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27 Nov 2015 By

Bar Vagabond is designed by the man who also did Paris’ Hotel Costes, and is equal parts sexy and plush. The cocktails, by the very entertaining Mauricio Allende, are equally alluring and arty. And it’s all watch over by a gold monkey. We likes.

You enter the bar and it’s not the affable host Steph that catches your eye first, but the towering elephant sculpture from ceiling to floor. In the direction of the bar you see a gold leaf banyan tree supplicated over the stools, and let’s not even get started on the gold monkey. This tells you a few things already about Bar Vagabond: They don’t do things in half measures, for fudge sake, they even have a cocktail called Vincent, inspired by Italian artist Vincent Castiglia – a man who paints with his own blood.

Vagabond gin tonic

So knowing what I was in for, I wisely started with a classic Gin Martini, and began my convo with bar manager/bartender Mauricio Allende, a very charming and gregarious Mexican hombre who has lived in Finland for eight years. (How’s the gin? It’s made from Helsinki’s Napue Gin from the Kyro Distillery – for which Allende is the brand ambassador. Very tasty, the botanicals are quite florid).

What’s the concept behind the cocktails?

MA: “The whole idea is that they are somehow related or have a connection with art, so we wanted to do everything as handcrafted as possible, but still keep it simple. So there are a lot of expressions of classics of course, they have the DNA for great drinks, but we use a lot of cool techniques, if you will, such as infusing, clarifying, burning, and we wanted to use a lot of flowers and teas.”

And what about your Mexican and Finnish influences?

“Well I’ve never worked in the industry in Mexico (Allende moved to Finland when he was 19, after a failed romance in Canada…long story), but I grew up eating great food, so I guess in that case pretty bold flavours, really well balanced stuff. The one thing that’s Finnish would be simplicity, and good organisational skills. I don’t even personally believe or like molecular gastronomy or mixology, whatever. I don’t think a mojito ravioli is better than an actual mojito… Or a ravioli!”

Vagabond Vincent with blood orange

Orange is rubbed on the side of the glass, which leaves a citrusy scent on your fingers…

Which explains the Vincent…

“Yeah, the Vincent (above, $22) with blood orange is a twist on the Boulevardier, I knew it was gonna be right up your alley. So you have American bourbon Maker’s Mark, which I personally like though I know it’s not crafty. There’s Campari, and instead of sweet vermouth, we use Chinato vermouth (Barolo wine is the base); Sicilian blood orange pu-erh tea, and garnish with a dehydrated orange. The name comes from an Italian artist called Vincent Castiglia who, very insanely, does a lot of paintings with his own blood!”

So why Finland?

“I couldn’t afford uni in Canada but I wanted to study. So my best friend, who’s half-Finnish/Mexican, said: ‘What are we doing here? Let’s go to Finland. You want to study right? The university is free, doesn’t matter where you’re from.’ It just made a lot of sense, I’m already far from home and in a cold country (Canada) – doesn’t matter where I go. So when I was in school in Finland I started working in the bars. A friend of mine was working in A21, a very cool cocktail bar, so I started working there in 2008. A few weeks before I started they had been voted the best bar in the world, so there was a lot of buzz around it. I worked there for almost four years.” vagabond ashes

Ashes & Snow ($19) plantation dark rum, charred pineapple, lime, salt, charcoal, chartreuse elixir

When it comes to alcohol, we hear Finland is even stricter than Singapore.

“Yup, you can’t tell anyone about your alcohol, no advertising, no social media, it’s against the law, not even on Facebook. There’s a huge alcoholism problem in Finland, and it’s actually scientifically proven that there’s a specific gene in the Finnish male and [alcohol] makes them very aggressive and violent. So all the alcohol is sold by the government in specialty shops.”

Vagabond Napue Gin

Tell us about your Napue Gin.

“The Kyrö Distillery wanted to start this project and work with us (Son of a Punch, where he’s a partner). The first time I met them they only had raw whisky spirit, no gin, but I tasted it and loved it. There’s so much rye yet no one is making whisky. That was the idea from the distillery ‘oh if we make whisky we have to wait three years for it to be ready, we’re gonna have no money. So we have to make something quick – let’s make gin!’

“The whole idea was to use rye spirit for it, and use very Nordic botanicals: Sea-buckthorn, it’s very sour, very tart, it’s got 500% more vitamin C than an orange, it normally grows on the coast, the archipelago. And also birch leaves, meadowsweet, cranberries from Lapland (Santa!). We also use a few traditional botanicals like cumin, dried lemon and orange peel, hibiscus and elderflower.”

Bar Vagabond Banyan

The gold banyan tree looms large

How did you end up in Singapore?

“I was in the Bacardi Legacy competition, and on my way to Australia I passed through Hong Kong and I had four days in Singapore. I met Peter Chua from the Singapore team and he was hosting me together with Caryn from Bacardi. I really love this place and it’s got such energy, and I joked with Peter that he should get me a job here. I sent him my resume; this was beginning of June, 2015. And two weeks after that he found this opportunity for me. I had a few interviews and I told my girlfriend, ‘We’re moving to Singapore,’.”

[ Favourite cocktail: “I do like my sour drinks, but the daiquiri is probably my favourite: a good Bacardi, real cane sugar, fresh lime. I cannot get drunk on daiquiris.” ]


So finally, what cocktail would you serve someone with a broken heart?

“[If someone was heartbroken…] I’d serve them a marguerita, because tequila makes everyone happier. You know how good tequila is made, the agave plant takes at least seven, eight years to grow. Even the blanco tequila, it’s been out in the Mexican sun for years, and no one takes care of it right, no one comes to water it… [it’s on its own], and I think when you taste a really good tequila, you are tasting the Mexican sun, and nothing makes me happier than the Mexican sun. Agave nectar, fresh lime, good tequila, a pinch of salt – it doesn’t get better than that.”

I ended with a Pisco Sour for the road, and three hours have just zipped by. With craft cocktails from $19-22 (!), and a stylish spot to park yourself (the bar bites are fairly good too), this has become one of our top three new hangs.

Bar Vagabond‘s #TroubleHour 6-9pm offer: Signature cocktails, Peroni beer and standard house spirits are at 20% off when you order two drinks and more. 39 Syed Alwi Rd, Singapore 207630, Tel: 6291-3203, Facebook

Like this? Read about a sake sommelier in Singapore’s best sake bar


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