In My Element: Howard Lo
Where do F&B people go when they want to kick back on the weekend? To find out, we trailed Howard Lo, restaurateur behind Standing Sushi Bar, Tanuki Raw, Shinkansen and The Secret Mermaid, to some of his favourite haunts. He may be the brains behind one of Singapore’s hottest craft spirit bars, but as we discovered, this American transplant favours small and intimate settings, and the comfort of his neighbourhood.
AM: How do you spend your weekends?
Usually I’ll limit the work I do on the weekends. I’ll have a couple of work meetings late Saturday afternoon, but mainly during the day I like to relax at home. Friday and Saturday nights I’ll check out a new restaurant or bar. After a few drinks, it’s great to head to my favourite haunts which tends to turn into late night drinks. It explains the late starts the next day – I’m not a Sunday brunch type of person.
Howard can often be found at The Secret Mermaid recommending American craft spirits to customers.
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AM: What’s your regular Friday night like at The Secret Mermaid?
Because of its small size, The Secret Mermaid is a really conducive place for striking up a chat with people. I’m always curious about what people are ordering so I have no qualms about talking to them about the spirits or cocktails they’re drinking. It’s opened up great conversations. Alcohol is a funny thing – it leads to aspirational thoughts, and in the belly of Raffles Place there’s no bigger group of people dreaming for something else.
Howard lives in the arts district of Bras Basah, home to galleries like the former Sculpture Square.
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AM: You live in Bras Basah. What do you like about the neighbourhood?
I’ve lived in the Bras Basah neighbourhood since I first arrived in Singapore back in 2003. I had looked at something like 20 apartments in two days across a variety of districts, and Bras Basah was the last area I saw. Immediately I knew it was the spot for me: close to town yet nothing like Orchard Road or Raffles Place, an incredible array of food options, and a mash-up of all kinds of people and cultures. Just walk down Waterloo Street and you’ll find the Sri Krishnan Temple next to the Kwan Im Temple next to a big hawker centre, all just down the road from one of Singapore’s most concentrated church districts.
Orihara is a standing-only sake bar located at Robertson Walk.
AM: One of your favourite drinking holes is Orihara. Tell us more about it.
I’ve been going to Orihara for 5 years and still love it. I think part of it is similar to the charm of the Mermaid, it’s a small place you can go by yourself and start talking with people. The service by the Orihara team is the best in Singapore, bar none (heh). Orihara imports over 80 types of sake from boutique breweries, so I like to try a bottle of something new each time and then follow it up with a bottle of my favourite – the Seikyo Maboroshi Jyunmai. They also have a good selection of Japanese bar food and you can order yakitori from Tori Tama next door. I like their Orihara Don which has an onsen egg and juicy chicken.
Howard enjoys trying new spirits, so it's no surprise that he loves recommendations from Orihara staff.
How would you describe your style?
Mobile urban casual. I find myself moving around within the city to many spots daily. From MRT to bus, construction sites for new spots, and cafes to restaurants to bars. I like clothes that can fit into a variety of situations and thankfully most places in Singapore aren’t too fancy, so smart casual style like Timberland can apply to broad settings.
Light footed in Timberland Earthkeepers Brook Park Monk Strap Wedge Shoes.
What’s your opinion of Timberland?
I’ve worn Timberland shoes off and on since I was 14. They are solid, comfortable, and last for years even with heavy use. The expanded shoe range means that, depending on the situation, I can wear many of their shoes in my regular workday settings, while other pairs work well for more formal occasions. For shirts, Timberland has always been great with shirts that work together for layering. For the new season there seems to be a wider and brighter set of colours to work with, so it’s interesting to mix and match.
Which was your favourite item of clothing and why?
The brown boat shoes. They are classic and lightweight, yet the sole is thick and rugged. They are very comfortable to wear and I can pair them with all kinds of outfits.
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