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The pleasure of an art tour with cocktails in the end

An unforgettable gallery tour explains how iconic paintings inspired cocktails

The drinks inspired by paintings at Smoke & Mirrors, Singapore. (Photo: NationalGallery.SG)
The drinks inspired by paintings at Smoke & Mirrors, Singapore. (Photo: NationalGallery.SG)

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When a bar is located on the rooftop of a gallery, it is almost inevitable that a few drinks will be inspired by paintings. Singapore’s Smoke & Mirrors, on the terrace of the National Gallery, has a list of cocktails based on key paintings that are on display. While the easiest—and boring—thing to do would be to order straight from the menu, for a deep dive you should sign up for the Art X Mixology tour.

The guided experience takes you through the paintings, explaining how they are connected to the drinks. Some of it will elicit a wow, parts of it feel far-fetched, but by the end of the tour you will be left feeling high—and not just on alcohol. I was transfixed by the work of Vietnamese artist Nguyen Gia Tri, famous for laborious lacquer paintings. His work, Landscape Of Vietnam (1940), depicting a rural scene with palm trees, banana plants and mountains, is brought alive with layers of luminous gold lacquer. It inspired an elegant cocktail named Lacquer-tini by Smoke & Mirrors—a martini-style, clarified drink with Havana Club 3 Rum.

Another clarified drink, Man from Manila, has bourbon, yam liqueur, jackfruit and is garnished with a meringue flavoured with purple yam. The ingredients indicate that the drink is sweetish and the touch of jackfruit is an interesting addition. The drink is connected to the painting Portrait Of José Rizal (1902) by Filipino artist Fabián de la Rosa. Rizal, said the tour guide, had an IQ of 160, the same as Albert Einstein, and was a doctor, painter, writer and engineer. The portrait depicts this national hero of the Philippines as a young man with sharp, intelligent eyes.

The crowd favourite cocktail was the tropical Moves Like Jigger. It had the drama of nitrogen smoke, the Insta-worthiness of a coconut-shaped glass and the refreshing flavours of citrus, pineapple and coconut rum, all balanced to perfection. A confession: I missed the explanation of the painting that inspired it because I lost my way. The paintings are spread across three-four floors and I was busy marvelling at the lacquer work while the group moved on. The cocktail draws from the painting Rhythm Of Dance (1959) by Singaporean artist Ho Ho Ying. It has abstract human forms rapturous in a group dance. Another work I regrettably missed was a painting of a rickshaw rider playing a flute, Trishaw Rider (1961), by the only female artist on the tour, Lai Foong Moi. This is connected to the rum-based Sugar Rush.

The hour-long tour has a structure. It starts with classic-style paintings by pioneering artists like Nguyen Gia Tri and Raden Saleh. The latter’s oil painting, Shipwreck In Storm (1839), was used to create the cocktail Breaking Storm, which has a spiced Negroni mix. The second half of the tour is about modern, abstract painters like Ho Ho Ying, Choy Weng Yang and Anthony Poon, all South-East Asian artists. Poon’s acrylic on canvas, Black & White (1970), is a Hermann Grid illusion of squares within squares rendered in the contrasting colours of black and white. The cocktail based on it is Monochrome, which mimics the colours and contains malt.

The tour takes you through about nine paintings, and the number of drinks inspired by these artworks is 16. A few paintings, the tour guide told us, had been sent for maintenance or were displayed elsewhere. The tour concludes with a complimentary cocktail at Smoke & Mirrors, which has an expansive view of the city. Most of the time at the bar was spent taking photos for Instagram—charge your phone beforehand—and bonding with fellow tour attendees. Perhaps a fitting end to a memorable and enriching experience.

The ticket for the tour is 45 Singapore dollars ( 2,800 approx). It was organised by the Singapore Tourism Board as part of a media trip.

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