Pilot to reopen nightlife scene welcomed by all

But customers and bar owners are realistic that it won't be business as usual

Cuppage Plaza's Bell Bar owner Mabel, who wanted to be known by only one name, taking the temperature of customer Fujita Koichi yesterday. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Cuppage Plaza's Bell Bar owner Mabel, who wanted to be known by only one name, taking the temperature of customer Fujita Koichi yesterday. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Dive bar Skinny's Lounge (right) at Boat Quay is set to reopen today, while Bar Kiharu (below) at Orchard Plaza, which has been closed for eight months, is reopening this week. PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG, BAR KIHARU/ FACEBOOK
Dive bar Skinny's Lounge (above) at Boat Quay is set to reopen today, while Bar Kiharu at Orchard Plaza, which has been closed for eight months, is reopening this week. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Dive bar Skinny's Lounge (right) at Boat Quay is set to reopen today, while Bar Kiharu (below) at Orchard Plaza, which has been closed for eight months, is reopening this week. PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG, BAR KIHARU/ FACEBOOK
Dive bar Skinny's Lounge at Boat Quay is set to reopen today, while Bar Kiharu (above) at Orchard Plaza, which has been closed for eight months, is reopening this week. PHOTO: BAR KIHARU/ FACEBOOK

Customers as well as owners of bars and pubs welcomed the Government's pilot programme to reopen nightlife venues, but were realistic that this is still not business as usual.

Among the first customers at Bell Bar in Cuppage Plaza - one of the first three venues to reopen - was businessman Fujita Koichi, 57.

Acknowledging that he "may feel bored because there's no KTV or mingling with the other customers", he said he understood that this was for safety reasons.

Ms Junko Mizouchi, founder of Bar Kiharu at Orchard Plaza, said she has had to fork out money for rent while there has been no influx of customers. The 12-year-old bar has been closed for eight months and is reopening this week.

"My regular customers and neighbours have been encouraging me a lot... I feel blessed that I'm now able to reopen," she said.

On the pilot programme, she said there are "many stringent requirements to comply with for sure".

"It's going to be very tough and challenging, but all these are for good," she added.

Dive bar Skinny's Lounge at Boat Quay, which is opening today, declined to comment.

Smaller bars and pubs without a food or snack bar licence have been among the last to reopen since the circuit breaker to stem the spread of Covid-19 was lifted in June, and the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) welcomed the opportunity for smaller players to start up again.

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

"Besides their proposal for the entry and safe management measures, we also studied their CCTV (closed-circuit television) 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," association 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 re-open finally is good."

Next, the SNBA is working on submissions for nightclubs and discotheques, whose pilot programme is expected to commence by next month. This will involve additional and stricter measures such as pre-entry Covid-19 tests and a requirement to wear masks on the dance floor.

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

The Government announced last month that nightlife establishments that are not participating in the pilot programmes can apply for financial support packages to convert to F&B operations or other commercial uses. Enterprise Singapore offers a grant of up to $50,000.

Several big players like Zouk Singapore in Clarke Quay, as well as Ce La Vi and Marquee Singapore in Marina Bay Sands, will not be participating in the pilot programme for nightclubs.

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

A Phat Cat Collective co-founder Francesca Way said feedback from customers was that "many would not want to do the (Covid-19) test due to the costs and inconvenience".

"I don't have a doubt that there will definitely be crowds who 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.

"Beyond the pilot programme, 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 start on the road to recovery from the nine months we've been closed."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2020, with the headline 'Pilot to reopen nightlife scene welcomed by all'. Subscribe