Singapore gay venues: historical
Before the relative liberalisation of Singaporean society towards the end of the 20th century, local gay culture consisted solely of venues largely unknown to the mainstream public. Prior to the 1980s, there were no publicly "out" homosexuals, no Singapore gay organisations, no Singapore gay literature, no Singapore gay art, no Singapore gay films or anything remotely "gay" apart from surreptitious nocturnal congregation spots. Thus, even though it may not be palatable to some conservative members of the gay community who would prefer to present a whitewashed facade of gay society, the inclusion of a list of outdoor nightly cruising areas in this article forms an integral part of the documentation of Singapore gay history. However, as a concession to these conservatives, it comes after the more "decent" venues like bars and discos.
As a counterpoint, it should also be mentioned that, perhaps, the majority of gay men in Singapore never ventured into any of these cruising areas and that "gay venues" for them meant private spaces in which they indulged in social and sexual intercourse - mostly the homes of their lovers and friends.
It is thought that the first places in early Singapore where homosexual men, especially Chinese coolies, could chance upon each other were the public toilets near the Singapore River, predominantly at Boat Quay. The proximity of Hong Lim Park to Boat Quay may explain why the former became notorious as the first internationally known gay cruising rendezvous in Singapore to be listed in the Spartacus Gay Guide, the most widely read gay tourist publication in the world
As far as locals can remember, but which can only be corroborated by a handful of people, the very first gay bar in Singapore was the Criterion along Orchard Road, not very far from the old Cold Storage building where Centrepoint now stands. It existed in the 1950's but had already ceased functioning by the very early 1960s.
Next came the Golden Venus bar, on the ground floor of the former Orchard Hotel along Orange Grove Road, as some locals and gay expatriates who lived in Singapore during the 1960s can recall. It flourished from about 1960 until overtaken by Pebbles Bar (see below) in the mid-1960s. The former Orchard Hotel, just a few storeys tall, was much smaller than the currently rebuilt one. The latter occupies the space where a petrol station and terraced shophouses once stood, at the junction of Orchard Road and Orange Grove Road. The entrance to the Golden Venus was located at the rear of the hotel and could be accessed discreetly through the hotel's open-air car park.
It was always a mixed establishment rather than purely a gay venue. The bar area itself was predominantly gay, while in the adjacent larger room, there was a band and dance floor that was completely "straight", being much patronised by heterosexual British and Australian servicemen. It is interesting that the gay and straight areas both co-existed sideby side without much evidence of open homophobia. In the bar, there were tables covered with white table cloths and a sprig of orchid in a small vase was placed on every table top. The waiters were mainly Hainanese in their 40s wearing starched white shirts with little bow ties.
Near the time of its closure in the mid-1960s, a Singaporean who visited the bar one night described it as being brightly lit but there was no sign of gay life. In fact, there was no sign of any life apart from the waiters and himself! Pebbles Bar in the Singapura Hotel Inter-Continental with its posh decor and hip, live music complete with androgynous performer was decidedly more upmarket and soon eclipsed The Golden Venus which then faded into the depths of gay history.
This was one of Singapore's first gay bars and opened in the 1960s. However, even by the late 1960s, it had not yet gained a reputation for being a gay venue. It was really just a hip bar, very conducive for hanging out at. It was located at the basement of a landmark building called Tropicana along Scotts Road. The latter was an exclusive and expensive 4-storey entertainment complex renowned for pioneering topless dancing girl revues and occupied the exact spot where Pacific Plaza now stands. Le Bistro was for those who either could not or did not want to pay the cover charge to see the topless revue in Tropicana upstairs. The appeal of Le Bistro was also the live music provided by an Indian woman singing and playing the piano behind a huge horseshoe bar. She alternated with a male guitarist.
Sometime in the early years of the 1970s, the gay clientele started to come. They never turned the place entirely into a gay bar. Gay and straight clientele would sit round the bar listening to the performers. The bar was well patronized but never chock-a-block full like some gay bars or discos can be nowadays. It had become well known as a chill-out bar, especially amongst English-educated gays and a reputed pick-up haunt for white tourists and local, deeply closeted homosexuals. One could gain entry discreetly via a small side road connecting Claymore Hill and Scotts Road. Gay gatherings began on Sundays, a tradition which grew out of earlier attempts by Singapore food and beverage outlets to copy the American practice of holding Sunday afternoon tea dances, popular during that era. 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.
These events were so well attended that they rivalled the iconic Pebbles Bar in popularity and jostled for the same clientele, although each venue had its own niche. After Le Bistro eventually closed down, Pebbles Bar once again came into its own and continued as THE gay meeting place to be until the Hotel Singapura Inter-Continental was demolished in the mid-1980s.
