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Q&A: the Singapore bar combining rice and agave spirits

We caught up with Jesse Vida, one half of the bartending duo responsible for launching Singapore bar Cat Bite Club, which offers up agave and rice spirit alternatives to classic cocktails.

Q&A: the Singapore bar combining rice and agave spirits
Jesse Vida (left) and operating partner Gabriel Lowe (right)

Operating partners and childhood friends Jesse Vida and Gabriel Lowe opened the doors of the Cat Bite Club in Singapore’s Duxton Hill in June. The duo first began their careers together in San Francisco in 2007, and have reunited in Singapore on a project which utilises their combined 30+ years of hospitality experience.

Vida and Lowe saw agave as the missing piece in the Singapore bar scene, and wanted to combine local rice spirits with flavours from Mexico and South America.

The drinks showcase a wide range of agave and rice spirits, with a mix of well-known to more unconventional offerings.

Cat Bite Club’s menu offers a signature serve for each drinks category: the Cat Bite Margarita with Código 1530 Blanco Tequila, Siete Misterios Espadín Mezcal, Cointreau, Fresh Citrus Blend, Agave Nectar and Sherry for agave (S$26++), and the Soju Sprint with Tokki Soju, Peach, Honey, Mint, Fresh Citrus Blend, Sherry, Absinthe, Soda for rice (S$24++).

From there, the menu offers reinterpretations of classics through the lens of agave and rice. Each page features one classic — from the Espresso Martini to the Queens Park Swizzle — accompanied by one agave variation, and one rice variation.

Q&A: the Singapore bar combining rice and agave spirits

An extensive spirits list is also available, with around 100 different agave spirits on offer as well as a lengthy list of rice spirits and a curated selection of vodka, gin, whisk(e)y, and more.

The food menu mirrors the flavours found in the drinks, with a mix of traditional Mexican and Asian ingredients.

We caught up with Vida to find out more about the Cat Bite Club, and how the concept came about.

What was your eureka moment when coming up with a concept?

The concept of combining rice and agave spirits naturally came together based on our backgrounds and current location. Starting our careers in California 16 years ago, we were introduced to and fell in love with agave spirits. We always wanted to work more with them and felt it was a missing piece in the market here in Singapore.

As for the rice, it’s a nod to traditional Asian spirits, vastly consumed but yet to find their place in the modern cocktail-drinking world. We believe rice spirits have a bright future and are investing in that, plus they are delicious and work great in cocktails. The eureka moment was all of these things combined with similar but different styles of culinary flavours from Mexico to Asia. Bright and zesty flavours, chilli, coriander, rice, citrus…among others. So far our guests are embracing both, it’s been great to see.

Your careers began together in San Francisco in 2007. Can you tell us more about how you both met?

We grew up together in San Francisco, and we have been close friends since we were little kids. We were both working as baristas at cafés originally, Gabriel got a job working as bar back and eventually convinced me to take a similar role in another restaurant/cocktail bar. We both fell in love with the industry and the work behind the bar, I suppose the rest is history.

What brought you both to Singapore? And what would you say is distinct about the bar scene there?

I came to Singapore in late 2018 to run the bar at the grand gin lobby bar ATLAS, Gabriel moved to Bangkok to open Paradise Lost the following year. We have both felt strongly about the Singapore bar scene since our first introduction. Something that is so refreshing about it is it’s truly a cocktail city — guests love drinking cocktails, cocktail bars have the ability to thrive, and guests are willing and open to new experiences. These are exciting and compelling prospects to those who enjoy bringing a creative drinking experience to interested guests.

Why do you think there’s a gap in the market for agave spirits in Singapore?

We identified the gap in the market very early on, we always found it strange that one of the world’s great cocktail cities didn’t have a bar focussed on agave spirits in particular, we have always felt that would excite guests initially. We have had countless guests say verbatim how happy they are that Singapore finally has a good agave bar.

There are other venues with a good agave selection, most good cocktail bars will have a bit, but there hasn’t been a venue that specialises in its offerings and has the staff educated highly on the category — we are the first to offer this. As for the rice side, we knew that would be a long play, but it’s already showing a very positive response.

I love the concept of the cocktail menu, exploring reinterpretations on the classics. What makes agave and rice spirits work well for this concept?

The menu really is the string that ties the experience together, it makes trying cocktails with agave and rice very approachable. We feel all cocktails are variations of a classic in some way, no matter how modern a bar’s techniques are, or how far-fetched the ingredient pairing is. We embrace that approach and give the guests an easy guide to understanding what the agave & rice variations should taste like. It also showcases the versatility of the spirits in general.

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