Why No Sleep Club is Asia’s hottest rising-star bar

Giulia Sgarbi - 27/05/2020

A cutting-edge, all-day venue combining the best of cocktails, coffee and cuisine was identified by the organisers of Asia’s 50 Best Bars as a rising-star bar in the continent, earning the Campari One To Watch Award 2020. Get to know the couple behind the venue and discover what makes No Sleep Club a one of a kind

Walking down Singapore’s hip Keong Saik Road, close to bustling Chinatown, an awning may catch your eye. Two white emojis on a black background – a cross and a sleepy face – overlook passers-by, beckoning them to explore what lies under. Cross the threshold to discover a hidden gem of Singapore’s cocktail scene and one of the most promising openings of the last 12 months – Juan Yi Jun and Jessica Hutchinson’s No Sleep Club.

Opened in its current location in November 2019 after a short stint on Club Street, No Sleep Club is more than a cocktail bar. Yi Jun and Hutchinson – two veterans of Singapore’s bar scene – wanted to create an eclectic venue that blurred the boundaries between the things they most loved: great drinks, carefully selected coffee, delicious food and personable service. The result is a spot so well thought-out that not only it earned the Campari One To Watch Award at Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020, but also allowed the venue to stay open during Singapore’s lockdown.
No Sleep Club's eye-catching awning

“Suddenly, instead of our super-casual, all-day venue, we had to transform ourselves into this one-stop-shop for people to order coffee, drinks, food and cake,” says Hutchinson, who oversees the bar’s customer experience and is now operating the logistics of No Sleep Club’s food and drink delivery service and managing relationships with the virtual clients. “We had to adapt really quickly, but since Jun and I are here every day, we were able to make quick decisions and immediately change anything that didn’t work.”

“It was very lucky for us that we have a fully-fledged restaurant and coffee, because unlike bars, we were considered an essential service,” adds Yi Jun, the brain behind No Sleep Club’s cocktails. “It’s hard work because our margins are lower, but we’re also able to serve a lot more people as we do island-wide delivery. The number of staff who can be at the venue at any one time is restricted, so we all have to work doubly hard.”

The institution of the circuit breaker in Singapore coincided with another event in No Sleep Club’s life. “The day we received the call that we had won the Campari One To Watch Award was also the day we heard that Singapore was going into lockdown,” says Yi Jun. “So it was really overwhelming, but it gave us a little bit of hope that we were going to make it through. It was a piece of good news, which was great for everyone in the bar – we all need some fuel to get through this.”

All roads lead to No Sleep Club

Although bartending wasn’t the first career for either of the founders, when Yi Jun and Hutchinson met, they both had already collected considerable experience in some of Singapore’s best bars. Yi Jun jokes that she first “lied her way” into working at a bar when she was only 14, becoming a bartender “officially” at 16. “I thought it was the best thing in the world and I couldn’t wait to go back to it,” she says.

“But my parents didn’t really like it as a career, so instead I did an art major and graduated in graphic design. I had a nine-to-five job for a while, but I absolutely hated it: with jobs like that, your work goes to the client and then into the world, and you have no idea whether people like it or not. I needed something more fulfilling, so about 10 years ago, I made a decision to do bartending officially and seriously,” she recalls.

Confident in her skills and driven by ambition, Yi Jun aimed immediately for what she considered the best bar in Singapore: the boundary-pushing, gastronomy-inspired Tippling Club. “I washed glasses for a long time before they let me touch anything, but I didn’t care,” she continues. “At Tippling Club I also met Luke [Whearty], who gave me a chance to be on the opening team of his new bar, Operation Dagger, in 2014.”
No Sleep Club's upper deck

Meanwhile, Hutchinson was working her way up a completely different industry. “I started out in production for theatre, films and movies, and held a variety of roles from location manager to producer,” she says. “But the hours were so long and the shoots always overran, and one day when I decided to take a break from it, one of my best friends asked me if I could help bus tables and clear water at the bar she worked at, so I jumped at the chance.”

The bar in question was the iconic 28 HongKong Street – the venue that first won the title of The Best Bar in Asia at Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2016. “That one night turned into the longest of my life,” says Hutchinson. “From helping out a weekend I ended up staying there for almost five years, going all the way from part timer to manager. I was able to apply what I had learnt from production about time management and organising big groups of people with multiple things going on at the same time. That’s what helped me read a room and be aware of the whole space.”

Although the pair first met and became romantic partners in 2014, it wasn’t until 2019 that the planets aligned to give them a chance to start their own venue. “I had just left Operation Dagger after five years and I wanted to do something on my own, but I didn’t have the money to pay for a full venue rent,” says Yi Jun. “A friend of mine was running a tiny coffee shop in a 110 square foot space on Club Street and agreed to let me use the space in the evening in exchange for some F&B consulting.
Some of the plates on offer at No Sleep Club

“I created three cocktails from home and that became the first No Sleep Club. The name was a homage to people in this industry who work non-stop, and because the place mixed coffee in the day and cocktails in the night, it was kind of perfect. I could only manage four seats, but the bar became sort of unofficially known as Singapore’s smallest cocktail club, and I started to see the potential. But I knew that if I wanted to fully realise what No Sleep Club could be, I needed Hutch with me.”

