One of the newest Dempsey bars, Deviate is a laid-back wine bar in the leafy locale that’s becoming the go-to for date nights, pre-dinner drinks and private functions. Sit on the shady verandah or lounge on the chesterfield indoors with a glass of wine in hand (there are a dozen labels available by the glass to choose from and over 300 listed by the bottle). Alongside the outstanding wine list you can order beers, ciders, whisky and gin from all over the world. With a sprawling lawn out front, this Dempsey Hill wine bar is great for families and is pet-friendly, too. We chat to founder, father-of-three and well-known wine merchant JOE KEATS from Petersons Wines Singapore about this new gem of a wine bar that opened in early 2023.
Where are you from originally? Miss anything about it?
New Zealand. I miss the cool, crisp fresh air and the mountains!
How did you get started in the industry?
I was managing bars and restaurants in New Zealand before I was even old enough to (legally) drink. During my business degree, I worked in some amazing venues to pay the bills while I studied. After graduating, I figured out that an office wasn’t my preferred environment so I stuck to what I’m good at!
I’ve now been working in the hospitality industry for nearly 30 years, with stints in Greece, Australia, Russia, Belgium, Canada and Scotland – and with Petersons Wines for 14 years in various capacities. I’ve been full-time with Petersons Wines since moving to Singapore five years ago.
Tell us a bit about this Dempsey Hill wine bar.
Deviate is my labour of love side project, where I get to indulge my passion for drinks from everywhere – and I do mean everywhere – particularly wine. There’s plenty of Petersons on the list, but you’ll also find new world bottles from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, USA and South America, along with the usual suspects from France, Italy and Spain, and labels from Macedonia, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, Turkey, Czech Republic and more. And then there’s the spirits, beers and whiskey… We also hold regular tasting events hosted by winemakers, importers, brewers, sommeliers and distillers. Join the Deviate mailing list on our website and we’ll let you know about upcoming events.
We’ve heard it’s tucked away and surrounded by greenery. How do we find Deviate?
You’ll probably need directions first time around! We’re down the stairs behind Merchant Coffee Roasters.
What might surprise guests about this Dempsey bar?
I wanted to create a place that made people feel like they could properly relax, so we don’t take things too seriously (hence our motto: ‘A wine bar as pretentious as you are’). Wine should be fun and relaxing, not a chore or a test. My liver has taken a battering road-testing the wines, so we’ve got a really good selection of amazing quality wine at mostly very reasonable prices. The music is eclectic, and my staff are more likely to be wearing ripped jeans than blazers, so I’m always chuffed when people say that it feels like they’re drinking at someone’s house.
What kind of fellow guests can we expect?
All are welcome, so long as they are friendly! We get a lovely afternoon smattering of people, some for after work drinks or parents who have kids at swimming or gym lessons. Deviate is a great bar for pre- or post-drinks if you’re dining at one of Dempsey’s many incredible restaurants, and it’s got great date night vibes, especially once the sun goes down. The space works really well for private events (we can host up to 70 guests), so we’ve had quite a few birthday parties and bookings for Christmas parties are coming in.
What do you love most about your job?
The people. I figured out a long time ago that good company, particularly with a glass of good wine in hand, was one of life’s great pleasures, so I decided to do it full time, as well as in my spare time!
What’s a go-to drink on Deviate’s menu?
We keep recommending the Glug Glug Vino Verde (a white wine from Portugal) to guests. It’s lovely and crisp and fresh, and everyone enjoys it. It’s also one of the cheaper bottles on our menu!
Does Deviate have a kitchen?
I was adamant from the start that Deviate wouldn’t serve food, which surprises a lot of people but it frees us up to focus on the drinks. Guests also love the fact that they can BYO food to the bar.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
It doesn’t exist! I’m a fairly late riser, because my days usually finish late, and then I play what’s in front of me for the day. I do a lot of corporate tastings for Petersons, as well as private tastings at our shophouse on Emerald Hill. Then I’ll usually head down to Deviate in Dempsey for a nice relaxing drink at the bar.
What are your favourite local dishes?
I’ve always loved eating out and my wife Shelley and I love taking the kids – Murray (16), Oren (12) and Anya (9) – to new little neighbourhoods to explore. For a little island, there are so many different atmospheres. Chicken rice is my favourite local dish – so simple, so delicious and unpretentious – along with anything coming out of Dave Pynt’s kitchens. I’m a carnivore, so Meatsmith and Burnt Ends are go-to places when I have visitors to Singapore.
Any particular surprises or challenges you’ve found living and working in Singapore?
The humidity! I love the outdoors, but obviously that comes with some extra challenges in Singapore. I’d love to cycle and walk more, particularly to meetings, but the heat makes that impractical a lot of the time.
Deviate is at 71 Loewen Road, #01-06 and is open daily from 3pm till late and from 2pm on Friday, Saturday and Sundays.
9348 6431 | deviate.com.sg
Shop amazing wine labels at Petersons Wines.
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