Text and images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
Two men walked into the dark, musky-smelling shop and demanded for a bottle. “Which one,” asked the shopkeeper. “The cheap one,” one of them answered curtly. The shopkeeper went behind the counter to the racks of alcohol and searched high and low but didn’t seem to find anything.
“Faster uncle,” the customer hurried. The shopkeeper tries again. He decided to lower his knees and bend his body to search the lower shelf and finally he found what he was looking for. He dragged the bottle out, wiped off the dust with his hands and handed it over to his impatient customer. After much haggling, 70 cents was taken off the tab and the deal is settled at $14 for a bottle of Indian brandy.
Yeo Buan Heng Liquor Shop is one of the earlier batches of liquor wholesalers whose customers included the nightclubs and beer houses. It also does retail, selling small quantities to individuals who are attracted by the wholesale prices.
In other words, they are the predecessors of Wine Connection and The Denise Wine Shop, except that they offer an indiscriminate (some may say undiscerning) range of liquor.
But because the nightclubs like Golden Million and Mikado have all but disappeared, the wholesale business has dwindled to a trickle. “The only reason why we are surviving, while many of our counterparts have either winded up or become minimarts, is because we don’t have to pay rent,” says Mr David Yeo, the shopkeeper and one of the owners of this 60 over years old shop.
And maybe it is also because his retail business is thriving. Nestled within Little India, many Indian and Bangladeshi workers come to his shop for cheap liqueur.
On the racks that spread across one wall, from floor to ceiling, there are displays of at least 1000 labels from all over the world. Some of them with suspicious, unrecognisable names inscribed, and look potent enough to power up a car or equip a Molotov cocktail battalion.
“In the early 60s, beer was more popular. Anchor beer especially,” says Mr Yeo. “After that, hard liquor like Hennessy XO and Martell caught on.”
These liquors, according to Mr Yeo, still appeals to the Singaporeans, may it be the rich, old young or the poor. The only difference now is that people who buy his liquor have no crystal whisky glass or leather sofa seats but free styrofoam cups, free seats on the kerb and the shower of, not tender loving care, but dust kicked up by passing vehicles.
Yeo Buan Heng Liquor Shop
29 Chander Road