By Brian Spencer
Old Empire is just a bar, by which I mean to say that visually it’s unspectacular in almost every way possible.
Beer signs plaster the white walls, a design cue inspired, perhaps, by your Uncle Ray’s dark basement that sounds like classic rock and smells like doobies. The exposed brick behind the bar counter is actually, well, it’s actually just wallpaper. (I honestly love the tackiness of it, though — and we all know wallpaper is about to make a serious comeback.) Mounted on one wall is a television tuned to sports; wooden tables and chairs spill out of the spacious indoor dining area and onto the cement walkways of drab Valley Point Shopping Centre. Yes, Old Empire is cozy and casual and completely inoffensive, but there’s nothing remarkable about its appearance. Just thinking about it makes me a little sleepy.
Thinking about the well-chosen beer menu, however, makes me very, very thirsty.
With the exception of a handful of microbreweries and specialty spots like JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar, most Singapore bars offer little more than the same old, same old shite on draft. At Old Empire, however, you’ll find BrewDog’s Punk IPA and 5am Saint, Delirium Tremens, Dupont Redor Pils, and Schneider Weisse all on tap; special guest beers are also rotated into the draft list with some regularity.
The cider and craft beer bottle menu, an almost pornographic spread featuring some of the world’s most-respected microbreweries, is one of the deepest you’ll find in Singapore. Some of the rarer bottles available in limited quantity are certainly not cheap, but in general prices are reasonable, particularly before 8pm when a few bucks are knocked off draft beers and some bottles. (On Mondays, happy hour runs all night.) If you’re not in the mood for a beer, Old Empire also has more than 20 single-cask malt scotches and 40 “cult” wines.
The kitchen here cranks out standard European-style pub grub, along with slightly more gourmet dishes like beef & ale pie and lamb stew. Wednesdays are a good time to stop by for a plate of delicious beer-battered fish ‘n’ chips (S$20), which comes with any beer on draft for just S$22. A new food menu was introduced just a few weeks ago.
I have literally walked out of more than a few bars in Singapore because the music was so poor — something about Adele’s nails-on-chalkboard-singing doesn’t mix with booze — but the first time I went to Old Empire I heard “Master of Puppets”, which in music-challenged Singapore is like the sound of heaven’s trumpets. Not all of it’s good, mind you, but I’ll take the so-so mix of ’90s rock here over the bland top corporate-40 playlists favored elsewhere.
Old Empire is a nondescript bar; no flowery hyperbole about the space necessary or warranted, and that’s okay. Everybody needs a no-frills, neighborhood watering hole, and this one just happens to have what might be the best selection of craft beers in Singapore, not to mention a friendly, attentive staff and fabulous happy hour deals and daily specials. That’s plenty enough to keep me coming back.
Old Empire, 491 River Valley Rd (at River Valley Shopping Centre), +65 6735-7881. Monday 5pm – 12am, Tuesday – Thursday 3pm – 12am, Friday – Sunday 3pm – 1am.
More Places I Like to Drink in Singapore:
+ JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar (Japanese microbrews served in an open-air courtyard)
+ Mohican Pub (An Indian-themed Indian bar in Little India — but not that kind of Indian)
+ Brewerkz Taphouse (The latest showcase for the stalwart Singaporean microbrewery)