This article will delve deeper into how Isaiah Tan developed and brought to life his three concept bars in Singapore. From the creation of Alchemy Bistro, the first craft beer bar in the country, to the cozy and intimate setting of The Hidden Story, to the laid-back and romantic atmosphere of Stratos Rooftop Bar. Come and discover the journey of how Isaiah turned his passion for creating unique and memorable experiences into a successful career in the hospitality industry.
The Inspiration Behind Alchemy Bistro, The Hidden Story, and Stratos Rooftop Bar
Alchemy is the first craft beer bar in Singapore. In 2010, I was looking around for an after-work place to treat my video production staff to drinks when I came across this quiet bar.
A few months later, the manager informed me that they were closing. I felt that it was a charming area, so I offered to take over the bar and revamped it.
Of course, with no personal experience in F&B, it was a huge risk to take over a failed business. Sometimes, you need to take risks or you will never leave your comfort zone and grow.
At that time, I observed that there weren’t any craft beer bars in Singapore – most bars were selling normal commercial beers. Alchemy is all about experimentation, the inspiration behind the name is that “when you dare to experiment and discover, you may be rewarded with gold.”
Alchemy has indeed been gold to me. It has been an inspirational journey – the experiences, the friends, the conversations and the lessons learned are priceless.
The Hidden Story was launched in June 2022, just after the Covid restrictions eased. The timing was perfect. I was very excited at the chance to revamp the second story of a traditional shophouse into a luxurious speakeasy. My partners and I were very pleased with the results. It was indeed a labor of love.
I wanted to preserve the charming feel of the shophouse era. I wanted customers to look around and reminisce about a bygone era while sipping on cocktails, wine, and whiskies.
Each antique coffee table there is unique – the centerpiece is a traditional Chinese gambling table, I heard there are only 3 left in Singapore.
From Chesterfield sofas, and Tiffany lamps, to a Peranakan tiled bar counter, to the art on the wall, every item has a story to tell. The Hidden Story is a timeless bar where customers can share their stories and experiences with one another.
Entering through the freezer door of the steakhouse on the first floor, the experience is both exhilarating and spontaneous, the joy of discovery and exploration begins.
This is a project that is very close to my heart – I’ve always wanted a shophouse bar, and this dream is accomplished. Positive feedback from customers about the decor and the experience is very rewarding.
Stratos Rooftop Bar was officially launched on January 2023. At this point, I had never dreamed of starting a second bar, much less a third one.
The process gets easier of course because I am more experienced, but nevertheless, it is always stressful overseeing licenses, and renovations and watching all the capital invested.
This bar is also very unique as it is located on the rooftop of the National Design Centre, and it was bare. All licenses and permits had to be applied for from scratch.
I had to submit a proposal and do a presentation to the Design Singapore Council with my partner, Joseph.
I met him through a mutual friend, and we inspired each other with our vision of a cocktail bar that would stand out amongst others. We painted the interior, put up rows of fairy lights ourselves, and enjoyed conceptualizing every detail.
I’ve always loved bars with an al fresco area, and the rooftop is a definite bonus with the views and the breeze.
Stratos is short for “Stratosphere”. We wanted our customers to gaze up at the stars each night, a reminder that we are all stardust; in our sanctuary beneath the stars.
We have open mic nights and live music. Through the years, at Alchemy as well, I have created a platform for local performers to share their talent with an audience. I am thankful and appreciative of our local talents.
The Evolution Of The Craft Beer Market In Singapore
At that time, I observed that there weren’t any craft beer bars in Singapore – most bars were selling normal commercial beers.
The market for craft beer has evolved rapidly since Alchemy’s inception. Today, we have craft beer taprooms and many other craft beer bars. However, commercial beers still have the majority share of the market.
But it’s great to see more appreciation and awareness for good craft beers. Through the years, Alchemy also has showcased most of the local breweries. It is heartening to see talented brewers venture out and experiment, honing their craft and elevating the craft beer experience in Singapore for everyone.
The Birth of Subscribeers.com – Alchemy’s Beer Subscription Service
Subscribeers fulfilled a need during the Covid pandemic when bars were not able to open, but I have since decided to discontinue the business.
Subscribeers was a pivot for Alchemy during the Covid pandemic. I felt for the local breweries and distributors who were hit hard and had products in their warehouses languishing.
