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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Cheers at your cosy neighbourhood bar

People are relaxing at pubs near their homes for the friendly laidback vibe, cheaper drinks and familiar faces
The Straits Times - July 4, 2014
By: Lydia Vasko
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Cheers at your cosy neighbourhood bar Mel’s Place at Kuo Chuan Avenue which has an alfresco area, The Tuckshop (above) in Guillemard Road and The Jolly Roger at Upper Bukit Timah. -- PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Think cosy neighbourhood bar and Cheers, the Boston bar "where everybody knows your name" toasted by the hit American sitcom (1982-1993), probably comes to mind.

But you do not have to venture too far to enjoy the same warmth of a good bar.

There are dozens of such homey joints around Singapore that serve not just drinks and pub grub, but also friendly banter and a laidback atmosphere for those looking to unwind a stone's throw from home.

Most do not have a marketing budget or a public relations team. Many do not even have a website or Facebook page to their name.

Instead, customers simply follow the neon light signs and many eventually become regulars.

Friends took teacher Iain Craig, 34, to The Sportsman in Far East Shopping Centre when he first moved here from Britain four years ago. He was living in the Raffles City area then.

He says: "Every time you go in, you get a big hug and a 'good to see you' from the staff. It is a very welcoming atmosphere. When you find a place like that, you keep going back."

You will not find fancy cocktails at these watering holes, which offer drinks that are usually about 20 per cent cheaper than those sold in downtown bars. Beers, for example, cost $10 to $12 a pint, compared to $15 to $18 in Boat Quay.

But price is not the main draw of these neighbourhood set-ups.

Mr Robert Davies, 37, a Briton and Singapore permanent resident who co-owns The Tuckshop in Guillemard Road, says a neighbourhood bar appeals to people because it is where they can go to destress.

He says: "You'll always know someone there and you'll always be recognised. You can chill out closer to home and avoid the hustle and bustle of the city. You feel you've mentally escaped the work day, so you can really unwind."

The friendship that the staff forge with customers is also key to the success of a local pub.

Mr A.S. Chail, 54, who owns two of the four Bojangles bars here, which started with an outlet in Balmoral Plaza in 1997, says the longevity of the business is due to the rapport between his staff and customers.

He says: "The bar becomes a second home for people. Some come alone or are here with friends, but we try to make sure all our customers get to know one another, that they become friends so that if they ever come alone, they will see a familiar face. It's all about friendship and feeling comfortable."

Unlike operators who ban patrons from bringing in food bought elsewhere, he allows them to consume food from neighbouring eateries such as Spizza and Smith's Fish and Chips restaurants.

He adds: "They are regulars. You can't expect them to eat the same food every day."

Most of his customers are in their 40s and 50s, so he hires staff in the same age range as they can connect better. "Young guys wouldn't be able to talk about work, family or life issues in the same way."

Holding entertainment programmes such as pub quiz nights, karaoke, board games and pool tournaments also win over those hunting for a neighbourhood bar.

Mr Nick French, 48, a British technical author, often goes to Bojangles' Balmoral Plaza outlet to play pool. He says: "When you're a stranger, you put $2 on the pool table to play a game and by the time you leave, you've made six friends. The next time you go, people remember your name. But if you sit at the bar, you might not get to know anybody."

He goes to the bar alone or with his wife Anna, 44, a housewife, and has been a regular at Bojangles in Balmoral Plaza and its outlet in Arcadia Road for the past five years.

He says: "There are never any harsh words, never any trouble. It's a comfortable place with really friendly staff. We go to play pool or chat because we don't want to sit in front of the TV all night. We might stay for a couple of drinks or if we're enjoying ourselves, we'll stay all night."

Briton James Hosking, 40, co-owner of The Jolly Roger in Upper Bukit Timah, says this family-friendly vibe is a hallmark of the neighbourhood joint. He says: "It's where you're willing to take your family, your kids in their pram and your dog, where single women feel comfortable having a pint of beer on their own, and not just where guys go to get drunk."

Mr Chris Low, 47, a business development manager, agrees. He used to go to Wala Wala at least three times a week when he lived in Holland Village. Even though he has moved to Yishun, he still visits the bar at least once a week because of the friends he has made there.

"Some of the staff have been working there for many years and they know me and make my visits comfortable. Sometimes I go by myself to grab a quick bite or a drink before heading home and I always end up meeting someone there. I can walk in alone and feel comfortable in my shorts and shirt. Wala Wala feels like a second home," he says.

Ms Patricia Lee, 29, a private bank investment specialist who works in Raffles Place, likes the laidback atmosphere of her neighbourhood bar, The Tuckshop in Guillemard Road.

She says the packed bars in Boat Quay and Clarke Quay are nice for an after-work drink with friends or a night out, but she heads home if she wants to relax.

She adds: "The Tuckshop is a hidden gem. It is peaceful and very comfortable. The staff are welcoming and receptive to our feedback on the drinks and food. But mostly, I like that it's a chill place where you can relax and have a drink in your shorts and T-shirt."

Ms Lee lives in Dakota Crescent, less than five minutes' drive from The Tuckshop, and goes there at least once a week with her friends.

Introducing friends and family to a bar they have discovered adds to the appeal of a local bar.

Says Mr Davies: "Given the choice, I think people would rather spend their money at a small, friendly and independent outlet than a big money-making chain. They know they're contributing to their neighbourhood by supporting local businesses."

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