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Singapore gay venues: historical

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 2 months ago




Before the relative liberalisation of Singaporean society, local gay culture consisted solely of venues, largely unknown to the mainstream public. Prior to the 1980s, there were no publicly "out" homosexuals, no gay organisations, no gay literature, no gay art, no gay films or anything remotely "gay" apart from surreptitious nocturnal congregation spots. Thus, the following list forms an integral part of the documentation of Singaporean gay history.




  • Le Bistro- Singapore's first gay bar which opened in the 1960s, as far as many gay Singaporeans can recollect. It was located at the basement of a landmark building called Tropicana along Scotts Road. The latter was a 4-storey entertainment complex renowned for its topless dancing girl revues and occupied the exact spot where Pacific Plaza now stands. Le Bistro was a well-known chill-out bar, especially amongst English-educated gays, and a reputed pick-up haunt for white tourists and local, deeply-closeted homosexuals. Gay gatherings began on Sundays, a tradition which grew out of earlier attempts by Singapore food and beverage outlets to copy an American practice current during that era of Sunday afternoon tea dances. During that time slot, bars and discos were officially closed but Le Bistro's owner would admit his "friends" for a private party. As numbers grew and confidence increased, the afternoon tea parties eventually took over the Sunday nights. One retired New Zealand serviceman, in a chance encounter with Alex Au, claimed that in the early 1960s when he was stationed in Singapore, there was a Golden Venus bar in the Orchard Hotel along Orchard Road. This claim has not been corroborated by Singaporeans. The old Orchard Hotel has since been reconstructed beyond recognition. Le Bistro and Golden Venus no longer exist.


  • Pebbles Bar- located on the ground floor forum of the now-demolished Hotel Singapura Continental along Orchard Road, it was the most famous gay bar operational in the 1970s. It was patronised largely by the English-educated, upper-strata gays of Singaporean society and spawned many a local-Caucasian pairing. Its main draw was the live band Tania, whose lead singer, Alban de Souza, was decked out in glitz, painted his face à la KISS but with red makeup instead of black-and-white, and entertained with energetic camp. Although it was the only one of Singapore's first 3 gay bars to have a dance floor, no homosexual dancing was allowed. So gay people sat in one half of the bar drinking and listening to the music, while watching the straight couples dance in the other half. However, it was a common sight to behold men pecking each other on the cheek or lips, incidents which raised nary an eyebrow.


  • Treetops Bar- located at the now-demolished Royal Holiday Inn along Scotts Road. Gays also adjourned to Café Vienna after a night of hectic discoing in the 1970s. However, after several years, the proprietor of Treetops Bar felt that having a sizeable gay clientèle was bad for its image and discouraged their patronage.


  • Babylon- Singapore's first exclusively gay karaoke pub at 52 Tanjong Pagar Road, set up during the height of the karaoke craze in the 1980s; a narrow, miniature version of its legendary namesake in Bangkok and the original Sumerian city.



Opened on 18 May 1989 at #06-05 Lucky Plaza, 304 Orchard Road, former tel: 7361360, it was the first East-meets-West pub where Asian potato queens, a large proportion of whom were Malay, could meet up with their Caucasian aficionados, otherwise known as rice queens. It offered karaoke as well as booze. It relocated many years later, shortly after its 14th anniversary in May 2003, to a street-level shophouse at 15 Duxton Road in Tanjong Pagar, renaming itself Vincenz.





It contained a handsomely elegant wooden bar which offered a large selection of beers on tap. The establishment was called "Venerable Vincent's" and "The Grand Dame of Singapore" for good reason. The newer outlet closed down on 26 March 2005 after 16 years of promoting East-West relations.


  • For lesser-known venues which only operated for a short time before closing down, see: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Groyn88#Singapore_gay_venues:_historical.2C_minor]




Originally catering to a gay customer base only once a week, usually on Sundays, newer small establishments have managed to survive on the burgeoning pink market by going full-time, on every night of the week.


