Jennifer Gampell
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Bangkok 10100 Thailand
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April 24, 2005


SURFACING
IN SINGAPORE, HAVING FUN IS NOW O.K.
By Jennifer Gampell

It's still illegal to chew gum in Singapore (except, of course, for the "therapeutic," prescription version), but having fun in the formerly staid city-state is now officially sanctioned. Since the Singaporean government began liberalizing its entertainment licensing laws in 2003, people can party unimpeded until 3 a.m. and, in certain designated zones, until 6 a.m.

Entrepreneurs are channeling their prodigious energies - and resources - into developing a nighttime entertainment scene to rival the daytime commercial dynamo. With nightspots cropping up all over and most places within a 10- or 15-minute taxi ride, neighborhood has become less a criterion for success than novelty. Within the past year alone, at least a dozen eclectic bars, clubs and restaurants have opened, each vying to be Singapore's ne plus ultra hot spot.

Among them is KM8, 120 Tanjong Beach Walk, (65) 6274-2288, overlooking one of the world's busiest shipping channels from the southern tip of manicured Sentosa Island. Within three months of opening in January, this former beach bar has brought a touch of Ibiza to the island nation. On weekends the pseudo-distressed wood decks and beach chairs teem with bikini-clad representatives of the beautiful set who arrive as early as 11 a.m. Fueled by live D.J.'s spinning alternately chilled, soulful and thumping sounds, and "Sarong Fly" (a $28 bottle of chilled vodka, rum, and blue curaçao) the party goes on until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (1 a.m. on other nights).

One of the most unusual new bar concepts is Eski Bar on Tanjong Pagar, a street of popular clubs at the southern end of Chinatown. Opened in March, the minimalist, whitish-blue Eski 124 Tanjong Pagar, (65) 6327-3662, is a tropical incarnation of Ice Bar in Stockholm. The low-ceilinged bar is actually an industrial freezer, kept at 28 degrees and disguised as an ice cave with eight seats. After sipping a Sleeping Polar Bear cocktail ($10.85), patrons pass into the larger 35-seat lounge, which is maintained at 68 degrees. Buoyed by Eski's success, the owners opened a second branch in April at 46 Circular Road behind Boat Quay. Twice the size and significantly colder (14 degrees in the bar and 50 degrees in the lounge), Eski 2 stays open from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"In Singapore, dining and entertainment have become lifestyle statements - they're all about hip and trendy space design," says Andrew Tan, owner of the new 1827 restaurant at the Arts House, 1 Parliament Lane, (65) 6337-1871.

On the east side of the river opposite Boat Quay, his establishment is part of a continuing refurbishment of the former Houses of Parliament, which the government handed over to the National Arts Council in 2003. Along with the must-see Asian Civilizations Museum, the Arts House, a complex of restaurants and performance space, is the first occupant of the meticulously restored 1827 buildings. Housed in a former library, Tan's darkly atmospheric 60-seat restaurant is favored by government officials at lunchtime.

At night, local people opt for romantic alcove seating or the private upstairs dining rooms. The Thai chef yanks classics like tom yam out of the ordinary by replacing classic shrimp with lamb shanks. Entrees start at $14.25; reservations are advisable.

Another testimonial to Singaporean design innovation is the recent conversion of a derelict L-shaped walkway into the stylish year-old Alley Bar, 2 Emerald Hill, (65) 6732-6966. A high roof, a massive six-foot-by-ten-foot framed mirror and a 49-foot-long black terrazzo bar have transformed the space into an airy and popular hangout. Standard drinks run $8.55 to $10.70.

Head northeast to the Arab quarter, where the sheesha bars stay open until at least 4 a.m. Once the purview of local Middle Easterners, the nonalcoholic late-night sheesha (tobacco water-pipe) experience is going mainstream. Opened in April 2004, the Moroccan-themed, black-and-white Café Samar, 60 Kandahar Street, (65) 6539-0530, is significantly better on ambience than cuisine. For an authentic sheesha place, sit at one of outdoor tables in front of the unpretentious Al Majlis, 39 Arab Street, (65) 6292-0979, and ask a neighborly local to show you the finer points of smoking a $7 pipe.


Copyright 2005 New York Times/Jennifer Gampell