By Brian Spencer
A red plastic tray, like the one on which your last fast-food binge was served, is left on a lime-green plastic table, discarded remnants and unfinished slop from a murdered hawker centre feast haphazardly arranged on top and around it, the wasted landscape for a modern still-life painting. The Dutch Masters are never there when you need them.
Here is a small see-through plastic dish filled with sliced jalapenos — “chill-eeees,” in the native Singlish tongue — and a pair of throwaway wooden chopsticks, the kind that snap apart like brittle wishbones, and there are plastic soup spoons coated in crimson-red chili oil. A greased styrofoam plate stirs under the considerable breeze of an industrial-strength Imasu fan set to oscillate, straw wrappers jammed underneath the tray flapping like air dancers at a used-car lot.
It’s a grizzly, common scene in Singapore hawker centres. Instead of schlepping it to a tray drop-off stand on their way out, here many locals still leave soiled trays, dishes, and garbage on the tables, all of it stewing in the tropical heat, picked at by cocksure Javan mynas, until an attendant arrives for the post-mortem. These stands are a new thing, part of the government’s Tray Return Initiative that has thus far seen middling success. It’s a strange thing, but — Hang on, I need to find my copy of the Big Book of Overused Clichés. Ah, there it is! — old habits die hard.
Yes, mounds of table-top trash are an everyday hawker-centre sight, as is the one at the table next to mine, where a troop of uncles and aunties are in good spirits, nursing a collective buzz from a bottle of red wine and tall bottles of Heineken lined up like trophies. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing, that is, save for the empty beer glass next to the red plastic tray, one branded with the name and logo of Deschutes Brewery, an award-winning microbrewery based in Bend, Oregon.
The dark days of hawker centres serving nary a drop of craft beer on draft are over.
Situated on the second floor of labyrinthine Chinatown Complex Food Centre, sandwiched between the Chinatown Sun Seng and Up & Up Coffee & Beer stalls, Smith Street Taps is Singapore’s first hawker stall exclusively serving local and imported craft beers on draft. Soft launched in early January 2014 and now up and running at full capacity, this godsend of an idea comes courtesy of two of the island’s well-established microbrew purveyors: Daniel Goh, who — imagine this in Troy McClure’s voice — you might remember from such craft-beer ventures as The Good Beer Company (also at Chinatown Complex) and East Coast beer shop 99 Bottles, and Meng-Chao, owner of Clementi bottle shop Brewers’ Craft and quite possibly the world’s most mild-mannered, soft-spoken craft-beer devotee.
It’s an appropriately spare space, with little distinguishing Smith Street Taps from neighboring stalls save for the gleam of its brand-new signboard (“Good Beer. On Draft.”), a clutch of beer posters, and small wooden-framed chalkboards, marked with the day’s draft lineup and prices, dangling from beneath the marquee. Stuffed inside are the stall’s main attractions, 20- to 30-liter kegs hooked up to eight taps with stylish, custom-made handles fashioned from walnut and maple by US-based Bearded Boy Design.
By all accounts business has been booming thus far, a boon no doubt aided by Goh and Meng-Chao’s deep roots and connections with Singapore’s small, but enthusiastic craft-beer community. Still, it’s not all local boozehounds all the time, as evidenced by a well-meaning fellow at the stall’s official launch party who asks Meng-Chao if he can pay with a credit card. By the way, beers range from S$8 – S$13-ish.
Thus far Smith Street Taps has poured a well-chosen, if not particularly surprising lineup of beers from such microbreweries as BrewDog, Hitachino Nest, Jungle Beer, Rogue Ales, Anderson Valley, and Moa Brewing; some, like the easy-drinking Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA and lambic-style St. Louse Framboise, had never before been tapped in Singapore. I expect that we’ll see a steady flow of beers from the aforementioned breweries complemented by infrequent rarities; if so, that’s a fine plan indeed.
Of course, that’s just my guess, so at the launch celebration I ask Meng-Chao if he can give me the scoop on any upcoming special beers, or perhaps tell me something unique about the stall. He looks at me and in 11 words says what’s taken me almost 800: “It’s just really good beer on draft at a hawker centre.”
That’s Smith Street Taps — really good beer on draft at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre.
Smith Street Taps is located at 335 Smith St., #02-62, at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre. +65 9430 2750. Open Tuesday – Saturday 6:30pm – 10:30pm(ish); closed Monday and Sunday.