Stuffy cigar rooms.
Formidable mahogany doors.
Suited men drinking whisky and laughing loudly.
Barely any women in sight.
Typical descriptions of every members’ club, right?
1880, Singapore’s latest members only club, defies stereotypes, breaks all kinds of glass ceilings, and is ready to offer you an experience like no other.
On our recent visit to Singapore, we were particularly keen on visiting the good people at 1880. More so because one of our favourite drinsksmiths, Rusty Cerven has been heading up the beverage programme there. We are familiar with Rusty’s work from his time in London, serving up storms in glasses at some of the finest joints. Rusty was 2013 World Champion of the Bols Around the World, and had held leading bartender positions at legendary London bars The Connaught and The Gibson (World’s No. 4 and No. 6, respectively in the 2017 World’s 50 Best Bars list). How could we miss checking out what he had in store now?
Needless to say, this was our first stop in Singapore. We made our way up The Kaleidoscope, a shimmering escalator, beautifully designed to be alluring and mysterious – an apt entry way into a private, members only club.
I must admit, they don’t make it easy to enter the premises if you’re not a member and are unfamiliar with how the lovely front door works. After spending a few seconds fumbling and making fools of ourselves, we were politely ushered in by a young gentleman who led us through a quiet corridor into the members lounge by the bar.
The place was pleasantly busy, and clearly transitioning from work to play hours at about 7 pm. Work meetings were seen slowly easing up as drinks were being ordered, laptops were being put away to make room for tapas, and conversation seemed to be flowing like wine. A quick scan of the room revealed that there were as many women as there were men, maybe more! This obviously is in keeping with their idea of building a metaphorical “golf course for women”. The team at 1880 predominantly consists of women, who bring their unique perspectives and experiences to create a space for women, by women. And this is probably why a walk through the space doesn’t feel like you’re in a testosterone factory!
Especially worth mentioning is the Singapore Map Table, which sets out, in brass inlaid onto black marble, what the country will look like in the future. This is 100% legitimate as the image was obtained from the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s most recent Concept Plan 2011. 1880 is filled with little interesting details like these, seen across furnishings and the room separators. The entire space is an inspired work of art by the design house of Timothy Oulton.
We were seated at this very lovely Singapore Map table, a community table by the bar, where we got chatting with the lovely Shi Ping, who is equal parts elegant and riotous, just like some of our favourite women! We were shortly joined by CEO Luke Jones, who demystifies the CEO tag by just being the opposite – non-stuffy, easy going, and with no airs. That’s how you own the room.
Luke talked us through the story of 1880, named for the decade that Robertson Quay, where the club is located, was established. Brainchild of founder Marc Nicholson, in partnership with Luke Jones, 1880 is best described as a labour of passion. Marc grew up in a household where opinion and conversations were strongly encouraged and disagreements formed the basis of stimulating discourse. Years of regular Wednesday night dinners at the Nicholson household, attended by thinkers, doers, and opinion leaders from all walks of life, allowed young Marc to be exposed to a plethora of cultures, subcultures, ideologies, and beliefs. This valuable experience shaped the way Marc viewed life, thereby culminating in 1880 – a place that has zero tolerance for as*holes, and 100% regard for meaningful discourse and creativity. In continuation of the infamous Wednesday night dinners at the Nicholson household, 1880 hosts a Salon Night, an evening that brings together bright minds who agree to disagree and where no subject will ever be taboo (oh did someone just quote O-Ren Ishii? We think so!).
Soon into our conversation with Luke and Shi Ping, the ever so affable and talented Rusty Cerven emerged from behind the bar to join us at the table. It really is quite dramatic to watch someone work at and emerge from behind a bar that is so beautifully designed, with the 259 vintage kettle façade becoming a story in itself.
I’ll admit I had been chasing Rusty down for weeks and made no qualms about making sure he knew we were there to see what he had up his sleeve in this new and exciting chapter of his career.
What we heard, was music to our ears. Two contrasting menus are available at 1880, one at The Double, and the other, the Members’ Lounge. Curating them with Head Bartender Rusty Cerven, are the award winning bar collective Proof & Company. The culinary offering at 1880 is headed up by Executive Chef Colin Buchan, who has had stints at several Michelin-starred establishments including Marco Pierre White’s L’Escargot, Andrew Fairlie’s One Devonshire Gardens, and The Square restaurant in London. Colin also spent more than a decade working in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants starting with Amaryllis in his hometown of Glasgow, and was a private chef to David and Victoria Beckham.
This star-studded crew already leaves very little room for error so we dive right in, asking Rusty to recommend and whip us up his favourites from the Members’ Lounge cocktail and food selection.
Coral (Mancino Secco, Umeshu, Pedro Ximénez sherry, seaweed, black sea salt)
Pairing: Irish Oysters
The Coral is just what you would order if you like your drinks to tease your palate. Each sip transports you to a simpler time – the smell of ocean, the taste of sea. This beautifully balanced drink is perfect if you’re not a fan of the saccharine stuff, and pairs beautifully with the Irish Oysters.
Meadow (Hendrick’s gin, lemongrass, pandan, yuzu, carbonated Ceylon Souchong)
Pairing: Watermelon, feta, quinoa, pistachio, mint, green chilli dressing
Think fresh cut grass, and the smell of earth, which the yuzu cuts through unexpectedly. A hint of souchong tea adds length to this drink which is only mildly smoked, while the finish is beautifully balanced with every bite of the watermelon and feta salad.
Garden (Rutte Celery Gin, clarified tomato, manzanilla sherry, spice mix, coriander, lime bitters)
Pairing: Burrata, courgettes, tomatoes, black olives, basil
This one confused us a little but only in the best way possible. A light yet heady melange of citrus and spice, the Garden is reminiscent of a home kitchen garden on a Sunday afternoon.
Volcano (Mina Real Mezcal, Mancino Chinato, goji berries, Becherovka, cinnamon smoke )
Pairing: Fried squid, harissa, lime, Ito Togarashi
There are no prizes for guessing how we felt about this. If you know us at all, you know we live for the peat and the smoke. The Volcano, therefore, is a dream come true in a haze of Mezcal fumes, chased perfectly with some crunchy fried squid.
Suffice to say, 1880 leaves no stone unturned in terms of their offerings across the board. What we particularly love are Rusty’s innovative ideas that he puts across so simply in each drink. While each cocktail looks simple enough, the sheer complexity of flavour, technique, and finesse that goes into them makes them stand out. Nothing screams ostentation and never is the drink competing with the food or vice versa. This simplicity and harmony of things is what gives us a feeling that there is value in this proposition. I always say, only monkeys scream from the tops of trees. And what 1880 is, is a majestic beast.
1880 is at 1 Nanson Road Singapore 238909
Walk-ins are not encouraged. Visit: http://www.1880.com.sg/ for more information.
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