A bar with no boundaries

With Hutchinson now on board, the pair settled on a two-storey shophouse on Keong Saik Road to become No Sleep Club’s new home. Moving away from the coffee by day and cocktails by night concept, Yi Jun and Hutchinson envisioned a venue free of constraints, where you could just as easily order a special Martini at 10am or a coffee in the evening. The concept was complemented by a high-quality food menu created by chefs Colin Buchan and Daniel Chew and a focus on welcoming, super-friendly service.

“I’ve always known that Hutch was the best on the floor, there was no question,” says Yi Jun. “Bartenders get a lot of credit and a lot of them deserve it, and I take pride in my menu, but I also believe that if you don’t have great service, if customers don’t remember you, then there’s no point. It needs to be 50/50, and that’s how we work well together.”
Jessica Hutchinson

The No Sleep Club experience often starts with Hutchinson emphatically welcoming customers as soon as they walk through the door, with her signature mix of enthusiasm and professionalism. From here, people can either take a seat at one of the tables on the upper deck or find a place at the bar on the lower deck. The food menu features modern European plates carefully crafted with regional ingredients, including fried cauliflower in tempura batter, steak tartare, a four-cheese truffle toastie and burnt Basque cheesecake, all with drink pairings.

The drinks list is where Yi Jun’s passion and talent shine. “There’s something really magical about creating something on your own and putting it in front of a person,” she says. “You can see immediately whether they like it or not, and if they don’t, you have complete power to change it. That’s the philosophy we have here. We don’t let anyone leave not having enjoyed the drink or the food they had.”

The Singaporean bartender highlights that No Sleep Club’s cocktail concept is based on simplicity. “We keep all the complicated stuff in the back end, we’ll put in the work and we just want people to enjoy the drinks,” she explains. Her favourite drink on the menu is, in fact, a deceptively simple one with an interesting story behind it.
Juan Yi Jun perfecting her Three Lime Vodka Soda

“Sometimes you’re putting so much effort into making these creative menus and someone asks: ‘Can I just have a vodka soda?’ But I realised that I was the same, sometimes I just wanted something simple and quick. Then, I noticed that everyone had a version of vodka soda they liked; everyone was a connoisseur. They either wanted three limes, or no lime, or half a lemon, and I just wondered: why hasn’t anyone made a vodka soda that is just good?”

Yi Jun’s answer – and one of No Sleep Club’s most popular cocktails – is the Three Lime Vodka Soda. “It’s my way of giving people their three limes,” she jokes, “but I actually married beer and vodka soda into one drink. We use a citrus hops distillate that gives it that beer flavour, and three different kinds of citrus: kaffir leaf, a small local lime called kalamansi, and the sweeter Thai limes. It’s still my favourite drink on the menu.”

The accessible, no-fuss, all-day concept has also allowed No Sleep Club to reach a wider audience. “There was one Friday when I was so happy, because it was 8pm and I couldn’t tell what our target audience was,” says Hutchinson. “We had two tables of straight boys, one table of drag queens, a table with a family, one with young mommies and a bar full of young people. I just loved that mix.”
No Sleep Club's ground floor and bar

Having explored the intersection between food, drinks and coffee, Yi Jun and Hutchinson are now getting ready to take it one step further – once the lockdown in Singapore is lifted. “No Sleep Club has a second floor that we were just renovating before the circuit breaker,” says Yi Jun. “We want to create an omakase bar and a creative lab in this space. The first, natural progression was for us to collaborate with chefs, but now we want to work with other people outside of the hospitality industry and explore the connections with music, yoga or poetry.

“It will be all about play, with no restrictions and the ability to be 100% creative. We’ll test things there, and if they work, we’ll bring them down to No Sleep Club. We are also working to create a retail concept – something we’ve had a chance to test these days delivering bottled cocktails. We want to give people a proper drink to have at home that is as good as the one they would have at the bar,” concludes Yi Jun.

These two enthusiastic, talented bar owners are creating a brand that is built to last, and with the recent recognition of the Campari One To Watch Award, it is easy to see they are destined for great things. By wearing their hearts on their sleeves and believing wholeheartedly in a bar concept that is equal parts accessible and high quality, they are preparing to reopen with a boom. On your first visit to No Sleep Club following the lockdown, make sure to ask them how they met. You’ll be treated to a story about drinks, love and ultimately a shared dream that is a perfect summary of everything No Sleep Club stands for.

Discover the full list of Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020, sponsored by Perrier, and explore the special awards recognising outstanding talent in the region. Visit the Bar Recovery Hub for helpful resources and content for hospitality workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Find us on Instagram at @50BestBars, follow us on Twitter at @50BestBars, like us on Facebook at facebook.com/50BestBars and subscribe to our YouTube channel.