By Brian Spencer
I was ready to pay the bill before I’d ordered my beer.
It was just before 7pm on a Saturday night in Singapore. Humidity was dropping, the setting sun painted the sky in sci-fi swirls of pinks and purples and oranges, and I was ready to cap a pleasant afternoon of aimless wandering with a few delicious pints of ale at the island’s latest craft beer bar. Hopes were high, throat was parched, and credit card amendable to a reasonable pummel. You know how some nights a draft beer just sounds godly? It was one of those nights.
And then, just like that, it wasn’t one of those nights.
Rule #1: Ensure the bar’s entrance is not blocked by idle staffers. Tippletown Cafe, brought to you by the good people at beer and cider delivery service Tippletown, was ghost-town empty indoors and out, which meant the overstaffed staff was bored, which meant they migrated outdoors and congregated around the entrance. This looks bad, particularly when said staff can’t be bothered to greet you while idling around said entrance. It took a proactive “I’m, uh, just here for drinks?” on my part to shake the staff from their waking, deer-in-the-headlights slumber, and for them to step aside so I could get in. Insert that cliche about first impressions.
Rule #2: Don’t go corporate. There’s a half-hearted attempt at laid-back minimalism here — see the exposed brick! — and the gleaming golden light from the refrigerators behind the taps reminded me, in a good way, of the bar with bathroom walls covered in Star Wars wallpaper. The heavy-handed black color palette, however, coupled with wishy-washy lighting and sterile furnishings combines for the type of bland, corporate aesthetic that saddles and sinks so many Singaporean bars.
Rule #3: Clean out your ears. After a year in Singapore, I’ve come to understand, if not accept, the role of music as little more than white noise. There simply isn’t much of a music culture here, which is why in bars, bistros, restaurants, and taxis across the island you’re consistently assaulted with the most inane Corporate America Pop available; nobody seems to notice (or perhaps care) how bad it is.
I’ve walked out of bars here because of the “music,” and though Tippletown Cafe’s jolting mix of Latin hip-hop and Katy Perry-style pop and so-inoffensive-it’s-offensive light rock was only a contributing factor to my hasty departure, it was a big one. It doesn’t have to be like this, Singapore — especially at a craft beer bar. I may not be the exact target demographic (mid-30s, Western expat, beer geek), but I have to be in the neighborhood. I promise folks like me are turned off by “American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest” blasted at high volumes.
Rule #4: Win me over with happy hour. As I say, the bar was dead on a Saturday night. It’d only been open for a few weeks, granted, so the game of Telephone was still on its first few whispers. One fairly straightforward way to get more people whispering, particularly in the nascent days of operation? Deals. There were no deals at Tippletown Cafe, however. No happy hour specials. No introductory specials. Nada. That leads me to…
Rule #5: At least take me out to dinner first. In Singapore I often spend more than I should on fancy beers, or at least more than I’d planned. There are various reasons — awesome beers, good vibes, decent music – but one is spillage time from happy hour. Happy hours are like a gateway drug: once you’re hooked, you come back for more and maybe even try something different (and more expensive). Again, there are no gateway drugs at Tippletown Cafe — here, there’s no appetizer. We move straight to the main course.
And here’s the main course on draft: $12 SGD for an 11-ounce glass of Lindeman’s Peach (2.5% ABV) or Thatcher’s Gold (4.8%); $15 SGD for an 11-ounce glass of BrewDog 5am Saint (5%) or Punk IPA (5.6%); $18 SGD for an 11-ounce glass of Delirium Nocturnum (8.2%) or Delirium Tremens (8.2%). Bottle prices are generally comparable to similar establishments, but the lack of value for draft pours is a dealbreaker and major miss. Those prices, too, don’t include Singapore’s infamous plus-plus (tax and service), so tack on another 2 SGD or so.
Rule #6: Pour something from all of your taps. BrewDog’s very fine Punk IPA is one of six beers on the tap menu, but it was out, and its tap left vacant instead of pouring, say, an emergency barrel from a local microbrewery, of which there are many good ones. That means disappointment on two counts, instead of one. Hey, shit happens, but again — that whole first impressions thing.
I downed my thimble of 5am Saint, paid the bill, and hoofed it to Old Empire. There was no reason to stick around any longer — and, at this point, there’s also no reason to go back.
Tippletown Cafe is located at 11 Club Street in Singapore. Open weekdays 11am – 3pm, 5pm – midnight, and Saturdays 1pm – midnight. Closed Sundays. +65 6557 2554.