Nightlife venues have endured over half a year of closures since lockdown measures began in April. Amid business owners’ lamentations of the risk of Singapore’s nightlife scene dying entirely, another question rises from the discourse: Why don’t these nightlife venues — Singapore’s long-suffering clubs, karaoke joints and bars — just pivot?
Answer: it’s not that easy. While larger players like Zouk have found some measure of success in turning their spaces into restaurants, theatres, and even, unbelievably, a spin gym, not all nightlife venues possess the same capabilities.
Just ask Joshua Pillai, co-founder of A Phat Cat Collective. The local entertainment and lifestyle group’s portfolio includes boutique concept bars Nineteen80 and Pinball Wizard. Like many other shuttered nightlife establishments across Singapore, the retro-themed bars — which pay homage to the neon-drenched 80s and 90s — have struggled to stay afloat since the circuit breaker began.
A frantic combination of alcohol delivery, beginners DJ courses and renting out their venues as photoshoot locations did little to alleviate their financial troubles — but they say it was the best they, and other smaller bars, could do.
“It’s tricky,” says Pillai of the thought of pivoting a nightlife business. “When we work on the design of a club, the layout is essential.”
From places for revellers to mill about with their drinks to adequate space on the dance floor, the layout of a club is meticulously planned — for a specific sort of experience.
Having to throw all that out the window and reinvent itself as a restaurant is a herculean effort — not to mention it would drastically alter the overall experience for patrons.
“We would have to review the layout of the entire space — to consider more seating areas, think about what the service flow will be like, and dedicate and renovate a kitchen space — which most clubs don’t usually have,” explains Pillai.
“That, and also other concerns like licenses, zoning, staff training, food handling — there’s a lot to the puzzle, and it’s definitely not as easy as people think.”
To say that Pillai and other nightlife business owners are looking forward to the upcoming pilot scheme in December — which includes mandatory masks, surveillance cameras and negative Covid-19 tests — is an understatement, as “unfeasible” some of these measures may be.
“Some of the requirements may not be feasible for the nightlife industry, or may put off customers from coming,” admits Pillai. Still, he’s looking forward to seeing how the pilot phase fares. That way, regulatory bodies can review how their measures have fared in a live environment and tweak them accordingly.
Is Pillai afraid that the stepped-up measures will take away the levity of what’s meant to be a fun night out? Not quite.
“I think the atmosphere won’t be lost — we’ll still be able to handle the new normal,” he laughs. “At the end of the day, health is always a priority.”