Cosmopolitan Singapore has a small but well-developed nightlife, with a clubbing scene that has earned international attention and a burgeoning arts scene that delights audiences nightly with world-class music and theatre performances, insightful local and cultural productions, and gritty fringe shows. Entertainment ranges from bars, clubs, discos, karaoke pubs, street opera, night markets, river cruises, multiplex cinemas to theatre productions, and international stage shows. Boat Quay and Clarke Quay are popular riverside landmarks that offer exclusive restaurants, alfresco dining, and lively bars. Moored Chinese junks have been refurbished into floating bars and restaurants.
Bugis Street, Changi Village and Holland Village (known as ‘Holland V’), are popular areas for food, drink and entertainment. Muhammad Sultan Road is one of the latest entertainment hubs in Singapore with a wide variety of pubs, nightclubs and wine bars, as is Club Street.
In 2009, two casinos opened their doors in Singapore, with opening of two huge new ‘integrated resort’ complexes at Marina Bay and on Sentosa.
Major cultural festivals are highly publicized by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), who will give you complete details at their Visitors Centres or on their website (www.visitsingapore.com). Another good resource is the Life! section of The Straits Times newspaper, which lists events for each day, plus theatre and cinema listings. Where Singapore, a free magazine with local events listings, is available at STB kiosks as well. Another freebie, I-S Magazine, promotes Singapore’s clubbing lifestyle.
Places to Unwind
Bars and Clubs
Singaporeans love to go out at night, whether it’s to lounge around in a cosy wine bar or to groove on a dance floor until 6 am. This city has become pretty eclectic in its entertainment choices, so you’ll find everything from live jazz to acid jazz, from polished cover bands to internationally acclaimed guest DJs. The nightlife is happening. Local celebrities and the young, wealthy, and beautiful are the heroes of the scene, and their quest for the hip spot keeps the club scene on its toes.
Nightclubs and discos in Singapore are glitzy and pricey, targeted chiefly at the young or those on the prowl, and are very, very loud, making conversation near impossible. The action stays focused on geographically separated clusters. The more established districts are still going strong: the lively Singapore River quayside scene (Boat, Clarke, and Robertson quays, together with Chinatown’s Tanjong Pagar district); the touristy hotel strip of Orchard Road; and the nineteenth-century former convent, the Chijmes complex, near the Singapore History Museum off Stamford and Bras Basah roads.
The sleazier, more colourful action on the east coast – from Kallang to Katong (e.g., the Joo Chiat Road strip around the old Joo Chiat Police Station and Dunman Market food centre), and around Serangoon, out to Changi Village – gratifies with its rough-and-ready charms and authentic local food. In recent years, as authorities have eased up on the nightlife scene, so the sleaze quotient has escalated, although once-bawdy Bugis Street is now sanitised as New Bugis Street. Be aware that this underworld still exists in parts of Geylang, around the numbered streets or lanes off Geylang Road, and along Desker Road, off Jalan Besar, Serangoon.
Typically, red-light districts are illuminated by red lanterns and have large, backlit red-on-white house numbers. Soliciting for prostitution is illegal, but the deed itself isn’t; it’s actually tolerated, monitored, and contained, with most prostitutes registered and subject to regular medical checks. Perhaps uniquely in Southeast Asia, however, this scene doesn’t menace visitors who don’t want to get involved and it’s still closely monitored by the police.
If karaoke is what you seek, beware that it may come with many “extras” in the Singapore context. To some extent, there have always been intensely local (and usually Chinese) bars with “sexual action on the side.” In the past, these were merely darkly lit shops where patrons were relieved of large sums of money by obliging hostesses (and there are still some of these venues around). This genre has now been recast in the karaoke bar mould. One bizarre new feature of some bars, including several along the Mohamed Sultan stretch, is the specially widened bar counter, now custom-made for bar-top dancing, a government-sanctioned activity since August 2003.
The gay scene is also increasingly active and out of the closet, though technically illegal (cruisers beware entrapment). The relatively new trend of dedicated gay bars has continued apace and centers particularly on the Chinatown district of Tanjong Pagar.
Ethnic enclave bars are a new trend in Singapore. Indian pubs purvey Bollywood-style music, Hindi pop, hip-hop, and Punjabi-style bhangra dancing and Malay-oriented establishments serve the raw hard rock favoured by young Malay Singaporeans. Catch the local band Unwanted playing at O’Reilly’s Irish Bar at 86 East Coast Road, or stop in on a weeknight at the fabled Anywhere bar in Orchard’s Tanglin Shopping Centre to hear Malay-style rock music.
Jazz and the blues have always been minority interests in Singapore. With the lamented demise of Somerset’s, only a few venues have kept the flag flying: Harry’s Quayside Café (a.k.a. Harry’s Bar) and Jazz@Southbridge on Boat Quay for jazz, Crazy Elephant on Clarke Quay and Roomful of Blues on Prinsep Street for blues.
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra performs at the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay (1 Esplanade Drive), with regular special guest appearances by international celebrities. The Singapore Lyric Opera which collaborates with renowned opera companies from around the world to stage such Western operas as Turnadot and Madame Butterfly, also performs at the Esplanade.
The Singapore Chinese Orchestra, the only professional Chinese orchestra in Singapore, has won several awards for its classic interpretations. They perform every 2 weeks, mainly at the Singapore Conference Hall, 7 Shenton Way.
Most international theatre companies will perform at the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay. Smaller shows are sometimes staged at the Victoria Concert Hall, 2nd floor Victoria Memorial Hall (11 Empress Place). Sistic (www.sistic.com.sg) handles bookings for both venues.
A few local companies are quite noteworthy and manage their own performance spaces. The Necessary Stage (278 Marine Parade Road, #B1-02 Marine Parade Community Building), blazed trails for the local performing arts scene after staging productions that touched tender nerves for the community, including a startlingly frank monologue by the first Singaporean to publicly declare his struggle with AIDS. The Singapore Repertory Theatre (DBS Arts Centre, 20 Merbau Road, Robertson Quay), is another company to watch; in recent years, they’ve staged local productions of perennial favorites like The Glass Menagerie and Little Shop of Horrors.
A number of venues have nightly programs of performance art pieces, fringe music productions, art talks, demonstrations, readings, and other specialized art events. The Arts House (1 Old Parliament Lane), is housed in the former Parliament House, whose government rooms, in grand colonial style, have been converted into intimate spaces for use as an alternative arts venue. The building also hosts an intimate music club and small café.
Also check out the many events at the Substation (45 Armenian Street), which offers its space to smaller theatre troupes, cinema groups, fine arts exhibitors and performance artists.