, write it down on the coasters they've been using, and put it up on a wall for bragging rights the next time they visit.

Speaking to him toward the end of the night, I see a glint in his eyes as he talks about Idle Hands. As someone who's worked toward a dream, I'd recognise that glint anywhere. Its one of passion, of a man on stage, in his element and with nothing in the world that could stop him from giving it his all. 

Idle hands is an absolute gem hidden in a cosy nook of Chinatown. It has all the workings of good drinks and better times. Even if you're rolling in alone, Jay and David's nurturing care in their intimate abode will make sure you leave with at least two new friends.

" This place is here for me to have fun, for us to be creative. I just want to make people happy, everyday," Jay says before I leave.

And rest assured, when you do show up to Idle Hands, he will be, and you will be too. 

 

Idle Hands

3 Ann Siang Hill, Singapore 069785

Instagram: @idlehands.sg

 

Sláinte!

 


Lok Bing Hong

A budding journalist that loves experiencing new things and telling people's stories. I have 30 seconds of coherence a day. I do not decide when they come. They are not consecutive.