Iconic live music stalwart Wala Wala at Holland Village shuts gig space amid Covid-19 curbs

All that remain in the now-abandoned second floor are stacked bar chairs and tables. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A live gig at Wala Wala Cafe Bar in 2010. PHOTO: WALA WALA CAFE BAR
Instruments and microphones that have not been used for almost two years are seen on the second floor. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - After 20 years of playing host to Singapore's premier live bands, Holland Village institution Wala Wala has turned the lights off at its second-floor gig space.

The iconic watering hole, which started live gigs in October 2001, announced the closure via its Facebook page on Nov 7. The first floor, which has a cafe and bar, remains open.

All that remain in the now-abandoned second floor are stacked bar chairs and tables, as well as instruments and microphones that have not been used for almost two years. The owners are looking for a new tenant to take over the space.

"The second floor has been closed since the end of March 2020, when live entertainment was first banned (under Covid-19 restrictions), and we've been bleeding money ever since," said Wala Wala owner and director Stanley Yeo.

Following 20 months of disuse, he had no choice but to close one of the stalwarts of live entertainment in Singapore, which has showcased local cover bands and musicians such as Jack and Rai, 53A and Reverie.

"Even the government grants have not helped... We've been taking money out of our reserves and paying all this while," said Mr Yeo.

Despite recorded music now being allowed in venues after almost five months, he is not hopeful for the return of live music.

"There is hope that things will open up slowly, but it's going to be at least three to six months, and live music will probably be at the end of that period," he said.

Also calling it a night over the past two months were two venues in Tanjong Pagar Road - retro arcade bar Nineteen80 and Rails, a steampunk-themed lounge.

It was a double whammy for entertainment company A Phat Cat Collective, which announced the sudden closure of the venues in September. Nineteen80 opened in June 2018, and Rails only in February this year.

They were among 400 pivoted nightlife businesses that were ordered to shut in July to stem the spread of Covid-19, following a spike in cases in KTV clubs.

As at Nov 11, only about 130 of these establishments have been given the green light to resume food and beverage operations, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

A Phat Cat Collective co-founder Joshua Pillai said: "The extended Covid-19 restrictions on nightlife pivots were particularly punitive, and made it impossible to be operationally and financially sustainable, even though we were a bona fide business that complied with the ever-changing regulations."

The company also had difficulty keeping up with high rental costs, according to pre-Covid 19 terms, from the landlord. "This was exacerbated by the capacity limits on dining in and delayed access to rental support... we still have not received our government support from the heightened alert period," Mr Pillai said.

The company had no choice but to exit the market and 12 staff, all Singaporeans, lost their jobs.

"The approach by the authorities to F&B and nightlife pivots has been extremely tough," said Mr Pillai.

"The biggest underlying issue is still that the Covid-19 regulations continue to target the F&B industry most drastically, with only a few days' notice (for compliance)."

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