Head bartender and co-founder of No Sleep Club
It's scary to step away from the norm, especially in Singapore, but sticking to our guns creates an identity unique to us alone.
Tell us your story, how did you get here?
My parents pushed me to get a job during my school holidays, and I got one in F&B as a server when I was 14. I learnt I was really good at it, (unlike most things) and kept at it every holiday. I was a kid on an allowance, and someone paying me for something I loved to do was an amazing deal.
Fast forward 14-odd years: I dropped my graphic design job and ended up at Tippling Club as a barback. I decided to take bartending seriously as a full-time job and met some amazing people there. One of them was Luke Whearty, who was opening a new avant-garde venue called Operation Dagger with his partner Aki Nishikura. Within a year, Luke trusted me to run the venue that spearheaded culinary techniques in craft cocktails and put flavour back into focus. Operation Dagger became a world-class bar, and under Luke and Aki’s tutelage, it opened a world of possibilities.
After my time there, it was hard to find another venue that matched the kind of creative technicality and boundary-pushing style in Singapore. I wanted to know what was on the other side of the spectrum, and took up a job alongside Rusty Cerven to head the bar program at 1880 Member’s Club.
There was something about hotel hospitality I needed to know more about, but I knew I wasn’t suited for the hotel style of working. 1880 was the perfect gateway for this. I launched my biggest menu of 36 drinks that was a creative expression of cocktails in an everyday smashable style. I found a style of drinks that was a sweet spot between high volume and modern technique, and decided to pursue it further in the first version of No Sleep Club.
It was a 150 sq ft space off a condominium on Club Street, originally a laundromat, and it sat a total of four people. My good friend Denise had opened a coffee shop called Maxi Coffee Bar and was looking for a drinks program after hours. No Sleep Club was born out of this partnership. It was a five-day operation with four rotating highball cocktails on the menu which I prepped at home and carried in a backpack to the shop.
Due to its location, I had to draw the attention of customers and find a way to keep them drinking by making easily recognisable cocktails that were flavourful yet different. It was suddenly the smallest craft cocktail bar in Singapore and a proof of concept from what would become its full-fledged destiny on Keong Saik Road.
Now joined by my co-founder Jessica Hutchinson, previously of acclaimed Proof and Company and Mistress of the House of award-winning 28 Hong Kong Street, the three-year-old No Sleep Club we have is an all-day venue with coffee, cocktails, natural wines and small plates. My go-to is a night out with friends smashing cocktails, dinner, and finishing with a bottle of wine. This is manifested in our daily menu; hospitality and accessibility are our number one priority. We just want people to have a good time, and trust us to make them a good drink and feed them well.
What impact have you made in Singapore?
No Sleep Club, although based and owned locally, isn’t confined to local ingredients. We’re creating a home that’s open to people of all ages, races, genders and incomes. Being a local bar doesn’t mean you have to use local ingredients or traditional food and drinks as an inspiration. Our clientele is inclusive and we’ve made it a neighbourhood bar for everybody, a home away from home.
When I looked around Singapore, I saw very staple categories – cocktail bars were localised, Japanese, tiki, dive… everything had its place. People asked me very early on what my concept was. I had no specific answer. If there was a theme we subscribed to, it’d already been done.
We stuck to making what we liked, and served it the way we wanted. Soon after, people caught on and it became a brand specific to NSC. It’s scary to step away from the norm, especially in Singapore, but sticking to our guns creates an identity unique to us alone.
What does 2022 look like for you?
Due to past experience, when Omicron climbed, I ducked and was ready for another lockdown. However, as we move into a new time in this post-Covid world, we’re ready to take on whatever comes next. We’ve delayed our new menu for a while, so we’ll be launching it soon and are super excited about it.
We also have a second-floor space that’s yet to open. The first floor is a high volume fast casual drinking space, and the second floor is named Us&Them. It’s an omakase collaborative venue that we’ll use to showcase creative collaborations with other venues and industries in various tasting menus. This was always a plan in the beginning, and we’re finally ready to launch in 2022.
What do you love most about Singapore?
With the wide range of races and religions and worldwide access to almost every ingredient possible, it’s the perfect place to execute an F&B dream. Every Singaporean is a foodie; we’re always looking to try new things and new experiences.
What are your first and last drinks of the day?
Ooh, tough one. The first one would probably be a light red or orange wine. And the last would be a really cold Japanese highball.
Who is your Local Legend, and why?
The Wine RVLT duo: Ian Lim and Alvin Gho, the founders of RVLT and Raw Wines. They brought natural wines to Singapore before anyone knew what natural wines were. Their wine bar on Carpenter Street is a great combination of natural wines and solid food in an offbeat, casual setting that doesn’t judge if you have one bottle or 10. They also bring in an amazing portfolio of delicious natural wines that everyone should go check out.