It would be presumptuous of me to make grand claims for Atlas Bar. After all, I've yet to quaff gin in all the gin bars of the world, though I'm making a mighty valiant effort. There may be one better in Buenos Aires or Barbados, or even just around the corner here in Singapore. Not entirely unlikely, given Singapore claims 10 per cent of the world's top 50 best bars.
It doesn't matter. I'm calling off the search. If I had my way, I'd settle into a green velvet armchair in Atlas Bar every night for three years, and work my way through all its gins. A spicy, dry sloe gin from Germany's Black Forest, unaccountably called Monkey 47. A Peruvian gin that uses Amazonian botanicals such as Inca nuts and camu camu. Another night, the fruity, woody Paper Lantern gin made with ginger, lemongrass and Sichuan pepper, best with an old-fashioned tonic water and slices of lemon.
To be a great gin bar you have to start with the gin, and Atlas Bar has a menu the size of a Gutenberg Bible. The gins here come from nearly 40 nations. Who knew they made gin in Cambodia or Greece or Iceland? Yet this isn't just a big gin collection, it is also one that has been carefully curated. Atlas Bar wants you to learn something about gin in all its magnificent variety.
The gin list is daunting, but knowledgeable waiters will guide you, if you ask. Do you want your gin in a cocktail or neat? Do you prefer floral, herbal or citrusy flavours? There are fruit gins, too, but apart from those made from sloe, Atlas Bar considers them inferior.
Barrel-rested gins provide a good introduction to gin for those more used to whisky or wine. If you're already into gin, consider a 1920s gin which will be unique because, although gin doesn't age, ingredients in those days were less processed and have a different flavour profile. Atlas sources old gins from auctions and collectors, and they're proving popular. Aficionados look for Booth's, a once-famous London dry gin that's no longer in production. A martini with Booth's High and Dry will cost you $260.
There's no shortage of gin at regular prices. The knockout cocktail list extends to whisky, rum and other spirits, and some of the world's best champagnes. Feeling hungry? Like all great bars, snacks such as corn dogs, Peking duck and bruschetta are elevated by innovation and quality ingredients. The bruschetta is topped with prawn tartare, pomegranate seeds and Oscietra caviar.
Order nothing but a glass of sparkling water in Atlas Bar, though, and it will still wow you. The space is the size of a power station and has a bar counter and gin tower that rises like a cathedral altar at one end. Its art deco motifs are splendidly outrageous and opulent, and extend to mezzanine railings, lampshades, carpet design, bronze reliefs and the deer that leap across the gilded ceiling. This is a palatial, decadent place where Jazz Age meets Gotham City meets 1920s Paris.
Atlas Bar is a temple to the new resurgence of interest in gin worldwide, a trend that only more recently arrived in Singapore. Or perhaps re-arrived, given that gin drinking here dates back to the colonial era, with gin the base for the Singapore sling and gin pahit, a mix of gin and bitters once favoured by rubber planters.
Gin is back. It's the ingredient of classic cocktails, the bootleg alcohol of murder and mayhem, the spirit of the Jazz Age. It's nostalgic, it's new and more sophisticated, and few places are better than Atlas Bar to discover why.
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Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Scoot are among the airlines flying from Australian cities to Singapore.
Mandarin Oriental Singapore has a great Marina Bay location, excellent spa and restaurants, and resort-like swimming pool. Rooms from SGD420 ($430) a night. Phone 1800 123 693, see mandarinoriental.com
Atlas Bar is at 600 North Bridge Road. See atlasbar.sg
Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Visit Singapore and Mandarin Oriental Hotels.