Our favourite nightclubs are making masks and doing dining pop-ups, for now...

A quick trip down Singapore’s once vibrant nightlife district Clarke Quay will have you noticing that all is not normal in this new normal of ours.

Most, if not all entertainment venues have shuttered as partygoers no longer crowd pavements; conversations are not in competition with rambunctious, live music; and the few restaurants and bars still in operation keep seats far apart in full compliance with local social distancing regulations.

This was exactly the scene I witnessed just two weeks ago, when I headed to Zouk’s latest dining concept Capital Kitchen, which has now taken over its luxurious Capital lounge within the spacious nightclub complex. At the new restaurant pop-up, the dance floor has been piled with low tables, side stands and plush sofa seats as servers circulate the area donning trays of piping hot dishes.

While I was excited to be tucking into signatures from Zouk’s dining outlets and sipping on delicious bottled cocktails launched amid the circuit breaker period, I couldn’t help feeling a tad sentimental as I glanced at the empty DJ booth.

Soldiering on with F&B


Capital Kitchen offers trendy eats like Mala Chicken Skin and Basque Burnt Cheesecake which patrons can browse via an e-menu
 

With the lack of opportunities for physical events, major nightlife groups such as Zouk have been delving deeper into the dining aspect of F&B while dishing out virtual events via Facebook and Zoom, for those who are still craving a blowout in the comforts of their home.

And the move is certainly no easy feat. An already saturated industry facing stiff competition and ongoing struggles, entering the F&B line may come as a surprise.

“For the Zouk group, it is a necessary pivot as we expect that clubs and bars will only be allowed to resume operations during the third phase of reopening, following the circuit breaker period," says Andrew Li, CEO of Zouk Group.

"By transforming Capital into a new dining space, it not only allows us to generate a new revenue stream but also ensures that we open up our premises safely and gradually. On top of that, we wanted to create unique experiences for our guests, especially during this challenging period, and our staff have been very excited to welcome them back again.”

But that about the Zouk brand? After years of brand building as a clubbing spot, it isn't easy to now think of Zouk the moment hunger pangs come knocking. Li agrees, adding: “Due to the strength of Zouk, it is immediately associated with nightlife. So sometimes, when you create experiences that are not associated with the same industry, there can be a disconnect." 

That's not all. Since the circuit breaker, Zouk has even introduced yoga and fitness classes as part of their digital offerings. It may seem strange that a nightlife brand is now into health and fitness, but that's the direction they are taking.

Having identified very early on that diversification would be the key for the Zouk brand, Li also hopes that the ecosystem in which the nightclubs operates can be further complemented by the fresh dining entities.

Li isn’t afraid to dream big or put the pedal to the metal. He adds: “The new and developing experiences under our label can synergise with one another and transform the customer journey. Imagine, in the near future, a place where you can eat, drink, party and sleep all within concepts created by the Zouk Group.”

Echoing such a response is A Phat Cat Collective’s co-founder and managing director Joshua Pillai. The collective owns retro concept bars Nineteen80 and Pinball Wizard, both of which remain closed as the pandemic drags on.

Also going digital with Facebook and Instagram for virtual events such as trivia nights, exercise sessions and even the sale of masks, it's as if the clubbing component of their brand is all but forgotten.


Purchase Nineteen80’s vivid and striking face masks to stay protected yet fly
 

“After we were informed to close our bars temporarily, some of our sister restaurants from our investment partner, Mr Biryani and The Salted Plum, required help to transform their businesses into a full-fledged delivery and takeaway service platform online, so we decided to redeploy our team members to be on ground, helping with the increased delivery orders, and lending marketing support to help get the word out,” Pillai explains.

“All of us have knowledge in F&B business operations as we come from the industry ourselves.”

In fact, since the change in direction, Pillai has stepped into the new role of CEO at their investment firm and has been doing so for about four months now, keeping himself busy with all the changes that has happend.

Meanwhile, at 1-Group, which operates a large portfolio of restaurants, bars and clubs including 1-Altitude, Altimate, Yin and Yang, they have been busy brainstorming new ideas and concepts for exclusive consumer experiences during these unprecedented times.


You can now head up to 1-Altitude for the world's highest alfresco dining experience.
 

The world’s highest alfresco bar, 1-Altitude, is now transformed into a dual-concept gastro dining space

"A lot of people do know us as a bar. But surprisingly, a lot of our regulars and walk-in guests do like the new way, the new set-up. There's now an option for them to sit at a more private area for dining, which they didn't have before. The reception has been good so far," reveals Navin K, Associate Director, Bar & Bistro Development at 1-Altitude.

Meanwhile, The Riverhouse (which houses nightspots Yin and Yang, as well as restaurants Mimi and Zorba) is currently undergoing a revamp for their clubs. While not much has been announced yet, one thing for sure is that dining will also become ever more important as they pivot to cater to the demands of the new normal.

Says Immelia Izalena, Business Manager at 1-Group: “While I can’t say too much yet, we are currently working on and refining an immersive dining and entertainment experience. There’ll be a focus on the theatrical side of things, where arts meets food. It's very different from what we’d typically do, but it is still in line with 1-Group’s motto, which is to host great memories. We’re hoping to launch this in September, if possible."

The future of nightlife

And as imperative as these pivots may be in sustaining businesses, they are likely only temporary. With no intention to concede to the ongoing pandemic, these nightlife juggernauts lay in wait, hopeful for the day restrictions ease when the pandemic finally gives.

They have also been using the time to think about the future of bars and nightclubs. Specifically, how to reopen cautiously when the time comes.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic works against everything our industry is about—social interaction and proximity to one another. Until there is a vaccine, we foresee that it will be challenging to reinstitute the dance floor while enforcing social distancing measures. However, when clubs are allowed to resume operations, we anticipate the return of the lounge concept, with many more tables set up in the space and patrons in smaller groups,” reckons Li, Zouk Group's CEO.

1-Group’s Izalena echos the sentiment: “We are experts in the nightlife industry, and I don't think we'll ever be whole again if nightlife were to just disappear like that. Right now, we are focusing on what we can do and when nightlife returns, it is a matter of how we can develop it further. We are known for our multi-concept spaces, so it's just a matter of stirring our creativity to do things differently. As nightlife people, we’re not going to give up. We’re fighters.”