To walk into Singapore’s Atlas is to experience awe. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the murals unfolding across the ceiling and to the soaring gin tower that looms above the Art Deco–inspired space. There’s an audacity to Atlas; the ambition, not to mention the investment, is almost hard to comprehend.
Opened in March of 2017, Atlas has made its mark on Singapore and internationally, already earning the No. 8 spot on The World’s 50 Best Bars list of 2018. Jesse Vida, formerly the bar manager at New York City’s BlackTail, joined the team to head up the bar program.
Coming onboard in November, Vida finds that the magic has yet to wear off. “I walk into work every day, and I still do the same thing I did the first time I came here,” he says. “I tilt my head back, look at the ceiling and think, Wow, it’s beautiful, it’s detailed, it’s grand. It’s a space like no other.”
Sure, you could order a whiskey or a beer at Atlas, though you’d be remiss to not at least consider taking a look at the Champagne list. The selection is world-class, with more than 250 labels, including eye-popping bottles like a 1907 Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Go?t Américain, discovered on a Swedish shipwreck sunk in 1916, where it laid untouched at the bottom of the Baltic Sea (current price: $140,000 USD).
But at the heart of everything is Atlas’ formidable gin tower, 26 feet tall and housing approximately 1,300 bottles. In the space’s former incarnation, Divine Wine Bar, it served as a wine tower, with “wine angels” clad in sequined tutus flying up the sides on a rope system to retrieve bottles from its upper reaches—seriously.
There are bottles of gin dating back to the 1910s and vintage Martinis on the list featuring gins from every decade forward, including from Iceland, Luxembourg and Colombia—nearly 50 nations in all—and rice-based gins from Japan and mezcal-based gins from Oaxaca. And they’re all accessible from the tower’s internal and external ladders. No sequined angels needed.
Atlas is a collaboration between the Hwang family, who are the owners of Singapore’s stunning Parkview Square building in which the bar resides, and Proof & Company, the creative team behind many of Singapore’s best bars. Together with the bar team, the gin collection was first assembled with Jason Williams, the creative director at Proof given the title Master of Gin; and Jonathan Teo, the Gin Researcher, “who has done a lot of groundwork helping source the bottles,” says Vida. Their involvement is ongoing, while operations manager Hannah Cinco manages the logistics of the gins and their inventory—a formidable job in itself.
Opening with nearly 1,000 gins on its list, the collection is ever-growing. Vida aims for approximately 1,500 bottles: “I think that’s how many we can house before we literally have no space left,” he says. But there’s never a shortage of candidates. “It’s insane how many more gins and gin distilleries there are in the world even from when Atlas opened. I just added six bottles to the list last week.”
Without many of the regulations that govern liquor sales in the U.S., Singapore is uniquely well-suited for a bar to amass a rare spirits collection. “It’s an open market, so I can buy a bottle from anywhere, stick it on the shelf and sell it,” he says.
Many of the vintage bottles are one-offs sourced from individual collectors. “With something like Beefeater or Booth’s, there are people around the world with pretty big collections,” says Vida. “And there are people who specifically sell vintage spirits.”
The bar’s flexibility in terms of acquisition is an enormous asset, says Vida. “Right when I got here, I had Martin Cate [of San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove and gin bar Whitechapel] reach out to me,” says Vida. “He said, ‘I’m sitting on some vintage gin, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to move this.’ I said, ‘Send me the list!’ We’ll probably take it over.”
Atlas is perfectly suited to a city whose cocktail scene is nothing if not ambitious. “It’s grand, it’s elegant, and there’s definitely an audience for that here,” says Vida. “Singaporeans are really open to trying different things, different spirits. If you do a good job of something, people embrace it. It gives you an opportunity to just go for it.”
And while Atlas is clearly inspired by a bygone era, there’s a timeless quality to its elegance as well. “We want Atlas to be here forever,” says Vida. “We want it to be an institution.”