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Clubs upbeat despite tough times

Despite the economic downturn, some clubs such as the new Zouk and Ce La Vi are enjoying brisk business

If Singapore is experiencing an economic slowdown, nobody told the many clubbers at the new Zouk and Ce La Vi.

Since opening its doors at Clarke Quay in mid-December last year, Zouk has had an estimated 8,000 visitors weekly.

Snaking lines are a common sight, with bouncers often having to turn away clubgoers because of a full house, especially when high-profile DJs such as Diplo and Tiesto are featured.

Tables start at $1,288 each, while VIP coves located next to the main DJ console range from $5,000 to $12,000 each on busy nights.

Last week, Zouk officially opened Capital, its fourth concept after Red Tail Bar, Phuture and Zouk.

The new 540 sq m space on the second level of Zouk caters to a more mature, high-net-worth crowd with a whisky bar and cigar room. The minimum age for entry is 25 for men and 21 for women.

Because people are going out less, it becomes competitive when you're fighting for the same audience across multiple outlets.

KILO LOUNGE CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR JOSHUA ADJODHA on competition from other clubs and electronic and dance music festivals

Zouk's main room, on the other hand, is open to anyone 18 years old and older. Zouk's management admits that a large part of this initial buzz is due to the novelty of a new venue.

Moving from Jiak Kim Street to Clarke Quay has also had a significant impact on its mix of customers.

Ms Sofie Chandra, Zouk's consumer marketing and public relations director, says that while the bulk of the crowd comprises regulars and members, there are also walk-ins and tourists.

Six-year-old Ce La Vi, located atop Marina Bay Sands, is open daily and the club lounge has an average of 1,000 visitors a day, 1,500 on busier nights, says chief executive officer David Sarner.

Its tables start from $500 each and can go up to $3,000 or more for VIP tables.

Mr Sarner tells The Straits Times that the Ce La Vi concept - which encompasses dining, club and lounge components running from noon to 5am - is doing so well that it plans to expand internationally in the next 18 months, first in Kuala Lumpur, followed by Sri Lanka, Taipei and Dubai.

Mr Sarner says Ce La Vi is largely unaffected by the slowdown partly because the club "sits atop a 2,500-room hotel with a 90 per cent occupancy" and offers a "bucket list view" of Singapore's iconic skyline.

FEELING THE PINCH

Compared to Zouk, which can hold 3,100 people in its three rooms, and Ce La Vi, which can take up to 900 guests across the club lounge, restaurant and sky bar, the situation is starkly different for smaller to mid-sized clubs, which have had to resort to lowering prices or, in some cases, closing down.

A recent casualty is Cato on South Bridge Road, which shut last month, after a 1 ½-year run. Cato, which housed a bar and lounge area championing underground music such as techno, declined to comment on why it closed.

But in a Facebook post announcing its closure, it said: "It is with regret we announce the end of Cato, much to the surprise of no one", suggesting that even its management knew a niche concept would not survive.

Meanwhile, mid-sized venue Space Club, located on the fringe of Clarke Quay, is attempting to ride out the slump.

Its operations director Bernard Chin admits that business at the nine-month-old EDM (electronic dance music) and hip-hop club is not as good as before, adding that "spending has dropped about 30 per cent".

The crowds on Fridays and Saturdays, usually the 400-capacity club's strongest nights, are now "unpredictable".

"People are not spending as much and regulars don't come as often... everyone is holding back," he says.

Clarke Quay's new "it" destination Zouk has also been drawing crowds away.

In response, Space lowered its minimum spend last month and introduced more standing tables for walk-ins to compensate for the drop in table bookings.

It has also stepped up on theme- night parties to keep things interesting for its target audience.

Four-year-old Kyo has also taken a hit.

Mr Godwin Pereira, 42, director and co-founder of lifestyle group Limited Edition Concepts which runs Kyo, admits that the club, in Cecil Street in the heart of the Central Business District, "is not performing as strongly right now".

While it was a trailblazer in the scene when it opened as a space dedicated to playing house and techno music, the 270-capacity basement club has seen falling attendance figures in the past 1 ½years.

Mr Pereira puts it down to the market changing drastically and the evolving needs of the club-going crowd.

"Audiences are paying attention to festivals and experiences instead," he adds.

Singapore now hosts both major and smaller electronic and dance music festivals throughout the year, such as Ultra Singapore, Garden Beats Festival and ZoukOut.

Kilo Lounge co-founder and director Joshua Adjodha, 35, shares Mr Pereira's sentiment.

"It is becoming more difficult for venues and events to coexist," he says.

While pop-up parties at unique venues and festivals add vibrancy to the scene, even they have become competition considering that they are all catering to the same, limited pool of partygoers.

"Because people are going out less, it becomes competitive when you're fighting for the same audience across multiple outlets," says Mr Adjodha.

The Straits Times contacted Massive Collective, another player which runs clubs such as Suite 26 at South Beach Tower, Bang Bang at Pan Pacific Singapore and Nova at Orchard Hotel, but it did not respond by press time.

SOME CLUBS ARE REVIVED

It is not all doom and gloom, though.

The past few months have seen the revival of beloved party hangouts such as Refuge and Kilo Lounge.

Refuge, a hip-hop club which reopened in Chijmes last December after closing its Circular Road venue last July, has seen "slow growth", according to Mr Pereira, whose Limited Edition Concepts runs the club.

However, he believes that the 380 capacity club has the potential to thrive.

"The hip-hop and urban scene is where the market is in abundance," he says.

Another hip-hop club, the 260- capacity Cherry that opened in September last year at York Hotel, is busiest on Fridays and Saturdays, although its management declined to reveal how many clubbers it hosts every week.

The multi-genre club Kilo, previously located at the Ture Building in Kallang, ceased operations at the end of January last year after the authorities announced that the Kampong Bugis area was no longer approved for nightlife use.

It reopened in a lush new space in Tanjong Pagar Road in December last year.

The venue can hold 400 people and has about 500 guests on Fridays and Saturdays, its busiest nights.

Weeknights are tougher, with 100 to 150 people on average each day.

To keep the crowds coming, Kilo is offering food via Kilo Merienda, a kiosk which operates on Fridays and Saturdays, serving dishes such as Ang Mo Bak Chor Mee and Camp Kilo Pulled Pork Tacos.

FUTURE PLANS

Moving forward, Mr Pereira says that "Kyo will not be such a purist venture".

"You can stay cool for only so long... after a while, you have to put on a business hat", he says, suggesting the club may effect changes in the music programming to feature a wider range of genres.

But he assures that Kyo will not become "a club with Steve Aoki throwing cake", commenting on the frivolous antics of the EDM DJ.

Kyo also recently expanded to Malaysia, opening Kyo KL, a two-room club at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur which can fit 770 revellers.

Zouk's management is also confident that the club will be able to ride out the slump by remaining consistent in its offerings.

Ms Chandra says: "We do not engage in price wars. This is similar to the crisis in 2007 where other clubs started dropping prices, extending ladies' nights and giving away free drinks, but we increased our cover charge and drink prices, while maintaining our service standards and creating fresh and exciting content."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Clubs stay upbeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe