By Brian Spencer
Here’s how Mohican Pub likely came to pass:
A nuclear physicist was locked in a black-light lit room with nothing but a huge bag of pot and rolling papers flavored with fire-hot Indian spices, instructed to smoke the whole bag, and tasked with hashing out the concept for a dive bar in Singapore. When they were freed the next day, eyes like slits of blood-shot glass and ass flaming with psychedelic indigestion, they did so armed with a glorious conceit, one so obvious and yet so abstract, that it could only come from the mind of, well, a physicist stoned out of their mind and locked in confinement: an Indian-themed Indian bar located in Little India with live Indian music every night until 3 o’clock in the morning…
… but not Indian-themed like India, the country — Indian-themed like the indigenous people of North America Indian.
Told you it was brilliant.
Mohican Pub is located in a Madras Street shophouse in the heart of Singapore’s Little India, the type of place that milquetoast travel articles might–not inaccurately–describe as “bustling” or “vibrant”, but that I’d just say feels like a fairly authentic approximation of the real thing, though one sanitized enough to not completely upset the worry-free Singapore paradigm. Known for its scores of 24-hour restaurants and shops, Little India is also home to a clutch of hip bars like Broadcast HQ, Prince of Wales, and Bellwethers that have contributed to the larger number of white faces now peppering this multi-cultural landscape after dark. The Mohican is definitely not one of these hip bars.
It’s seedy dark in there; where-are-the-hookers dark. Neon strobe lights flash on oil-black wallpaper decorated with garish white roses–you bet those seams are showing. Hazy lighting fixtures hung from the ceiling are washed out by the neon-pink glow of a small performance stage near the entrance; ghastly greens and blues color the drinks counter like an underworld bar in Beetlejuice. Lighting isn’t so dim, however, that you wouldn’t be able to see a massive cockroach scurrying up the wall and into the safe cover of an American Indian headdress. (Don’t worry, I’ve only spotted the one.)
Mmhmm, an American Indian headdress. There isn’t much in the way of decor at Mohican Pub, but there are headdresses–some of them mounted, three-dimensional, and illuminated as if museum installations–and there are creepy Indian figurines arranged along a ledge above the serving counter. Outdoors, above the pub’s neon-green marquee, perched on a platform in front of wooden shutters painted baby blue like my old 1980-something Ford Fairmont, stands a full-size American Indian, rendering the exact address of the place completely moot.
The bartender–it’s always the same bartender–walks with a slight limp and has the air of a guy who in his prime, in the seventies, was one cool cat, or at least a connected one. (Speaking of being connected, you won’t find anything online about Mohican Pub, save for a blurb about a serial burglar caught robbing the place in 2007, and this.) Like the bar’s waitresses and members of its house band, he always seems a little mystified when my wife and I wander in, as if we were lost tourists, since patrons are otherwise exclusively Indian–Asian-Indian, that is.
Look, it’s just a somewhat shady dive bar, okay? But it’s one with character, and a great vibe, cockroaches and all.
The band’s female singer once shyly approached our table before her set to introduce herself. Another time, with the band cranking through a tight, surprisingly funky set of Indian music (a genre in which I’m completely in the dark, so pardon the generality), a group of five or six guys danced loose and uninhibited, like you might when you’re alone at home and nobody is watching, and urged me to get up and join them–not for token white guy novelty, but because they saw I was digging the music and they were digging it too so why don’t we all dig it together.
Drinks are unremarkable and overpriced: for a mug of San Miguel on draught and glass of ice-cold red wine (poured in a white wine glass and filled to the rim) you’ll pay S$23. I’m sure well drinks are pricey too, but here’s a
rummy’s insider tip: follow the locals’ lead and get buzzed beforehand with a cheap tallboy or two of Kingfischer Strong (7.2% ABV), available in abundance from local convenience stores. It tastes better than San Miguel anyway.
Live music starts at around 9:30pm and doesn’t stop until around 3am; it apparently goes until 4am on Saturdays. There’s really no reason to show up before the band takes the stage.
I’m not sure what the designer was smoking when he or she dreamed up Mohican Pub–but I’d love to get my hands on some of it.
Mohican Pub is located at the corner of Madras Street and Campbell Lane in Little India. Open daily until late.
More Places I Like to Drink in Singapore:
+ Old Empire (A non-descript pub offering Singapore’s best selection of craft beers)
+ JiBiru Japanese Craft Beer Bar (Japanese microbrews served in an open-air courtyard)
+ Brewerkz Taphouse (The latest showcase for the stalwart Singaporean microbrewery)