3 bars and pubs to reopen for 2 months under nightlife sector pilot

Bell Bar at Cuppage Plaza receives its first customer, Mr Fujita Koichi, as it reopens on Dec 8, 2020. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Bell Bar's owner, who wanted to be known only as Mabel, explains the house rules which include no karaoke and no intermingling between tables. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - In a small first step to reopening the nightlife scene here, three bars and pubs will be allowed to reopen for two months under a small-scale pilot programme with strict safe management measures.

The bars and pubs that are part of the initial wave of openings are Bell Bar at Cuppage Plaza, which is opening on Tuesday (Dec 8) night; Skinny's Lounge at Boat Quay, which is opening on Wednesday (Dec 9); and Bar Kiharu at Orchard Plaza, which plans to open on Wednesday or Thursday.

They were selected jointly by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) from six nominations fielded by nightlife business associations such as the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) and Singapore River One.

Interested outlets had to submit proposals to the business associations on how they intend to reopen safely, including plans to implement the required safe management measures.

Tuesday's announcement follows an earlier one by the authorities on how up to 25 establishments can take part in a two- to three-month pilot for entertainment venues to reopen.

The Government said the pilots "aim to establish the viability and robustness of the stringent safe management measures, and the ability of the nightlife industry to comply with them, before the Government considers allowing any further steps in the resumption of nightlife businesses".

Measures include existing rules such as restricting groups to no more than five people, not allowing intermingling between tables and no sales or consumption of alcohol past 10.30pm.

Recorded music may be played, but must not be louder than 60 decibels - which is the equivalent of normal conversation. A loud rock concert is around 120 decibels.

Live music, radio broadcasts and all forms of television, video and other forms of public entertainment such as dancing, darts, billiards, pool, or karaoke are not allowed either.

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Enforcement agencies will monitor the venues, and take action if there are breaches. Penalties include removing an establishment from the pilot programme, a fine of up to $10,000, jail for up to six months or both.

While major bars and pubs have reopened - given that most have food licences - the SNBA welcomed the opportunity for smaller players to reopen.

It said it received three proposals for 10 available slots, and proposed two to the authorities - Bell Bar and Bar Kiharu.

Bar Kiharu at Orchard Plaza plans to open on Wednesday or Thursday. PHOTO: BAR KIHARU/FACEBOOK
Skinny's Lounge at Boat Quay is opening on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

"Besides their proposal for the entry and safe management measures, we also studied their CCTV footage, floor plans and still images to see if they were complying with things like safe distancing... There were also site inspections by SNBA and the relevant agencies," SNBA vice-president Nasen Thiagarajan told The Straits Times.

"These three bars are too small to get a food or snack bar licence in, so this chance for them to reopen finally is good."

Next, the SNBA is working on submissions for nightclubs and discotheques, whose pilot programme is expected to start by January next year.

Those will involve stricter measures such as pre-entry Covid tests and the necessity to wear masks on the dance floor.

Mr Thiagarajan noted that many nightclubs have already looked at pivoting to a food and beverage business as it is "more viable, and you run less risk of running the venue as a F&B establishment".

The Government announced last month that nightlife establishments which are not participating in the pilots can apply for financial support packages to either pivot to food and beverage operations or other commercial uses with a grant of up to $50,000 from Enterprise Singapore.

Several big players like Ce La Vi and Marquee Singapore will not be participating in the pilot programme.

One smaller venue - the nightclub Nineteen80 in Tanjong Pagar Road run by A Phat Cat Collective - has decided to pivot to become a snack bar instead, and will be reopening on Dec 18.

A Phat Cat Collective co-founder Francesca Way said feedback from customers was that "many would not want to do the test due to the costs and inconvenience".

"I don't have a doubt that there will definitely be crowds that would still be willing to come, but the financial risks and uncertainty for operators are high... From an operator's perspective, the 10.30pm alcohol cut-off time is difficult as normally our peak, and thus lucrative, hours are from 11pm onwards," she said.

"Beyond the pilot, there's a chance clubbing may not come back so soon, so at least this way we are able to protect our team's livelihoods and begin on the road to recovery from the nine months we've been closed."

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