Cocktail Napkin Review: The Warehouse Hotel Bar
A hotel lobby bar with character and cocktails that are inspired by the history of the Warehouse and its environ.
September 27, 2017
The thing with hotel bars is that you either fall in love with them and then it’s the start of a long relationship where they welcome you with open arms, know your name, and remember which drink you’ll have multiples of, satisfying even your strangest requests, or the experience is just mediocre and not so memorable and you move on to the next bar.
The Warehouse Hotel Bar falls into the first scenario, especially when, after sitting on the brown leather sofas and asking for cocktail napkins, they turn out to be black ones that can’t be written on so my request for white-out (liquid paper) was fulfilled with no questions asked. That was a very good start to our Cocktail Napkin Review.
Generally, hotel lobby bars can be hard to fall for: they serve a function, but they can be staid and stuffy. Not every hotel can achieve the right level of cool like, say, the Mercer Hotel lobby, where the space has multiple functions. The Warehouse Hotel lobby bar comes pretty close to being able to satisfying the dual functions of a lobby and a bar in an intimate yet open space.
It’s a busy bar, especially in the early evening, though no surprise there, as this is naturally the best time to lounge in the lobby. I was staying in the hotel so they knew my name and arranged a little table for me where I could get a view of the whole bar. White-out in hand, I prepared for the make-or-break test of any bar: the cocktails.
The bar menu is is divided into three sections, each capturing a past era of The Warehouse Hotel and its environs. The building was built in 1895 to be a “godown” or warehouse. In the late 1800s the Malacca Straits was located along a spice trading route and the warehouse sitting on the river was part of this action. At that time, the area was a hotbed of secret societies, underground activity, and liquor distilleries. The road on upon which the building was built was called Spirit Shed Road, and along the banks of the river all types of illegal moonshine were distilled—let’s also remember that opium accounted for over 50% of the trade happening along the Malacca straits at the time, which is some pretty heady illegal action right there.
The area around the hotel was the red light district in that era. After those heady days, it would serve the function of a warehouse during British colonial rule. Then, in the ’70s, it would shed its godown status and become a nightclub called The Warehouse Disco—the nightclub of its day. And finally, a few years back, it would go through the process of meticulous renovation to become a hotel which opened earlier this year, operated by the Lo and Behold group, restored to glory by embracing elements of the past, including a bar menu that paid tribute to each distinct era of the warehouse’s storied history.
We had drinks from the three sections, starting with the most recent era, The Warehouse Disco era. The bright floral Barbarella was fresh and fruity—think Jane Fonda in Barbarella and you need look no further. My second drink, the High Tea, was a tribute to the civilised British colonial days of the early 1900s: fresh, aromatic, and floral, all in one, from the Godown days. The High Tea was the kind of drink you can keep drinking: it was the least sweet, the most herbal, and was served in an old fashion clay cup with lots of leaves.
The last drink I had, the BB King, was from the headier debaucherous days of the warehouse: a tribute to when it was a liquor distillery. The BB King, from the Spice Trade menu, was rich, smoky, spicy and tropical, with house-infused banana whiskey, smoky maple syrup and house-made BBQ bitters, the bitters with spices from the region that were probably traded back then.
There was no doubt this was a cocktail bar with character within a city that is cocktail and detail obsessed. By providing a comfy, open plan lobby/living-room and outstanding drinks, The Warehouse proved that a hotel bar can deliver fun, crafty cocktails while maintaining “boutique-ness”. I’ll be back—and I expect they shall remember my name. The next visit will be a bit earlier in the day, to savor drinks from the three distinct eras, prior to heading out for dinner.