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Tag: Bartenders

Bartenders Only: Beaver Gland and Real-Deal Coziness in Copenhagen

An American moves to the capital of Denmark to open a bar in a building that is older than America itself. Sounds like the set-up for a creaky punch line. Not this time.

The bartender: Geoffrey Canilao, who formerly worked at New York City’s Pastis and the East Side Social Club, a now-shuttered venue from the team behind the legendary Employees Only. The bar: the months-old Balderdash, a commingling of local ingredients, that enviable Danish cozy vibe and the clear vision of one cocktail veteran.

 The clarified Hemingway Daiquiri is as clear as water.


Canilao’s drinks are unabashedly edgy. One of his current favorites is the Frederiksberg Alle Cocktail, made with Jameson Black Barrel, whey, banana, chamomile and beaver-gland tincture. He calls it a “forward-thinking drink” as the whey produces a creamy texture without solids and also has the natural acidity to balance out the cocktail.

He adds that while the beaver-gland tincture—made from the anal glands of the beaver—can put people off, Canilao reminds guests that beaver gland has been used in Schnapps and perfumes since the 19th century. Balderdash sources Balderdash’s from a hunter in Sweden.

Another inventive cocktail is the bar’s take on the Hemingway Daiquiri. It arrives tableside—clear as water. Balderdash uses a local Danish rum, Skotlander, and the drink is clarified with agar and pre-batched before the other ingredients are added. Canilao notes that “the daiquiri is visually appealing, but clarified juice has another advantage: It lasts longer than regular juice.”

The bar also features a cocktail “laboratory” that is modeled on a new wave “drinks think tank.” The idea behind it is to “help the bartending community to look for new flavors and use of ingredients,” like the Nordic food lab has done for the Danish food industry. At this point it has only been used by employees and was was also host to a European pop-up from New York’s Dead Rabbit team while on a European tour.


The venue was created in a historic 1732 building built by a goldsmith, which became a tailor store and later one of the City’s first public bars. “What we did was just try to emulate its rich history, doing research into the old building and give ‘The Old Lady’ back some glory.”

 The Balderdash Old Fashioned.


Balderdash tries to embody traditional Danish values. The word hygge, according to Canilao, “only exists in the Danish language and is one of the first words you learn as a foreigner.”

He says that that it means “cozy” as a verb, not an adjective, conjuring a vibe that Danes relish because it “allows people to interact comfortably.” Hygge also reflects the uniquely Danish collaborative attitude.


The collective approach is also one Canilao uses when working with local artists for the gallery space within the bar—and also for pairing art with Balderdash’s cocktails. “A space with food and booze is far more multi-sensory than just walking into a hall of paintings,” notes Canilao, who got into the bar business to pay for art school.

When the bar’s partner artistic group 68 Square Meters had its first show last December at Balderdash, the team asked them what they would ideally like guests to drink while looking at the work. “Art and gastronomy and drinks have a rich history, thanks to the famous food-and-drink still lifes that decorated the area’s castles,” Canilao notes. It’s a kind of historical debauchery that fits well with Balderdash’s easygoing breed of cozy.

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about drinks for two decades. She is the principal of the San Francisco–based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Business Monthly, DrinkUpNY and the SOMM Journal.

Bartenders Only: The Most Secret Bar in Singapore

Densely packed cities love their hideaways. Because everyone needs an escape from the concrete jungle, right?

To the uninformed, Shinkansen in Singapore’s Raffles Place business district is merely a casual, daytime sushi restaurant. In March of this year, though, Shinkansen starting turning into a hidden, 25-seat bar, The Secret Mermaid, come nightfall. Kind of like how Mogwai turned into Gremlins if fed after midnight—but this transformation is one perfect for dedicated drinkers.

Howard Lo, the man behind the mermaid.


Howard Lo, The Secret Mermaid’s owner, chose the bar’s name because it reminded him of so many restaurants in his native country: places like New York City’s Mermaid Inn and Mermaid Tavern. The name is also an obvious nod to Shinkansen fish-centric cuisine.

The Secret Mermaid is located one level below the street, technically in the basement. It is accessible by a small black doorway in the Ocean Financial Centre’s walkway. There are no windows, but the space has ceiling panels to let shafts of light in. The bar’s owner, Howard Lo, debated using an open-bar format, but decided a little privacy would suit the after-work drinking crowd.

The double usage of the Shinkansen space was an easy decision for Lo. The area “is one of the most highly-trafficked walkways in Singapore because it links to the Singapore subway, the MRT,” he says. Lo equates the area to New York’s Wall Street, the business hub for finance workers.

The inspiration for the bar stemmed from places such as the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York. He adds that the Mermaid is a “romantic destination for a salary man or woman heading home but stopping off for a Gin and Tonic as a way to take the edge off the day.”

Sidle up to the bar and order a Salmon Bloody Mary, if you dare.


“We wanted a space that felt like a distillery tasting room and brought a new wrinkle to the Singapore bar scene,” says Lo, who was raised in California and Florida. But this is no single-focus tasting room: Secret Mermaid’s list showcases a range of American craft spirits.

The bar features what Lo says is the largest list of American craft spirits in Asia, with 72 brands from 21 states. The bottles are broken down by spirit categories as well as by the location where the distillery is based. The bar stocks its list through its own distribution and import arm, Liberty Spirits Asia, for which it acquired both a customs import license and liquor license.

Tasting flights are served either neat or on the rocks, explains Lo, and The Secret Mermaid also features a variety of Old Fashioneds and Gin and Tonics (using both Fever Tree and East Imperial Tonic and Soda Water).

Some of the bar’s most popular savory drinks reference Lo’s American background and include Midnight at Denny’s, made with raw egg and Bakon vodka; and the Salmon Bloody Mary, a mix of salmon vodka from Alaska Distillery, fresh tomato juice, gravlax, BBQ bitters and celery.

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about drinks for two decades. She is the principal of the San Francisco–based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Business Monthly, DrinkUpNY and the SOMM Journal.

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