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Q&A: the bartender bringing mental wellness to Singapore

Andrew Pang, the brains behind Singapore’s Bar Spectre talks about using a degree in psychology to pioneer the Lion city’s first mental wellness venue, and the inspiration behind his signature snake soup cocktail.

Q&A: the bartender bringing mental wellness to Singapore's bar scene

What was your motivation to create a mental wellness bar?

“It was a way to tie my passion in hospitality with my studies. My background is in psychology, but I’ve not done my masters. I started working, and a masters has always been in the books, but 10 years later I’m still doing this. My parents did send me overseas to do my degree in psychology so, you know, this way I’m not wasting their money.”

Why is it important to promote mental health in hospitality?

“Singapore has been on top of his game, in recent years at least, for cocktail bars. That’s only put more pressure on the cocktail scene. In terms of doing this at the bar, I’m trying to lead by example and say that I’m in the trenches with you. And this is what we can do for best practice.”

How does open discussion of mental health work in a bar setting?

“People come to the bar to feel better anyway, so why not? We’re not trained therapists, although I’m hoping to send my staff for mental health first aid eventually, but every aspect should have a talking point for wellness, a therapy technique, or some sort of community activity. A therapy technique is introduced with every signature cocktail, and we really have to tell the story properly. If not, people think it’s a gimmick. We also have QR codes on site to direct people to counsellors, therapists, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, and also lawyers…because some problems are solved differently.”

Why do you think the concept has never been tackled before in the bar scene?

“I think in F&B we’re still very old school. I grew up in that environment, where it was ‘tough times make tough people’.”

You’ve done so much since launching in late 2023. What has it been like?

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Truth be told I had this concept from 2022, I just had no time to get it started. Getting the staff on board and believing in the programme was the first big challenge – most people aren’t comfortable talking about mental wellness in a bar.”

Why do you think there is still a taboo about mental health and wellness in Singapore?

“People think going to therapy means that there’s something wrong with you. We also value merit very highly, and taking a day off or having a sick day can mean that other people are overtaking you in terms of their progress, and that can affect promotion. I used to work for a very big local company where every time you took a sick day, it affected your chances of getting promoted. It will take a while before the culture changes.”

Working so hard, do you manage to get any sleep?

“Today I did. We talk a lot about mental wellness, but I’m likely going to be the first to burn out. But being aware of it is the first step to keep things under control.”

Where do you find inspiration for the drinks themselves?

“We went down the apothecary and traditional medicine route because that’s the physical embodiment of wellness here in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Having that traditional medicine setup with apothecary drawers helps me tell the story of wellness as a whole. We look at ingredients from Korean, Indian and traditional Chinese medicine to add into the drinks. For one of the cocktails, I follow a traditional Chinese recipe of snake soup. There’s no snake taste, all the herbal flavours come from the other roots and herbs and spices, but the snake ends up being more for texture. Then we combine that with ginger beer and either Tequila or mezcal depending on the customer’s preference. We make it as a zero-ABV drink first.”

What’s next for Bar Spectre?

“For my menu in September, the aim is to make my signature serves 100% zero-ABV with the option to make it alcoholic. It’s still the full drink, we still have the main flavours, it’s just about whether people want the alcohol or not.”

What’s one thing it would be great to see in the future for Singapore’s F&B scene?

“For me, as both an operator and an owner, I hope everyone as a community can be less entitled and more resilient. If employers are willing to pay fairly, give people breaks, and recognise the hard work that staff are putting in, it will greatly improve the environment that people are in.”

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