Shanghai Dolly to close on Saturday; Clarke Quay club says it was affected by shorter liquor hours

The cabaret-style nightclub along River Valley Road has hosted local and foreign entertainers over the years, including artists such as Taiwanese singer Rainie Yang and home-grown singer Tanya Chua.
The cabaret-style nightclub along River Valley Road has hosted local and foreign entertainers over the years, including artists such as Taiwanese singer Rainie Yang and home-grown singer Tanya Chua.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO FILE

SINGAPORE - After a decade as Singapore's longest-running and largest live Mandopop music venue, nightclub Shanghai Dolly will shut its doors at Clarke Quay at the end of the week, its managing director Gordon Foo told The Straits Times.

British comedian Bill Bailey will perform as scheduled on Saturday (April 14), the club's final night, as part of his Asian tour.

The cabaret-style club along River Valley Road has hosted local and foreign entertainers over the years, including well-known artists such as Taiwanese singer Rainie Yang and homegrown singer Tanya Chua.

Built as a one-stop destination for Chinese entertainment by nightlife king Dennis Foo, it houses three bars, a live music hall and a restaurant. He handed over operations of the club to his son Gordon in 2014.

The younger Mr Foo said business was affected by the shortening of liquor licensing hours in Clarke Quay to curb drunken behaviour, with sales falling by about 30 per cent since the rules were implemented in 2013.

While tenants with a liquor licence were previously allowed to sell liquor to patrons until 6am, this was shortened to 3am on Sundays and weekdays, and 4am on Saturdays and the eve of public holidays.

"Clubs operate differently from pubs - the party starts much later. Before, much of our sales came after 1am. Now business peaks at 1.30am and customers have less than an hour to enjoy themselves because by 2.30 we have to start clearing the drinks," said Mr Foo, 36.

"We understand where the policy is coming from but from a business standpoint it is not doable anymore. Since the rule was implemented there have been a lot of closures in Clarke Quay. We were one of the last ones standing."

Government restrictions on liquor licensing hours was among the factors cited by Lifebrandz for the closure of its five outlets in Clarke Quay in 2015, including nightclubs Fenix Room and Playhouse.

Mr Foo said the club had put in place measures to prevent incidents arising out of drunkenness, and it had never received a demerit point, but it was not able to operate profitably under the new rules.

After years of rising costs and sustained losses, the club will be closing several months ahead of the end of its lease. It owes millions in loans to its holding company, CityBar Holdings, which operates Shanghai Dolly as well as St James Power Station.

The older Mr Foo is chairman of CityBar Holdings, while Gordon is the managing director. St James is unaffected by Shanghai Dolly's closure, he said.

"We would like to thank all our regulars, customers and friends for the support they have given us all these years. Hopefully there is a part two," said Mr Foo.

Mr Dennis Foo, 65, said the closure of the club that he started was "painful".

"I wanted it to be proper, not seedy... a party place for those who have affinity for Chinese music. And we were doing so well until the curtailment," he said.

"When Clarke Quay started more than a decade ago, we were emulating Shanghai's Xintiandi (a restaurant, bar and retail district). Just a few years later Clarke Quay became so popular that it surpassed that and became one of the top nightlife destinations in the world... today it is a far cry from its peak."

Mr Foo questioned why Clarke Quay, a key tourist destination, had to remain under curtailed liquor hours.