The spirit of cocktails past lives on at Republic bar in The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore
Guests at this feted bar can step back in time and taste classic cocktails, made with spirits from the 1960s.
Martin Villareal deftly stirs a cocktail with his spiral bar spoon, pinkie finger up at a jaunty angle. It is a quotidian act for any bartender — measure, mix, strain, serve. But this particular libation, the Queen’s Dubonnet, comes with a breathtaking S$175 price tag. The rationale: It is a piece of liquid history, a rare taste of a sepia-toned past.
In the mixer swirls one part James Burrough Beefeater London Dry Gin and two parts Dubonnet, both from the 1960s. Do you know how many bottles of these spirits from the 1960s are available today? Me neither. But the short answer is: Not many.
These and other precious bottles of spirits manufactured in the 1960s — what Villareal terms “the golden age of cocktail parties” — were procured at auction for Republic Bar’s Vintage Cocktails selection. The collection includes the likes of Bacardi Carta Blanca, Hiram Walker & Sons 8-Year-Old (when it was bottled the 1960s, anyway) Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and Campari.
Lest you think S$125 for a Spritz or S$200 for a Manhattan are eye-watering premiums, Villareal will have you know that the bar took pains to keep prices approachable. “We’ve priced it this way because we want everyone to enjoy the experience of cocktails from that era. If we were back in the 1960s, how would these cocktails taste? How would they be presented?” said the 34-year-old Filipino whose modest, laidback charm is a refreshing break from the mould of a head bartender of an acclaimed bar.
MINING THE PAST
Richly appointed and itself an homage to the 1960s, Republic is hidden away on the lobby level of The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. Just one year after its opening in 2021, it earned a12th place ranking on Asia’s 50 Best Bars and placed 90th on the World’s Bar Bars 2022. In a rare career trajectory, Villareal joined the hotel in 2011 as an intern in housekeeping before winning an internal bartending competition (“I was the only person from housekeeping who entered,” he laughed). He went on to join the hotel’s Chihuly Lounge as a bartender in 2013.
When he began dreaming up menus for Republic in its nascent days, Villareal hit on the idea of offering spirits from the 1960s to tie in with the bar’s concept. “We made four vintage cocktails — a Rum Old-Fashioned, Negroni, Manhattan and a Gin Martini,” he explained. The response from customers was so encouraging that he expanded the collection to 10 today.
“In the beginning, we weren’t sure if there was a clientele for these cocktails. But the majority of our clientele are people with spending power. So, really, it’s us explaining the offerings and them thinking, ‘I can try a Negroni anytime anywhere, but where can I try a Negroni from the 1960s?’ Other bars may serve vintage Negronis from the 1920s to the 1980s, but ours is very specific to the ’60s, which was when you saw people throwing parties at home, celebrating cocktails, and (the rise of the) jetset. That was when these cocktails were highly celebrated even though they were created many years before.
”The main contrast between Republic’s rendition of a Negroni from the 1960s and its modern day guise lies in Campari, the bitter Italian liqueur, from the era. According to Villareal, Campari today is sweeter, more synthetic tasting, and with a paler hue compared to its 1960s bottlings.
“Campari in the 1960s was darker, almost like the colour of fortified wine, as opposed to now when it’s more translucent. It had more bitterness and a deeper herbaceous flavour,” he explained. “So in the modern version of the Negroni, we use less Campari, but in our vintage version, we have stuck with the classic recipe which is bolder and less sweet.”
Meanwhile, the recipe for Dubonnet, a French aperitif by Pernod Ricard, has changed little over the years, which means a Queen’s Dubonnet from the 1960s and its modern-day rendition isn’t vastly different. If compared side by side, the charms of the vintage version of this heady concoction lies in the velvety purr of a well-matured Dubonnet.