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Against All Odds: How They Turned Hopscotch Into One Of The Most Underrated Bars In Singapore

Writing this article took me some time, and people around me know this – partly because I haven’t been writing much since last year; but mostly because I was hesitating over whether or not I wanted to share about this hidden gem – one that I have selfishly kept for myself.

This hidden gem is a bar named Hopscotch.

Hopscotch is located at Red Dot Museum at Tanjong Pagar. For most who have been there, the location instantly converts one into a loyal customer, but for me, it’s the story behind how the bar started that I fell in love with.

For most bartenders, the dream is always to eventually open their own bar. The same applies for Hopscotch’s founder Roger and his team.

“It all started while I was still working part time at Barstories back in 2013. Dave, the manager there then provided me a gig opportunity for one his friend’s private parties, and it was that chance which enabled us to start our events bartending arm Mixes From Mars, Mars Bar, our popup bar at The Duxton, and finally Hopscotch.”

Hopscotch Bar
Hopscotch Bar

In the middle of 2014, while Roger and his team were still operating Mars Bar, they were approached by the landlord of Red Dot building, who asked if they wanted to take over a space there. As it was initially a 1-year only popup lease, the rental was also pretty affordable.

What Made Hopscotch Stand Out

Taking up the opportunity, Roger, together with his partners Louis, Kino (who has since left), and Joel sat together to conceptualise Hopscotch.

“As Singaporeans bartenders, it is ironically more difficult to stand out amongst our Western counterparts in Singapore, so we decided on a concept centered around Singaporean nostalgia, and flavours – basically an essence of Singapore that might differentiate us from the rest. We also already have that familiarity as local flavours had been our concept since Mars bar in 2013. We also designed the place along an industrial theme, so that it oozes off a more casual and comfortable vibe.”

“Many of our guests enjoy our fun local themed menus, which we rack our brains every 6 months to revise. We try to make it interesting and Instagram-able on top of being tasty, so that it serves as points of conversation.”

Drinks from Hopscotch. From left to right, the Fire Roasted O.F, Mad Men Long Island Tea and Dai Gor Dai, each with a unique back story to be told.
Drinks from Hopscotch. From left to right, the Fire Roasted O.F, Mad Men Long Island Tea and Dai Gor Dai, each with a unique back story to be told.

Grinding Through

Hopscotch today as you see it might be buzzing during the weekend, but in its early days, the team faced huge difficulties.

“None of us came from well-to-do backgrounds, so we had to find ways to scrimp and save,” Roger told Vulcan Post.

“With help from one of my close army friends who had a strong knack for DIY work, our small team spent one and a half months renovating the place from scratch on our own!  The initial days were quieter, we got some industry support along with family and friends, which helped us kick start everything. We understood that although Hopscotch is situated in a rather central location, it was rather obscure. Red Dot Building is not the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about drinking.”

Luckily for Roger and his team, the ambience and the people at Hopscotch slowly won the hearts of many, all of whom turned into regulars soon enough.

Regulars at Hopscotch
Regulars at Hopscotch
Regulars at Hopscotch
Regulars at Hopscotch
Regulars at Hopscotch

“Hopscotch hinges a lot on its regulars who have been giving us the constant support, and whom we are eternally grateful to. We started out just being really focused on making good drinks, but we realise that people go to a bar not just for good drinks. The main reason why most people go to a bar is to relax and derive some relief from the strictures and stress of a volatile and fast paced society, while good drinks are a bonus. We are glad that Hopscotch has become a small community where our guests chill, banter and relax together over drinks,” Roger shared.

He also added that there had been many months that they were running on deficit and in fear due to the ailing economy, stiff competition, evolving consumer demands, and a host of other reasons.

“I would say that the most difficult part of running Hopscotch is managing costs. While rent is significant, most of our costs stem from our cost of goods sold. Introducing fancy and interesting gadgets, garnishes, presentations and flavours always involves even more costs and procuring, and it is always tricky to find that sweet balance between them.”

Balancing cost and revenue aside, as students, naturally Roger had to cope with both school and the bar at the same time, and it could get extremely tiring.

“As we all have our individual strengths and weaknesses, we do our best to support and cover each other where necessary. I fill the role more of the finance person while my partners handle more of the operations. My girlfriend Tingyan has also been extremely supportive, in fact, almost anything design related in Hopscotch, from the menus to the regular’s chalk board, was her doing.”

“My parents also constantly badger me about the business and how I could’ve made a more decent living working the same amount of time outside. But to me personally, money is but one function of happiness, and the true satisfaction from running this business stems from my love for building things. My parents have grown to accept that decision.”

More Than Just A Bar

From its early days till now, Hopscotch has become more than just another bar.

To me, Hopscotch is a place where I am confident to introduce to my friends to, and where I say, “You will fall in love with the place”.

Hopscotch’s lease at Red Dot ends in April 2017, and the team are in the midst of finding another spot around the CBD to move into soon. So if you are looking for a place to hangout, you should definitely swing by Hopscotch soon.

You’ll love it, trust me.

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