Max Lim was Singapore's first impresario and entrepreneur to be known by a wide swathe of LGBT Singaporeans for organising large-scale events and setting up entertainment venues for their community.
Gay disco nights
Lim intially gained recognition in the late 1980s for organising Sunday disco nights for the gay community at roving venues, one of which was 'Dancers - the Club' at Clarke Quay. This disco is no longer extant. It was located in the same building as the present 'Hooters', on the second level. Lim liked to dance and was quite good at it, occasionally gyrating energetically on an elevated podium at the periphery of the dance floor.
He was also the first entrepreneur to hold gay disco nights on other days of the week apart from Sunday. One such event was sporadically held on Thursdays at a relatively unknown disco at Far East Shopping Centre along Orchard Road. In the age of the nascent Internet, he used computer technology for publicity, even inviting a visiting programming expert from America to grace the function.
Gay outdoor parties
Lim realised that the demand for gay parties was tremendous, so he capitalised on his status to organise large-scale outdoor gay parties in the mid-1980s at such venues as the East Coast Lagoon and Big Splash.
The party at the East Coast Lagoon, just like the other large events Lim organised, was advertised via leaflets handed out several months before the event took place, especially during the Sunday disco nights. Sometimes there was competition from another gay entrepreneur whose recruits were also distributing leaflets for competing events, so there was some friction.
The East Coast Lagoon party was an outdoor gay event on a scale never before experienced in Singapore. He took advantage of the huge open-air space and divided the activities into various stations which the partygoer could enjoy, one after the other. Many gay men living in neighbouring Johor Baru also joined in.
The whole of Big Splash was booked by Lim to hold a 'Loy Krathong' or Thai water festival for the gay community. Partygoers could swim in one of the pools, throw their friends into the water or squirt water at each other, just as the festival is celebrated in Thailand, all in good fun.
Themed gay parties
He was the first entrepreneur to organise themed parties for the gay community. One was held at the Forbidden City at Clarke Quay. Its theme revolved around the Hong Kong hit movie, 'A Chinese Ghost Story'. Transwoman personality Abigail Chay was roped in to host the event. At that time, she had not achieved widespread fame in Singapore yet, bolstered by her role in the TV sitcom 'Under One Roof'. There was a contest for the best-dressed Chinese ghoul during the event.
Lim noticed that Singaporeans were going in greater numbers during the weekends to Johor Baru's gay saunas, and also those in Bangkok. To fulfill the pent-up demand locally, he opened Spartacus in 1997, Singapore's first gay sauna. It was located coincidentally and amusingly, but not intentionally at 69, South Bridge Road. For the venture, he not only secured funding from banks but also introduced a creative move never done before - offering the gay patrons to his sauna the option of buying shares in the business. He employed an attractive male beauty pageant contestant as the manager of the sauna.
Other innovations at Spartacus were a restaurant offering buffets to sauna patrons, a daily disco on the ground floor which held lesbian nights on Thursdays, male striptease shows (but only down to underwear) and a gym with expensive equipment.
He opened Stroke along Ann Siang Hill. Soon after this, more gay entrepreneurs started to set up gay saunas to compete and he no longer enjoyed a monopoly on the market. His competitive strategy was then to cut prices. Initially membership costs were high, but with the emergent competition, these were slashed dramatically, as were the entry charges.
He later closed down Stroke and opened Raw, further up the road. It stayed open for 6 years from the early 2003 to 2009. In these premises, he experimented with a transgender cabaret which initially saw good attendance but interest in it gradually waned. Lim also occasionally hosted or performed in the transwoman shows in drag. He would interject the performances sporadically with safe-sex messages. He also opened a 24-hour restaurant on the ground floor but demand for the food was lukewarm, so it closed down after a few months. The ground floor space was replaced by hot and cold pools, a sauna and showers, replicating some of the amenities found on the other storeys.
Interview with Pluto magazine
Lim was interviewed by Pluto magazine, which acknowledged him as a pioneering spa entrepreneur, in 2009.
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