  • The Hangar- Singapore's first gay pub-cum-disco located in a hard-to-find alley between Bedok and Changi was operational in the early 1970s. Looking back, some patrons presently in their fifties could not imagine how they could have grooved to the now seemingly uncool hits of that era like 'Beautiful Sunday' by Dawn.


  • Marmota/Shadows/Legend- located on the second level of Kallang Leisure Centre above the bowling alley and operating in the early 1980s, it was one of the first to hold Sunday gay nights when the dance floor was packed with the then unusual sight of men dancing with each other. However, this happened only during the fast numbers. When the slow songs came on, the dance floor cleared faster than as if a tsunami threatened and only the daring ones irresistibly smitten with their partners were left in tight embrace to be ogled at by those on the sidelines. It was the first disco to organise unofficial masculine Mr. Gay Singapore contests long before Manhunt began. Ironically, the first winner of the contest was a straight boy named Oliver. The disco underwent several renovations and name changes over the years.


  • Niche (at Far East Shopping Centre)- opened in April 1983 to cash in on the popularity of Marmota. More popular with the English-educated crowd. It had its liquor license withdrawn in 1989 and was given only a week to close down. No reason was provided for the police action but a person, personally involved in the running of the disco, believed it was a reaction to the first reported case of an AIDS death in Singapore. It has a present-day namesake at Pagoda Street in Chinatown.


  • Studebaker's/Venom- situated at the top floor of the present Pacific Plaza along Scotts Road was the largest disco that homosexuals had ever experienced in Singapore. It remade its image several times over since the early 1990s to remain fresh and introduced webcams where people could see who was dancing in real time by logging onto the Internet. Needless to say, this raised a howl of protest.






Before the 1990s, local homosexuals had to journey all the way to Bangkok, Thailand to experience the pleasures that gay saunas offered. It became more convenient in the early 90s when an establishment called Ryu, meaning 'dragon' in Japanese, opened in Taman Pelangi near the Pelangi Complex in Johor Baru, Johor, Malaysia. Hot on the heels of its overwhelming success in attracting huge crowds of both Singaporeans and Malaysians, another gay sauna called New Blue Boys opened at 104 A-B, Jalan Serampang, Taman Pelangi, 80400, Johor Baru about a year later. Some Singaporean gays would charter taxis in groups to traverse the causeway and experience what was sorely lacking at home.


The first gay sauna in Singapore opened in 1997 by pioneering entrepreneur Max Lim. It was 3 storeys of hedonism, with a daily gay disco on the ground floor fringed by an overhead observation deck, and showers, a gym and sauna above that. It was strict about sex at first, displaying signs which read, "No obscene acts allowed", but the rule was gradually relaxed after everyone realised that the police did not bother to harass its patrons. The sauna could be recognised immediately from its external façade because of its colossal signage and the painted sketches of nude gladiators on its external wall facing South Bridge Road, near its junction with North Canal Road.


[Image:SouthBridgeRoad001.JPGleft237px|The row of shophouses along South Bridge Road where Spartacus was located.]


It experimented with the novel concept of giving its customers the option of buying shares in the business. It also pioneered services like offering upmarket buffet meals on its premises, but unfortunately, demand for the meals and disco was poor, even though the spa facilities were a resounding success. It closed in late July 1999 due to high rental costs and other factors.



[Image:StrokeSaunaAd001.JPG|Advertisement for Stroke sauna, the first to open 24 hours a day.]

[Image:AnnSiangRoad002.JPG292pxThe row of shophouses along Ann Siang Road where Stroke sauna was located.]


The successor to Spartacus under the same management, located at 22 Ann Siang Road, it had a spell of success from 2000 to 2002 when it was the only gay sauna in Singapore and also the first to open 24 hours a day, all year round. The opening of other gay saunas to break its monopoly forced its owner to move into newer premises to refocus its strategy two years later.


A multi-level sauna along Neil Road, the brainchild of activist Alex Au, it opened in 2002 and positioned itself as Singapore's first luxury gay sauna, with prices to match.


