Eats, drinks, and quirks: What to look forward to at Employees Only in Singapore
From the horse's mouth
Co-founder Igor Hadzismajlovic, principal bartender Steve Schneider, and executive chef Julia Jaksic talk beyond the curtains at Employees Only on Amoy Street
There's much to be said about one of the world's best bars turning our sunny shores into their home away from home. From the moment The New York Times revealed Employees Only was to set roots in Singapore — and outside of New York for the first time ever — it immediately became the next big thing to watch. As Laneway Festival is to music devotees and Odette is to discerning diners, Employees Only has its footing as one of the bar cognoscenti. They're affectionately known for their classic American hospitality, top-tier tipple, gratifying grub and also, their steady climb up the World's 50 Best Bars listing — number four, as of 2015 — but what exactly can we expect from the Singapore outpost of Employees Only?
Speaking to the trio that moved across the Atlantic in the name of setting up Employees Only's newly minted joint (while New York is placed under the care of the remaining founders), principal bartender Steve Schneider, executive chef Julia Jaksic and co-founder Igor Hadzismajlovic bare the heart and soul of the famed watering hole. Before the restaurant and bar opens its doors on 17 June, whet your appetite with these tidbits and get a glimpse of what you can look forward to. Here's a tip from us: Do introduce yourself, do get your fortune told by the resident psychic, but don't try and pay for the chicken soup.
THE STAFF MEAL EXPERIENCE Ever wondered what the cooks who whip up your perfectly charred meats eat? Julia Jaksic (JJ): "Our late night offerings is where you'll really get to see who our kitchen is. The chef that will be here is from Mexico, and he was my sous-chef in New York for eight years. He'll have some of the dishes he grew up with — very Mexican — and on our late night menu, we'll have a special dish every night called the 'Staff Meal'. These come from our cooks. It could be grandma's dumpling recipe for example, and I'm excited because all the cooks we hired have such diverse backgrounds. Such is Singapore, and so are the dishes."
THE NEW YORK MINUTE No one likes to wait 20 minutes for an old fashioned only to have it with the ice half melted. These guys know better than that. Igor Hadzismajlovic (IH): I've been coming to Singapore since 2008, and I've seen the style grow exponentially in terms of both the bar and food scene. In terms of quality, it's top notch. We're doing nothing groundbreaking. What's new that we're bringing to the table is the New York efficiency. You don't even see this in the West Coast to be honest — there's really something about the New York minute. We always aim to get everybody's drinks to them in five to six minutes and we try to emulate the same thing here. Steve Schneider (SS): We like to tick every box that we can and not shortchange anyone. It's about building relationships with people and seeing what you can do for somebody to make their day all better — we're opening up a bar with amazing food, drinks, and service.
NAMES BEFORE DRINKS Itching for a tall drink to cool off from the blistering heat? You're thirsty — but first, introduce yourself. SS: "People come in and say, 'Recommend something!' I go, 'What's your name? Let's talk!' (laughs). I like to put myself in the shoes of the guests. What do they need and want? I try to deliver it with efficiency and great attitude. No one likes a grumpy bartender who's a party pooper."
THE DO'S AND DON'TS On staying in the clear. JJ: Don't rip the lights out (laughs). IH:Mine are generally for men to be respectful to women. I like to see a woman comfortable in her own skin. Even if they come by themselves to the bar, they shouldn't be harrased. SS: If someone has a bad time, I want it to be because of me and not anyone else. For example, if they just don't like what I made. If someone is annoying another guest and that's why they're having a bad time, that's what we don't like. It's about communication and that we're all aware what's going on in here, and that everyone is in a safe, controlled environment.
I'm a very reactive bartender and I'll be what you need me to be. People can stand, people can sit; they can do what they want within reason. You'll be surprised how chill and relaxed we are. And fun. Whatever you ask for, it'll be done.
CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL THAT'S HAD ONE TOO MANY When you're the last few standing in the bar and a warm bowl of chicken soup is set down in front of you. JJ: As with the food programme in New York, we're doing chicken soup at the end of the night. IH: It's a nice gesture to offer a hearty dish at the end of a long night and also a better way for us to say, "It's time for you to go," instead of patting them on the back and telling them to leave (laughs). JJ: It helps with the hangover. IH: You can't pay for it, but you can't buy it either. JJ: People can't have it during dinner, even if they want to pay for it. IH: They have to stay till the end. Employees Only. 112 Amoy Street. Open from 17 June 2016. To book a spot, drop an email to email@example.com.