I created this subscription service emphasizing local craft beers, delivered straight to the doorstep. As with any startup business, it was difficult at the beginning. We have discontinued the service shortly after Covid restrictions eased.
Lessons Learned From Navigating The Pandemic And How They Will Shape Future Business Operations
Alchemy had been running for more than a decade when Covid hit. It was unexpected, and nobody would’ve thought it would halt the economy for as long as it did.
I was complacent and assumed that things would be back to normal within a month or so. How wrong I was.
I was depressed and discouraged. Alchemy had been more than my livelihood for a decade. It was the place I connected with people. It was the place that supported my staff, and it was the place that customers fondly remember up to this day.
Everything had ground to a halt. I had waited too long to pivot, as I withered at home during the lockdown. Eventually, I told myself I had to snap out of it, and started deliveries on Foodpanda, as well as Subscribeers. I am thankful for the support of friends and customers during this difficult time. Through all of this, I didn’t cut the salaries of my staff or let any of them go.
The lesson here is preparedness. As a business owner, you have to make plans, alternate backup plans, and decisions fast. Emotions should wait, especially in times of crisis. Your plans should be detailed and ready to execute. Your staff should also share your vision, and develop confidence in the business together.
Alchemy’s Vision For The Future And Strategies To Stay Ahead In Singapore And Beyond
The craft beer market in Singapore is growing and taking a bigger share of the pie each year. However, craft beer has only a very slim slice in the Singapore market of just three percent of a US$1.7 billion industry, according to projections by the statistics portal Statista.
As more microbreweries open in Singapore due to the easing of restrictions and costs of licenses, it is indeed an interesting time for local brews and bars.
Costs of local brews have lowered, enabling more competition with commercial brews.
Alchemy has always supported local brews, I am proud of the progress and the rising standard of local breweries here in recent years.
As Alchemy will be relocating in June 2023 due to the redevelopment of the area, one of the main considerations for the new location will be more craft beer space. We want to expand our selection of craft beers to cater to a more sophisticated and discerning crowd. I am also looking at “community-funding” Alchemy 2.0, opening up shareholding to friends and customers who have always wanted to own a part of a bar.
It is indeed an interesting time for businesses that dare to disrupt and innovate. Alchemy 2.0 will be a very different concept where the community will be involved, stay tuned for more details on our website, www.alchemysg.com
Exploring The Unique Features And Offerings Of Singapore’s Premier Craft Beer Bar
From day one, I have always emphasized “heart” at Alchemy. I also try to impart this vision to all my staff. A customer is more than dollars and cents. When you serve a customer with heart, they can feel it. They can see it in your eyes. Many customers have become my close friends through the years.
Alchemy is also a place that encourages “inter-mingling”. I’ve connected with many customers who have become steadfast friends. It’s a place where most people know each other, and it isn’t taboo to share a table with a stranger whom you’ve just met. At the end of the night, you would’ve gained another friend.
Music is also an important part of Alchemy. The Open Mic nights are a great platform for musicians to showcase their talent. In fact, we were one of the first to start this format in Singapore. For the new location, we are hoping to lease a space that would be conducive to live music.
Also being the first craft beer bar in Singapore, I believe our legacy needs to be carried on. The new Alchemy will emphasize community and friendships in a refreshing way.
Strategies For Attracting New Customers To The Hidden Story
Initially, our plans were to gain more awareness through events – wine tastings, product launches, etc.
We are also leveraging social media and word of mouth. Most customers love the ambience and we hope that as more experience the place, they will bring their friends.
Memorable Stories And Motivations For The Hidden Story and Stratos Rooftop Bar
A friend of mine often brings his guitar around to my bars, and we enjoy spontaneous sing-along sessions. The Hidden Story customers started joining in on more than one occasion, and it was very memorable, as we connected through music and drinks, regardless of our race, religion, or background. Music unites people, and I am quite particular about the music that is played at all 3 of my bars. Not only does it set the mood, but it also creates an atmosphere and a moment in time that the customer will always associate with the bar.
Stratos Rooftop Bar was an interesting opportunity. I was searching for possible venues for Alchemy 2.0 when this turned up. I had to do a proposal and a presentation, but it was worth it. I saw a lot of potential in this venue as rooftop bars are not common in Singapore, and the central location is great.
