EVERYONE loves a secret. Especially if you don’t have to keep it.
And these days, restaurants are happy not to shout out their presence, preferring to whisper it instead. So, it’s not surprising then that secret entrances to restaurants and bars have become a sought-after facet of Singapore’s hip and happening dining scene. Hidden speakeasies in basements, restaurants without a storefront opening up into small alleyways, and bars accessible only through hidden doorways have been all the hype in places like Keong Saik, Amoy Street, and Tanjong Pagar.
Many concepts have sprung up with the express intention of being hidden. It seems to go against the grain of being seen and heard in the highly competitive food and beverage sector — but the people behind these secret spots have a different approach.
We seem to unlock the secret behind the secret trend.
Joshua Adjodha, Co-Founder & Director of Kilo Lounge
The intention behind putting the entrance to Kilo Lounge in the alley (away from Tanjong Pagar’s main street) was to create an experience that evokes a sense of discovery. People are used to just walking in through a door and arriving at their destination — we wanted to create a small journey for people to go through, building up their excitement with every step to the dance floor.
We don’t just want foot traffic stumbling in. Instead, we want to attract people that know about us through our music, from friends or even stories. This means they know of Kilo Lounge beforehand, and it sets the right expectations for people.
A concept is only as strong as the people who frequent and support it. Being a place that you don’t just stumble upon has allowed us to create and cater to a specific community of patrons who connect through the type of music we play and the experiences we offer.
We already had a head start with our previous venue in the Ture building in Kampong Bugis which was arguably hidden. People always connected with the intrigue behind going to Kilo Lounge. By staying consistent and true to who we are, and bringing this element over to the location at Tanjong Pagar, we have been able to build a very supportive audience.
For me, being hidden has a benefit — I don’t have to appeal to the mass market!
But it really depends on what you are trying to achieve. If your motivation is solely money, then there’s the challenge of visibility for foot traffic and appealing to the mass market.
21 Tanjong Pagar Road,
Darius Wong, Manager, Burger Joint
The idea to make Burger Joint difficult to find was not to be trendy, or cool.
In Le Parker Meridien Hotel New York, the original Burger Joint is hidden in the lobby behind a red velvet curtain. If you don’t know where it is, you need look for it.
We wanted everyone in Singapore to experience the same adventure. Even when you find the neon sign, it’s not immediately obvious what it means. Even when you walk in the door, a curtain blocks the way much like the New York restaurant! To further add to the experience, there are no windows — you are cut off from the outside world. You get the sense of being anywhere in the world. You get the feeling of being transported to the original in NYC.
Bringing that sense of fun and adventure has been a big part of what we want to offer customers. So we have no signboard outside, you have look around and maybe ask people to figure it out if it’s your first time.
Thus far, the response has been positive. The neon burger sign has gained a lot of recognition and people come looking for it. Not only for our burgers, but the sign has its own cult following on Instagram! And that has helped to further fuel the curiosity of audiences.
We want to challenge people to find us. When they do for the first time, it becomes their little secret that can be shared with others. People love owning that knowledge.
Burger Joint Singapore
115 Amoy Street
Entrance at back on Gemmill Lane
Luke Whearty, Founder & Executive Bartender, Operation Dagger
When we opened Operation Dagger it was a very new concept for Singapore. We wanted the business to grow organically and attract the people that were genuinely interested in what we were doing. We did this by not having any signage and almost no marketing — we simply let word of mouth do its thing.
A lot of people think it’s because we were trying to be hipster or cool. But it genuinely came from the fact that we started with a team of only three people. We were trying to create something really unique and we wanted to go slow and steady and not bite off more than we could chew.
We were very different to other bars, we didn’t want to shout from the rooftops and attract every man and his dog because we aren’t the bar for everybody!
Not being immediately obvious helps to separate the people who aren’t really interested from the people that will be appreciative of our offerings. Being hidden allows us to attract a niche crowd that will be coming for the right reasons. However, we do lose out the extra revenue from the more commercial crowd.
At the same time, being hidden has forced us to keep progressing and innovating. Changing our menus frequently gives people an excuse to come and seek us out and encourages return visits to see what is new. If we weren’t constantly evolving, people would get bored and go elsewhere. The day Operation Dagger ceases to progress and grow as an organic thought is the day it will cease to exist.
No matter if you are off the beaten track or out in the open in a high foot traffic area you have to keep the customer engaged.
This is essential in Singapore’s competitive F&B scene.
7 Ann Siang Hill
Emmanuel Benardos, Group General Manager, Unlisted Collection
The space where Bincho is located (in Tiong Bahru) had a limit on what the entrance could look like due to heritage restrictions. This has since evolved and added to the unique mystique of Bincho and its hidden gem persona. If anything, the concept of Bincho has been strengthened by its hidden location.
We have tackled the issue of not being obvious by creating an offering that surpasses expectations —cocktail bar, food, interior and service. We have also created an atmosphere within Bincho that makes you feel like you have been transported for the evening. The hidden location adds to this appeal and finding us is a part of the dining journey with Bincho. The delight people experience when they step through the door is just the beginning of what we offer at Bincho.
While being hidden gives a feeling of exclusivity to all guests, the challenge is to always ensure that we are not forgotten!
78 Moh Guan Terrace
Darren Micallef, Co-owner & General Manager, Maggie Joan’s
Tucked away in the back alley parallel to Amoy Street, Maggie Joan’s has breathed life into what would have been a dark and unused passageway.
The motivation for the hidden entry came from two places. Firstly, we wanted to reflect our upbringing in the restaurant. In Melbourne, a lot of restaurants and bars are “hidden” with unassuming entrances or are in alleyways or even basements.
Secondly, a lot of the places we took inspiration from to start Maggie Joan’s, particularly in Paris, had either hidden or obscure locations, where the location and fit-out were secondary to the dining experience. The main focus is enjoying good food with good company.
Being hidden was always part of the concept, so having a hidden entrance has added to the overall effect of the restaurant — hidden, underground and industrial décor. We try to reflect the “underground” vibe in all aspects of the restaurant from the plates the food is served on to the music that is played each day.
After 18 months of operation, being hidden has not had an adverse effect on business. The ability to find the restaurant has become somewhat of a talking point amongst our guests and people pride themselves on knowing about Maggie Joan’s and being able to show friends and colleagues a “secret” place that they have never heard of or seen before.
110 Amoy Street
Russell Yu, Director, Iki Concepts
The hidden concept for Horse’s Mouth was not planned. We love the bars in Tokyo — they are usually located in random places and when stepping into them, you feel as though you are transported into another world. We wanted to bring that concept to Singapore and the opportunity came when we had this space at Forum The Shopping Mall.
The hidden space works for our concept of an “underground bar”. We aim to give our guests the feeling of being “transported” away from the middle of Orchard Road to a much more relaxed and comfortable domain. However, it was definitely tough to drive our business when we first started out. But we are now coming to our fifth year of operations and our customer pool is growing.
Being labelled as a hidden bar has mostly been a positive experience for us. It has aligned with our Japanese theme and inspiration, and gives an added sense of mystery for the customers who find their way to this underground space. There’s bound to be a couple of customers who lose their way but we usually give them directions when they call for reservations, and we definitely make it worth their while when they get here!
The Horse’s Mouth
83 Orchard Road
Forum the Shopping Mall
Enter through Uma Uma Ramen at #01-41
You might also want to read:
A Familiar Pound Of Flash At Kilo