Friday, January 19, 2007

The Stones Bar

I have been coming to Singapore for more than twenty years now and there is something that remains elusive about the place that defies accurate description. Sure there are the usual comparisons everyone wants to make about this city state – how controlled it is, how constrained, how contrived. But I have to confess that such accusations could just as easily be directed at most other Western cultures. Perhaps the difference is that we see all this in a Chinese, South East Asian context and are secretly hoping that we won’t. That somehow we will find something different to our own contexts.

So in Singapore there is a certain amount of valid comparison that can be made, along the lines of “same but different”. But rather than jump into anything too deep and meaningful about Singapore perhaps we can start with some thing that is a refreshing example to me of the enigma that is Singapore. It is the Stones Bar. Run by a very youthful 54 year old Singapore Chinese character called Andrew. I stumbled over it three or four years ago and have been coming back here since. In part because of the nature of the bar, and in part because that nature is dictated by Andrew.

On my first visit here the place was deserted and I was looking for something to eat. Andrew cooked up a whole fish lashed with chillies and garlic and ginger. Then he put on a mix of Van Morrison and the Stones, gave me a beer and left me to get on with it. As the evening wore on, and I tried to recover from a severe case of gluttony, the bar slowly filled up with local Singaporeans, of Chinese and Indian origin. Hooray, there was not an expat to be seen. This was clearly a local watering hole and everyone behaved like family.

Since then Andrew has decided that cooking up fish requires a days notice and that, for locals only. Fortunately for me he counts me as a local so is happy to rustle that speciality up if I think I need it. Otherwise he rings the food in. He has revamped the bar to better accommodate live music. But he still lets me run the music desk if the live muso is not around (sometimes I come in and have to remove ABBA from the playlist!) and is the same hearty, good natured chap he has ever been. Mind you there is an iron streak in him too – for all his good humour if you cross him and you have reason to play pool with him he will whip you dry. I watched him shark a visitor and his wife from the US one evening – they rubbed him up the wrong way so when a bet on a game of pool was up Andrew was on in a flash. Let the visitor get to within one ball of winning before sinking everything of his and collecting the cash. The locals who were there that night still talk about it.

In a town that has a preference for shiny chrome, polished timber bars populated with preening girls or strutting blokes, bar girls out of European or Taiwanese fashion magazines, and London cocktail bar or New York wine bar prices, Andrew’s pub is appropriately dark, noisy, smoky and atmospheric. Beer is cold and about the right price, the place is a local watering hole with character and music with some punch is usually on the menu. Andrew is either behind his bar, shouting encouragement to his live act (who tonight did some great Deep Purple and Eric Clapton), messing with the sound desk, playing cards with some locals, livening up a game of pool or otherwise shouting with laughter at something that just eluded you - but you laugh anyway, having caught his infection. It is a place that hints at being a little out of control, in a very controlled place. I like it for that.

5 comments:

Cat's Experiment said...

great story. have enjoyed reading your blog. loved the taxi story had similar experience in singapore.

the bar story is great, because it's what we all want to find in singapore, some type of honest hospitality & authenticity. was born there myself & all I hear are laments for the lost culture....although the food is always worth it..

Pickled Eel said...

Thanks for the feedback - doubly pleasing given it is coming from a "local". Yes, Andrew's bar is exactly what I was looking for as well - old timber floors, huddles of old blokes sitting around playing cards and drinking beer, and plenty of peanut shells on the floor. And he lets me set the music!!

Dados Tirados said...

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Anonymous said...

hi,
late reply, but I just found your tale about andrew and his stones bar. we´ve been there too and we also had a few great evenings with him there. we´d like to send him some pics of it, but don´t know any mail adress. do you know more?
greetings from berlin, germany
goetz (goetz62@aol.com)

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