A Look Into The Location And Aesthetics Of Stratos Rooftop Bar And Its Impact On Customer Experience
I’ve always loved open spaces. I believe that after spending the day cooped up in the office, it’s a welcome change to experience natural fresh air to wind down after a long day of work.
When the sun sets, Stratos gradually transforms, and this is part of the charm. The fairy lights come on, the moon and stars emerge, the band starts playing, and the pleasant glow of the surrounding buildings sets the scene for a sanctuary under the stars.
Customer Reception And Feedback Two Months Post-Opening
Customers love the ambience and the live music. A lot of them ask if the venue is available for booking, and they are always delighted to explore. Currently, we have had inquiries for wedding parties, birthdays, corporate events, and more.
The Future Of Stratos Rooftop Bar And Plans For Growth And Expansion
We are partnering with different groups moving forward. From DJ nights to competitive spoken word competitions, to original open mic nights where performers showcase their original songs, we are exploring different ways to maximize the space that we have.
From wine-tasting, and cocktail workshops to speed dating nights, we are gradually gaining more awareness. We don’t have expansion plans at the moment, but we are looking to hire, and we will assess the market in maybe a year’s time and we will see from there.
I believe any startup needs at least 6 months to a year to really stabilize first.
Often, startups don’t give themselves enough of a runway and they give up in 6 months or less.
Alchemy has been running for 13 years and counting, and the current focus for me is to move Alchemy to a new location. It is a great time to revamp the business and re-evaluate everything that we are doing. Companies get complacent when they are in one place for too long.
As I’ve already shared, I am looking to transform Alchemy into the first community-funded bar in Singapore. Even though we have been around for 13 years, it’s always good to get a new perspective that enables us to step up to the next level.
Essential Factors And Advice For Starting And Running A Successful Bar Business
Passion is key in anything you do. When you have passion, you will naturally seek knowledge and experience.
This empowers you to understand every aspect of the industry better. There is so much to learn.
Good service is a non-negotiable requirement. Great service will result in the customer remember you. Every small gesture counts.
Let me end this interview with something I shared recently on my personal Facebook account, reminiscing about Alchemy’s first night.
I was overjoyed to be starting my own bar. 13 years has passed. It is here that I learnt lessons about life and more every step of the way.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”
One of the lessons that is most deeply etched in my heart is the above verse.
2 elderly American tourists dropped by Alchemy. They didn’t spend much but after a brief chat with them, I asked if they had a song request. It took me 20 seconds to find their song, and I also queued a few other songs of that genre.
They were very thankful, and kept beaming from ear to ear throughout the night, no doubt reminiscing of good times past. They returned the next day.
I did it not for the money. It’s not about that. It’s about making their experience memorable.
Throughout the years, people from all walks of life were here. A lovely couple taking a last trip around the world because the lady was in the last stages of cancer. The list goes on. It doesn’t matter if they only come by once.
Each customer has their own story to tell, if you strike up a conversation.
Alchemy Singapore is a very simple bar. Nothing fancy, but through the years, I often emphasise heart and passion over everything else.
Not everyone would agree that this should be the priority.
Indeed, I’ve made some poor decisions from time to time. I’ve paid the price many-fold, not just financially but emotionally.
After a hard day’s work, the last thing that a customer would want to see is a mercenary simply performing tasks for remuneration.
Customer service is more than just pouring beer and wiping tables.
A simple greeting, a warm, genuine smile, and good service often brighten up someone’s evening. It doesn’t cost you anything, but when you serve someone from the heart, they will know it.
It’s not “just a job.”
I believe the following story best represents my thoughts tonight.
A man was tasked to paint a boat.
While painting, he noticed that there was a small hole in the hull, and quietly repaired it.
When done, he received his money and left.
The next evening, the owner of the boat called up and thanked him profusely.
The painter was surprised and asked, “Why, Sir? It was a simple paint job.”
“My dear friend, when I asked you to paint the boat, I forgot to mention the hole.
My kids went on a fishing trip.
They didn’t know that there was a hole. I was not at home at that time.
When I returned and noticed they had taken the boat, I was distraught.
Imagine my relief and joy when I saw them returning safe and sound.
Then, I examined the boat and found that you had repaired the hole.
You see, now, what I am thankful for? If someone else with less heart painted the boat, my kids may not be around today.”
Story by Denbabrata (Edited for context and length).
Thank you for the privilege of sharing my experiences. I hope that this can make a difference in someone’s life and business.