Operation Dagger (Singapore) / by shane eaton

To find Operation Dagger, look for a rectangle and inverted crown symbol. Once through the door, a seedy cement staircase will lead you down to the minimalist basement speakeasy. The light bulb installation will have you gazing up toward the ceiling but bring your focus back to the man behind the bar, Luke Whearty, a bartender who has taken mixology to the next level.

Early in his career, Luke already showed great promise by winning many awards at the Australian bar Der Raum. He eventually made his way to Singapore’s Tippling Club five years ago, working with the talented chef Ryan Clift. Inspired by the boredom of encountering the same old cocktails all over the world, Luke decided to open Operation Dagger on Ann Siang Hill a couple years ago. This was great timing for Luke, as his consumers’ palates have evolved greatly thanks to the important cocktail bars that have opened recently in Singapore.

Luke’s menu at Operation Dagger makes no mention of the spirits, so the customer can focus instead on the other ingredients that provide the soul of a cocktail. You will also notice nondescript brown bottles behind the bar, some of which contain spirits that are redistilled and infused with new flavours. Just like his menu, Luke’s goal is to take the emphasis away from brand names and preconceived biases, allowing his customers to better experience the intricately woven flavours that make up his drinks.

At Operation Dagger and even more so at his other bar Outrage of Modesty in Cape Town, Luke has managed to elegantly pair his drinks with delicious food. Before discovering his creative drink and food pairings, I thought it was impossible to achieve such a feat. Thankfully, Luke has opened my eyes to the next evolution in cocktail making.

Here are some of my favourites:

Hot and cold – you need to sip through the warm coconut/white chocolate cream before you get to the cooler base of tequila infused with pineapple and lavender. This drink is a pleasant surprise your palate and happens to be Luke’s best seller. Here is the amazing recipe of this drink

Milk and Honey (milk, honeycomb, tonka bean). The sweetness from the honeycomb is in perfect harmony with the creamy milk and vanilla-like earthiness from the tonka bean. A must try.

Mexico Manhattan with tequila, stirred with coffee beans and served with a brandied cherry. This is an elegant tequila Manhattan that concludes with a subtle but pleasant coffee finish.

An Old Fashioned with rye whiskey rested overnight with bee pollen. Silky smooth.

Hot and cold

Hot and cold

Bee pollen Old Fashioned

Bee pollen Old Fashioned

Milk and honey

Milk and honey

Mexico Manhattan

Mexico Manhattan

Not only is Luke a genius a making drinks, he’s also a genuinely nice guy. Despite the recent accolades, he’s super down to earth and clearly wants everyone in his bar to be happy. He’s always got a smile on his face, and this positivity is transmitted to both his customers and staff. But he also knows when to lay down the law - as a drunk dude started freestyle dancing behind us, he elegantly and briskly escorted him off the premises. If you want to know about Luke, check out the awesome piece on him at The Pouring Tales.

FYI, the strange symbol at the door is actually a code used by Hobos that means the owners will give you something to get rid of you. Well, the staff at Operation Dagger hasn’t gotten rid of so easily. I will be back for one more drink before my Singapore trip is over.

Fallen fruit with poached pear, curry leaf, burnt sugar, vanilla (photos taken at Outrage of Modesty)

Fallen fruit with poached pear, curry leaf, burnt sugar, vanilla (photos taken at Outrage of Modesty)

A special thanks to the wonderful Hutch for showing me to this amazing bar!