So long, Shanghai Dolly

It was full-house for the 900-capacity Mandopop nightclub at Clarke Quay last Friday and Saturday nights.
It was full-house for the 900-capacity Mandopop nightclub at Clarke Quay last Friday and Saturday nights.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

More than 4,000 clubgoers turned up for the Clarke Quay nightspot's closing weekend

Clubgoers and fans of Shanghai Dolly turned up in force last weekend for the Mandopop nightclub's final farewell - for now.

It was full-house for the 900-capacity club at Clarke Quay last Friday and Saturday nights, with more than 2,000 partygoers showing up each night.

The crowd was particularly thick on Saturday. By 10.30pm, a large throng of people had gathered outside and, when the doors opened at 11.05pm, they poured in, quickly filling the club's painting-lined corridor and cavernous main hall.

On stage, singer Wardy Yap performed the night's opening song - Jacky Cheung's Cantonese number Love Is Eternal, and the message "Thank you! 40 per cent off all bottles. Balance bottles can be withdrawn" flashed on screens.

Later in the night, guests danced to the catchy beats of a Mandarin-Spanish version of Despacito, featuring local singer JJ Lin, while several chatted over the music, arms slung around shoulders, rock glasses in hand.

Others reminisced about the good ol' times.

Mr Daniel Low, who has celebrated his birthday at the club for the past five years, says: "I feel sad this is the last weekend, but happy I am here for it."

The 44-year-old, who works in financial services, adds: "I will miss this place. The staff here treat us like family. After Shanghai Dolly, I don't know which place I can go for Mandopop and Cantopop."

Regular customer Wong Wei Ling, 37, who has partied at Shanghai Dolly every week since the club opened in 2009, says: "I feel sad because I have many memories here.

"Whenever there is a birthday to celebrate, the first place that comes to mind is here. My friends and I know all the waiters, bartenders and even the bouncers."

The cabaret-style club in River Valley Road is Singapore's largest and longest-running live Mandopop music venue, having hosted well-known entertainers over the years, including Taiwanese singer-songwriter Wei Li-an and crooner Eric Chou.

Housing a live music hall, karaoke bar, sports bar and lobby bar with beer pong, as well as a restaurant, it was set up as a destination for Chinese entertainment by nightlife veteran Dennis Foo.

In 2014, he handed the reins to his son Gordon.

Although business boomed in the club's first few years, it took a hit in 2013, when liquor licensing hours were shortened after reported drunken behaviour in the Clarke Quay area.

Since then, business has never recovered, says the younger Mr Foo, Shanghai Dolly's managing director.

The 36-year-old, however, hinted at a possible comeback.

"I think the Mandopop scene is still thriving, although there are certain barriers for a successful Mandopop club," he says. "If there are suitable places available, we will definitely open a new Mandopop venue.

"Look out for Shanghai Dolly part two."

Since news of the closure last Monday, the club's management team has been in talks with various business partners to find new jobs for its 60 employees. So far, 20 have been successfully rehired within the industry.

Mr Foo says: "We are still doing our best to find placements for everyone."

The club's security manager, Mr Damien Ong, who has worked at Shanghai Dolly since it opened, will be transferred to St James Power Station to oversee its building security.

The 40-year-old says: "I love this line of work because there is a warmth you can never find in the corporate world.

"At Shanghai Dolly, I have met customers who slowly became friends. I have seen customers meet, get married and even have children. It is touching to see."

Dancer-choreographer Kathryn Lim, who has been working at Shanghai Dolly for five years, has yet to find a full-time gig.

She plans to work freelance at events, such as exhibitions and dinner and dance functions, as she continues job hunting.

Holding back tears, the 40something says: "I will miss this place. I started working here on my friends' recommendation and I have always felt surrounded by friends here.

"It is sad I won't get to see everyone anymore, at least not as often."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2018, with the headline 'So long, Shanghai Dolly'. Print Edition | Subscribe