Take a look inside Manhattan as it wins the award for the best bar service in Asia

Mark Sansom - 30/04/2020

Singapore’s Manhattan has just been voted the winner of the inaugural Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award as part of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020. As the leader of the first venue to receive the accolade, Bar Manager David Nguyen-Luu explains the principles and philosophies behind Manhattan’s continent-beating service

Some bars feel as though they have been part of the scene forever. Manhattan, despite only opening in 2014, falls squarely into this category. In its six-year lifespan, it has already won two titles as The Best Bar in Asia in 2017 and 2018, as well as collecting Legend of The List 2019. This year sees it take the inaugural award for the Michter’s Art of Hospitality and, according to its team, is one of its most highly prized in the already groaning trophy cabinet.

“We got very emotional when we received the call to let us know that we had won the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award,” says David Nguyen-Luu, Bar Manager at Manhattan, who joined the bar last year after a successful spell in Sydney working at the Barrelhouse Group. “It’s a huge testament for the team’s dedication to hospitality and means the world to us. Service is at the very heart of what we do here.”

Nguyen-Luu and his team would like to show your around their bar:

As its name suggests, Manhattan is styled after a New York bar, with many of its design tropes taken from the Golden Age of cocktail bars in the Roaring 1920s. In terms of its service, the experience almost creeps up on the guest. Arriving from the cavernous atrium of the Regent Hotel to be greeted at a non-descript black concierge desk feels like you could be any hotel bar in the world. Triple-width black leather-studded doors are the first hint at something special, where they open to reveal a perfectly symmetrical bar painted in a palette matched almost as a facsimile of a scene from The Great Gatsby.

“Our experience needs to feel like every guest is coming home,” says Nguyen-Luu. “It’s a collective effort. All members of the team are trained with exactly the same programme. We have a structure in place where we continuously refine the process, based on what we’ve learnt from the previous day. No two guest experiences are the same – each is curated depending on what we read that they want.”

The victorious Manhattan bar team

Part of the successful strategy at Manhattan stems from its multi-faceted space. The full-width bar is populated with stools for individuals or pairs of guests to interact with the bartenders. A main bar has plush Chesterfields and low-slung tables for groups of four to eight where patrons can mingle, while two salons offer a more private space. The Rockefeller room, accessed by a secret door, seats 16, and a second salon hosts 12.

One of the defining characteristics of Manhattan is its rickhouse (spirits ageing room), where barrels of cocktails are stacked 10-feet high while they mature. Guest bartenders’ concoctions are signed on the barrel they created and the bar team will direct you to whose is whose and, more importantly, what’s in it. “The rickhouse is a huge part of the Manhattan programme,” explains Nguyen-Luu. “The team are dedicated to maintaining the 100 barrels of cocktails here, a process which takes time and serious thoughtfulness, particularly when our two signature cocktails – our Aged Manhattan and Solera-Aged Negroni – are here.”

Manhattan's rickhouse

Hospitality, of course, stretches much further than just serving great drinks with a smile. The bar food menu is given as much consideration as its drinks, with dishes that riff on elevated American classics. “I describe it as ‘sophisticated comfort food’, which fits in really nicely with our overall hospitality ethos,” says Nguyen-Luu. “We look to reinvent the multicultural food scene of New York City with all of the dishes. Make mine a plate of lobster tacos with a Gimlet on the side.”

A beautiful space with a well-oiled and personal service operation, Manhattan is a worthy winner of the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award 2020.

Be sure to tune into the 50 Best Bars YouTube channel to follow the virtual ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Bars on 14th May.