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Covid-19: Singapore’s nightlife operators fear collapse of once vibrant industry; at least 45 have shut for good

SINGAPORE — Not everyone breathed a palpable sigh of relief when the Government announced just under a month ago that it was lifting some of the restrictions imposed on business activities to curb the spread of Covid-19.

People walking along Ann Siang Hill on July 16, 2020.

People walking along Ann Siang Hill on July 16, 2020.

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  • Pubs, nightclubs and karaoke chains have to wait until Phase Three to reopen 
  • At least 45 such establishments have ceased operations 
  • Bars looking to change business model but karaoke chains unable to do so 
  • Industry association said that August will be challenging as operators resume paying rent, have no job subsidies


SINGAPORE — Not everyone breathed a palpable sigh of relief when the Government announced just under a month ago that it was lifting some of the restrictions imposed on business activities to curb the spread of Covid-19.

While most businesses have reopened, the lights of many bespoke cocktail joints are still off, the lines of revellers waiting to enter nightclubs are absent and karaoke chains are silent. 

These establishments will only be allowed to operate in Phase Three of the circuit breaker exit, and with no sight of when that might be, many operators told TODAY that it has been a struggle to survive.

The circuit breaker to restrict movement and curtail business and social activities lasted from April 7 to June 1. The Government then began a gradual reopening of the economy, with the first phase starting on June 2 and the second phase from June 19.

The ongoing Phase Two is expected to last several months before Phase Three kicks in, which is when activities that involve a significant crowd management risk in an enclosed space, such as at nightclubs, will be allowed to reopen.

Out of the 1,800 pubs, night clubs, discotheques, dance clubs and karaoke lounges registered with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority at the end of March, 45 have thrown in the towel between April and June, based on information from the Singapore Department of Statistics.

Mr Joseph Ong, president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association, said that this number could be much higher, as it only represents companies that have started their formal liquidation proceedings. 

“We have seen many more that have already retrenched all their staff or started selling their equipment,” he said. 

“They are not coming back.”


Hardest hit are the karaoke operators who have not been able to find an alternate means of income and have been closed indefinitely. 

Mr Ronald Ng, chairman of the Singapore Entertainment Alliance, which has about 100 members such as the Party World and Teo Heng Karaoke chains, said that tight licensing regulations make it very difficult to apply for new licences.

Besides, changing the business concept from a karaoke outlet to a restaurant, for example, would be “a very big risk”, Mr Ng said.

“There has really been no income. It has been four months, how can we carry on?” he asked. Mr Ng is also a partner with Kloud Karaoke on Tanjong Katong Road and C U@Karaoke on Serangoon Road.  

To date, about 16 karaoke operators have closed shop, including Bier Valley Pub on River Valley Road and Pub DSoul on Serangoon Road.

A spokesperson for K Star karaoke bar, which has several branches including one at Orchard Central mall and another at Suntec City mall, claimed that individuals are less at risk of catching Covid-19 in a karaoke room compared with at coffee shops and cinemas that draw large crowds. 

Businesses, she said, would be able to segregate groups of five patrons in individual rooms where they can sit safely apart. Each room can be sanitised before the next group arrives, she added. 

The alliance has yet to approach the Government regarding their plight, Mr Ng said.

“The Government should know where we are coming from and recognise the existence of our industry. They should know we need to open,” he added.

K Star’s spokesperson, referring to rental rebates that will end in July, said: “If we have to remain closed for several more months, then I hope the Government can help on our rental fees at least. I think this is the most important and difficult part for us.” 


In the meantime, some bars and nightclubs have turned to stopgap measures to help them stay afloat during this period. 

To get by, nightlife establishments with food licences are turning to dining concepts as well.

Zouk Singapore at Clarke Quay, for example, decided to utilise the unused space where its Capital lounge is and turn it into a pop-up restaurant, now called Capital Kitchen. 

Capital Kitchen, which seats about 100 customers, has been fully booked on most weekends since it launched at the start of Phase Two, Zouk Group’s chief executive officer Andrew Li said.

Despite the good response for its new dining concept, the group’s revenue — which includes those from its clubs Zouk, Phuture and Capital, among others — has seen a significant decline, he said without providing figures.  

“At the end of the day, revenue from a nightlife establishment and a restaurant are considerably different,” he added. 

Zouk has converted a lounge space into a dining area. Photo: Zouk Singapore

Other nightlife businesses with food licences are making a big shift in their business operations to focus on their food output including retraining employees, opening outlets for weekend lunches and getting on food delivery platforms.  

However, Mr Glenn Joseph, the operations manager for Verve Restaurant Group, which manages the Wings and Warehouse bars in Clarke Quay, said that despite all these changes, his revenue has dropped by as much as 60 per cent compared to pre-Covid-19 days. 

For bars that do not have a food licence, they have turned to offering alcohol takeaway services or virtual lessons teaching people how to make cocktails. 

Founder Colin Chia of Nutmeg & Clove cocktail bar at Ann Siang Hill said that while his bottled cocktail takeaway service was fairly popular during the circuit breaker period, with about 100 orders a week, orders have since dropped to around 25 with more people heading out during Phase Two. 

“My only target every month has been to pay my rental cost, my suppliers and my employees,” he said.

The Nineteen80 discotheque is also providing alcohol delivery and is leasing its space for photoshoots.

Like a number of clubs including Marquee Singapore and Zouk, Nineteen80 holds virtual clubbing events.

While there is no cover charge for these events, the clubs said that it is a way to stay connected with their clientele.  

Nineteen80's co-owner Francesca Way said. “Our activities have been stopgap solutions. They are fine for the meantime, but it is not known how long we have to adapt to the circumstances, or when and how we can move forward with our upcoming plans.” 

She hopes that the Government will make it easier for businesses such as hers to offer food without having to go through a lengthy licensing application process or for them to be allowed to restart operations with safety measures in place. 


Mr Ong of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association said that August will be a challenging month for many businesses as rental waivers announced during the Fortitude Budget will stop then. 

Businesses also have to wait until October for the final tranche of wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Scheme to be paid out. 

While acknowledging that the Government has done a fair bit to help businesses in general, Mr Ong said that he would like the Government to pay more attention to the nightlife sector, or risk the collapse of a vibrant and established industry.

He said that the nightlife industry supports a range of workers from those in the food-and-beverage line to entertainers to security guards. 

“We are very clear about how much the Government can help but they shouldn’t see it as helping the company, but the people in (the sector),” he said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report stated that Marquee Singapore and Zouk Singapore held virtual clubbing events as a way to generate revenue. This is incorrect. The events are free and held for marketing purposes. 

Related topics

Covid-19 nightlife circuit breaker entertainment F&B

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