[Image:Rairua001.JPG128pxThe signature green building that housed Rairua sauna.]

[Image:Rairua002.JPG230pxThe relative position of Rairua amongst the shophouses along Neil Road.]

[Image:RairuaBack001.JPG230pxThe present dilapidated rear exterior view of Rairua after it closed down.]


It pioneered Singapore's first 'skin nights' touted as 'all nude, all floors, all night', a concept that unexpectedly proved so popular amongst supposedly 'conservative' Singaporean gays that such nude nights spread to all saunas within the span of one year and continue to be a major draw. It also organised special events like cultural talks, personalised photography [http://www.rairua.com/] and naturist art sessions, and erotic dancing by showerboys. Unfortunately, due to the expiry of its lease and disagreements with its landlord over maintenance, it closed down in April 2005.



Outdoor venues


One important principle which has governed the peculiar locations of contemporary outdoor cruising areas is the "gentrification-induced shift" phenomenon. Older areas which had been patronised in the past had to be abandoned as urban redevelopment caused the destruction of conditions conducive to cruising such as poor lighting, sparse human traffic and the presence of dark, derelict buildings/environs. Thus, the present siting of cruising areas in the Ann Siang area may be explained by the gradual shift of activity from Boat Quay to the China Square vicinity to Ann Siang Hill as these areas were successively gentrified. To some extent, a "shopping centre/public building shift" was likewise induced by redevelopment eg. from Plaza Singapura to the former National Library to Raffles City.


Very cruisy at night before the area was rejuvenated with the present row of restaurants in the early 1990s. Police patrol cars would occasionally drive up and record the IC numbers of gay men who were doing nothing other than chatting with each other, a form of intentional harassment.


[Image:BoatQuay003.JPG230pxBoat Quay by day.]

[Image:BoatQuay004.JPG230pxBoat Quay by night.]

[Image:BoatQuay001.JPG230pxSouth-western bank of Boat Quay]

[Image:BoatQuay002.JPG230pxNorth-western bank of Boay Quay]

[Image:BoatQuayBackAlley001.JPG128pxBack alley parallel to Boat Quay]

[Image:BoatQuayBackAlley002.JPG128pxAnother back alley parallel to Boat Quay]

[Image:BoatQuayBackAlley003.JPG128pxYet another back alley parallel to Boat Quay]


Surreptitious sex also took place at the foot and back alley of OCBC building nearby, before bright lighting was installed which serves no real purpose other than to deter nocturnal homosex.


[Image:OCBCBase001.JPG230pxFoot of OCBC Building with the abstract sculpture by Sir Henry Moore. Many gays used to hang around this area or even sit on the statue at night while surveying the field.]

[Image:OCBCNook001.JPG128pxA hidden cranny where quickies often took place at night in the 1980s]

[Image:OCBCBackAlley001.JPG230pxAlley behind OCBC building, a hive of cruising activity in the 1980s]

[Image:OCBCNook002.JPG230pxAn elevated landing with its side lined with cardboard and its floor covered with newspapers for surreptitious horizontal nocturnal homosex in the 1980s]

[Image:OCBCBusStop001.JPG230pxThe bus stop along Church Street just behind OCBC building where cruisers loved to sit and wait in the 1980s.]


Areas surrounding OCBC building such as the Raffles Place MRT station and the construction sites of buildings on the other side of Philip Street were also popular and gave rise to the novel phenomenon of car-cruising. Unattractive cruisers could increase their chances of picking up handsome gay pedestrians if they drove big flashy cars.


The streets traversing China Square, namely Hokkien Street, Nankin Street and Chin Chew Street were overrun especially on weekend nights by gay men and car-cruisers when the whole area was lined with abandoned, dark, derelict buildings in the 1980s. Many would stand or sit along the corridors of these dilapidated buildings and people-watch, chat, fondle each other or step into passing cars.



Indoor public venues




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