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Drinking in the arts décoratifs

Not all of our travel stories are planned in advance: Kirstin O’Brien discovers a homage to art déco in Singapore
November 17, 2019/12.57

Kirstin O’Brien

Top: The exterior of Parkview Square. Above: Interior wall details at Parkview Square.

Looking out of our hotel window while in Singapore I spy a beautiful déco-styled building and decide to investigate. Little did I know that this building would share two of my favourite things …
   There it stood: a tall, intricately detailed art déco-styled monolith decorated with detailed metalwork over an imposing marble façade. We approached this extravagant building from the south entrance: the fountains, plantings and statues gracing this side certainly gave it a feeling of grandeur. Walking inside we encountered a whole other world: a 15 m high ceiling soured above with ornate frescoes in golden hues illuminated by tastefully concealed lighting; gleaming bronze life-sized statues raised high on plinths; large leafy foliage falling gracefully from large brass pots and polished marble in many hues.
   The soaring windows which let light into this lavish space were decorated with opulent fabrics in the art déco style. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
   This appeared to be a commercial building as there was a concierge desk with a high wall behind, a walkway following the windows where we entered and ornate lifts at either end. People dressed in suits walked serenely through this large corridor with the poise and grace appropriate for such a space. I began taking discreet photos with my phone, unsure whether we were even allowed in this building, but too entranced to ask in case we had to leave.
   Reading one of the subtle directory boards I discovered we had entered Parkview Square. This imposing art déco building is another of Singapore’s stylized examples of architecture. Completed in 2002 and designed in a collaboration between Singapore architecture firm DP Architects and the US design firm James Adams Design, it is one of the most expensive office buildings in Singapore, housing many embassies within its 24 floors, including the Honorary Consulate of Oman and the Austrian, Mongolian and United Arab Emirates embassies. Fitting then, that the exterior of the building is clad in bronze, granite lacquer and glass for its prestigious inhabitants. I was feeling elated and a little deflated as I would have to make a gracious exit—it was then that I heard a clinking of glasses and the muffled tones of conversation.
   Walking around a large statue of an Egyptian–Grecian goddess carrying an urn on one hip and thrusting an illuminated globe overhead with the other, I spied the huge ground floor bar, which took up most of the central area.
   It had been concealed from our entrance by all the plants and large statues on plinths. This bar was tastefully styled with low leather lounge suites and generous, rounded, high-backed sofas covered in purple and deep blue velvet; low marble and brass tables and a central arrangement of orchids, anthuriums and peonies in soft pastel pinks and whites.
   A magnificent high-tower bar at one end with bottles arranged up to the ceiling and two curved staircases leading up to the higher bottles certainly looked impressive. The whole bar area emanated a bygone time but it was refreshed with the bold purple and deep blue hues of the furnishings and beautifully dressed customers.

Kirstin O’Brien

   There is something about the art déco style that has always appealed, from the lavish descriptions of high society within the writing of W. Somerset Maugham, the cocktail and flapper fashion of Coco Chanel, to the stylized architecture of the era, art déco endures and allures.
   If you were considering an aperitif to accompany this era, champagne or a gin martini are the appropriate choices and these would have to be my two ultimate drink preferences. So the marriage of an exclusive gin bar within this elaborate homage to art déco was a match made in heaven.
   I had found my happy place in the most unexpected place.
   I promptly settled myself into a couch and picked up the drinks’ menu.
   Oh joy, I had found myself in Atlas gin bar—featuring over 1000 gins! Talk about heaven.
   Looking up, the feeling of heaven was reiterated in the ceiling decoration of sleek, prancing antelope jumping through clouds in an ambient golden light.
   The leather-bound tome of a drinks’ list was duly opened and I touched the textured 160 g/m² heavy paper with anticipation. The title page featured a stylized drawing of the building and a couple of quotes from two great authors: ‘Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right’ (F. Scott Fitzgerald) and ‘I had never tasted anything so cool and clean [as a martini]’ (Ernest Hemingway).
   First up: a classic G&T with a twist of lemon (London Dry Gin), Gin Tonica (Japanese Craft Gin, yuzu tonic, basil and red peppercorn), and a little pink mocktail mimosa with a tiny tiara flower floating on the foamy top for Miss S.
   The smell of botanicals, the luxurious perfume of a passer-by and the peonies in the metre-high arrangement on the centre table put my head in a spin.
   We soaked up the atmosphere and enjoyed our first drinks. This gave us more time to view the incredible level of detail which has been designed into this space. There was the overall effect of the beaux arts but with twists in the details. Dragonflies carved in filigree metal flew up a marble wall, multiple muscular and brutalist-carved Atlas figures surrounded a shining orb, lithe antelope danced on the ceilings and repeated, angled patterns added even more texture to the intensity of the space.
   There was too much to take in so I ordered a dirty martini to help and then was offered a gin tasting to find my next choice.
   This was where I discovered Bloom Gin, a beautiful floral dry gin from London with a heady mix of chamomile, honeysuckle and pomelo. Totally gorgeous, I wanted to drink it straight but was convinced to add a little tonic and ruby red grapefruit—sublime.
   The single olive from my dirty martini wasn’t sufficient to soak up all the gin so we sat for a little longer, drinking in the arts décoratifs before leaving gracefully through the front entrance.

Kirstin O’Brien

Above, from top: Gin cocktail with a twist of lemon. Gin tasting at Atlas Bar with the author. Dirty gin martini. Bloom Gin with pink grapefruit and peppercorns.

   Outside we encountered even more extravagant sculptural works in the grand space which filled the front of the building. A series of life-sized red metal stick men (reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti), a giant, princess-like snail with smiling face and long hair carved from stone (perhaps the love-child of a Dali sculpture and a character from Alice in Wonderland), and an elegant, soaring golden crane on a plinth. pointing towards China as a nod to the owner’s homeland.
   What a remarkable building full of art déco details and at its heart, Atlas Bar: an outstanding place to drink in les arts décoratifs.—Kirstin O’Brien

Kirstin O’Brien

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