The Singapore Speakeasy Synthesis Is Based Around Traditional Chinese Medicine

Singapore has been experiencing a cocktail renaissance lately. In 2023, the small South Asian city-state became the first metropolis outside of Europe to host the World's 50 Best Bars competition, scoring three of its own top cocktail spots on the list. This cosmopolitan city, at a diverse nexus of cultures, has dazzled cocktail lovers through drink programs that put an emphasis on local ingredients. But none have more fully delved into the cultural symbolism of their drink menus like Synthesis.

This Singapore speakeasy is easy to miss, as it is hidden behind what looks like a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shop, with jars of herbs and an enormous set of vintage wooden drawers (supposedly full of more herbs and ingredients). Once you enter through the fake storefront, however, you are led down a hallway and into the main bar area, which is modern and has a total vibe, with shimmery ceilings and neon lights. The inspiration from TCM doesn't end there — it can be found all throughout this fascinating concept bar.

The role of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Synthesis

Sebastian Ang, the owner of Synthesis, designed the bar's cocktail and non-alcoholic cocktail menus to include ingredients commonly found in Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM, which has been around both in Mainland China and throughout the greater Asian continent for thousands of years, uses various herbs and ingredients corresponding to five elements: earth, fire, water, wood, and metal. The goal is to balance your Qi, or life force.

"My personal connection to Traditional Chinese Medicine dates back to my childhood, when I spent time with my grandmother who worked in a TCM Medical Hall," Ang told Food Republic in an interview. He hopes to pass this knowledge, which is losing traction in the region, on to curious guests by creating a bar concept that is both fun and educational. 

In addition to TCM-inspired drinks and food, Synthesis works with a local clinic, Oriental Remedies Group, to provide complimentary consultations to diners during the lunch hour. After taking pulse and tongue readings, these consultants suggest a selection of dishes "designed to enhance energy levels, increase productivity, and strengthen immunity."

Find TCM-inspired cocktails at the speakeasy

While TCM has been hotly debated in the Western world for its use of rare or illegal ingredients like rhino horn, much of it is tied closer to herbalism, using various plants to promote healing. But, whether or not you believe a Chrysanthemum martini will balance your Qi, those flavors have a lot of potential in innovative craft cocktails.

Take the "Red Hue" drink at Synthesis, for example, a tequila-based drink made with roselle (aka Jamaica sorrel, a relative of hibiscus), cranberry, and goji. According to Ang, the bright and refreshing flavors of roselle, cranberry, and goji are all purportedly associated with the element water, and connected to cleansing, detoxification, and invigoration. 

There's also an earth-based drink, the "Soft Tonic," a gin-based cocktail with licorice, apricot, and red dates. Meant to nourish and ground you, these richer, sweeter flavors are used in TCM practice to help support the stomach and digestion.

"In today's fast-paced world, where people are increasingly seeking balance and well-being, a TCM-inspired cocktail bar offers a unique opportunity to integrate ancient wisdom with modern indulgence," Ang explained to Food Republic. "It provides a space for guests to not only enjoy exquisite libations but also to engage with the rich cultural heritage and therapeutic principles of TCM."