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28 HongKong Street turns a decade-old

Before the well-loved institution turns the big 1-0, we get general manager Justin Pallack to ponder on the bar's success thus far.

One of the cornerstones of Singapore’s cocktail bar scene (for guests and F&B industry members alike) and a trailblazer for putting the country on the world map, 28 HongKong Street turns 10 on 30 October this year. It’s an impressive feat for the independent bar, who is pulling out all the stops in celebration.

From 25 October to 30 November, a Greatest Hits cocktail menu brings back five of the best-selling libations of the decade such as Whore’s Bath made with Manuka Honey vodka, umeshu, pear, lemon, pickled ginger and lava salt. The menu will also be available at other bars locally and abroad at Sago House, No Sleep Club, Barbary Coast, Maybe Sammy in Sydney, Sidecar in New Delhi, Two Schmucks in Barcelona and Attaboy in New York City. Also watch out for a mini documentary that premieres on their social media platforms on 30 October.

But before the festivities get in full swing, we catch up with Justin Pallack, general manager of 28 Hong Kong Street, to get his thoughts on the changing bar scene.

Congratulations on reaching 10 years! What would you say are the highlights of the decade? 

How could we possibly choose? Over the past decade we have hosted both local and international cocktail competitions, we have been awarded some of the most sought after awards in the global cocktail bar scene and we’ve thrown some of the best parties around. It’s definitely hard to pick out just a few key moments. But, more than the moments themselves it has always been the people involved that make this place so memorable. Our reputation as the industry’s clubhouse has always meant that at any given moment, someone very special could come walking through that unmarked door & for ten long years, they have.

How has 28 HongKong Street changed since its first year? 

The menu is constantly evolving and the space itself has had a few different distinct looks too. Our team has evolved over the years as well, with each new group adding their patch to the quilt of our story. We have a notion here that most people don’t leave team 28, they graduate into alumni. This venue has now released into the market many top industry professionals who at one point called 28HKS home. This is a testament to the program that was created here early on as well as to the types of people 28 attracts into its ranks.

How have consumers in Singapore changed since 28 HongKong Street first opened?

Due in part to 28’s (and others) influence on the cocktail scene in Singapore and into Asia, the market here has become much more discerning and educated on fine drinking and craft cocktails. The enthusiasm was apparent from the days we first opened the doors and the ripple effect has now reached far and wide. We are proud of the role we have played in creating the demand which helped to launch a paradigm shift in how folks drink and expect hospitality to be.

How has the pandemic affected the business? 

The pandemic has affected our business and industry in every way imaginable. It has proven to be a black swan event. We think that as an industry, we have been forced to view new ways to engage our guests and new products to offer them; many of which will be around long after the pandemic has concluded.

Has it picked back up yet? 

Certainly not to pre-pandemic levels. Until we can welcome our international guests and have a row of revellers standing behind the people sitting at the bar, we won’t feel like our true selves.

The Fixie

The Fixie, part of the Greatest Hits menu

What initiatives has 28 HongKong Street been involved in to support the F&B industry? 

We have tried to be an agent for good ever since the earliest days of this pandemic. When the virus was still largely contained to China, 28 HongKong Street and our partners at Proof & Company held a fundraiser for bartenders who were out of work in Wuhan, China as well as for the frontline medical workers there. We raised several thousand dollars for that cause.

In such a competitive space, what would you say is the secret to lasting for a decade while still remaining relevant? 

We think one bit of good advice would be to remember what a cocktail bar exists to do.  In our opinion, we aim to be a salon for social interaction; a place where magic moments are possible. It doesn’t take gimmicks. It begins with kindness and empathy, a desire to host and more than a little expertise. It takes continuity and a reverence for the people who have chosen to spend their precious time with you.

What advice would you give to the newer cocktail bars that have opened up in the recent year?

Good luck, we are rooting for you! Take good care of your team and in turn, expect that they take good care of your guests. Be great at the basics. Focus on progress, not perfection. Have fun, joy is contagious.

28 Hongkong St, Singapore 059667. Tel: 8318 0328