Affectionately referred to simply as "Pebbles", it was located on the ground floor forum of the now-demolished Hotel Singapura Inter-Continental along Orchard Road, adjacent to the Hilton Hotel. The hotel was actually completed in 1965 as part of the Singapore government's plan to turn Orchard Road into a tourist belt. Hotel Singapura Inter-Continental became the Hotel Forum before it was replaced by the present Forum Galleria building. Customers walked into Pebbles Bar predominantly via the main entrance adjacent to the hotel coffee shop fringing the lobby but, very conveniently, there was also a more discreet entrance from the car park at the rear of the hotel.
In the early 1970s, it became patronised largely by the English-educated, upper-strata gays of Singaporean society who formed a nexus which enticed other gays to congregate there. These included foreigners and socialising at the bar spawned many a local-Caucasian pairing. Pebbles' main draw were the live performances of a local band Tania, whose lead singer, Alban de Souza, was decked out in glitz, painted his face a la David Bowie or KISS but with red makeup instead of black-and-white, and entertained with flamboyant, energetic camp.
Although it was the only one of Singapore's first 3 gay bars to have a dance floor, albeit a rather small one, same-sex dancing was strictly prohibited. The bouncers would stop any gay couple from doing so. Today we take same sex dancing for granted but it is important to bear in mind that this was not allowed till the early 1980s. 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 embracing and given each other air kisses, a phenomenon rarely witnessed elsewhere in Singapore but which raised nary an eyebrow at Pebbles.
Pebbles Bar became less popular as a gay venue later in the early 1970s when Le Bistro starting to attract more of the gay clientele, although it never completely plunged into oblivion as a meeting place. It experienced a resurgence in popularity when Le Bistro closed down.
Following Pebbles, gays colonised the Treetops Bar at the Holiday Inn along Scotts Road. The Holiday Inn became the Royal Holiday Inn which was demolished and today's Pacific Plaza (formerly called Plaza on Scotts) built on its site. Treetops was located on the right hand side of the lobby as one entered the main entrance. It too had a live band which was popular with its clientele. During that time, the hotel was a hub for gays. Besides having a gay bar, the hotel's coffee house, Café Vienna, was also a gathering place for gays. The café was across the lobby from Treetops, on the left hand side of the hotel front entrance. While Treetops Bar is no longer around, Café Vienna remains and some of the stained glass décor to simulate a Viennese café still forms part of its look today. Café Vienna also had live music. A small orchestra played light classical music, mainly Viennese waltzes. So the whole set-up was rather elegant or pretentious depending on how one looks at it. What is undisputed is that the gay crowd loved going there because if one got tired of sitting in the bar, one could hop across the lobby to have a coffee or a piece of pastry in the café.
Unfortunately, the scene did not last. The hotel management decided it did not want Treetops to be a gay venue as it felt it was bad for its image and started refusing to serve people whom they thought were gay. It was not a pleasant experience to be turned down and some gays protested. On one occasion, the hotel PR person backed down. But not enough gay people stood their ground and so Treetops lost its gay reputation quickly. If this were to happen nowadays, the bar would certainly face a howl of protest from the more vocal, contemporary gay community.
The difference in the situation between then and now is stark. During that era, the ambiance of a gay bar was never as comfortable as what it is today, beginning with the act of ordering one's drink from the bartender. In most gay bars today, customers take for granted that the bartenders know they are working in a gay venue probably owned by gay people and have to serve gay people with a welcoming friendly attitude. In the old days, one got a feeling that one was in the bar at somebody's sufferance. There was always a touch of tension or suspicion when one ordered one's drink, very unlike the easy casual relationship that one could have with waiters and bartenders in gay bars today. There was no sense of ownership of a gay venue that today's gay community enjoys.
The reason why a bar became gay was mostly serendipity - for example, a group of gay people chanced upon a chill-out place, then liking the music or the ambience, went back frequently. They told other gays and the word got around that the place was attracting a gay clientele and this trend would grow unless the bar owner put a stop to it, as was the case with Treetops Bar. This was very different from today's bars where the proprietor set up a venue deliberately for a gay clientele.
More wealthy gay socialites would patronise the more exclusive, classy and expensive nightclub, Chinoiserie, situated on the second level of Hyatt Hotel, also along Scotts Road. One could become a member there after paying a hefty membership fee and invite their friends. However, gay men formed only a small minority of the clientele at Chinoiserie.
Singapore's first exclusively gay karaoke pub at 52 Tanjong Pagar Road, set up during the height of the karaoke craze in the late 1980s; a narrow, miniature version of its legendary namesake in Bangkok and the original Sumerian city.
To cash in on the popularity of the seminal Babylon, a pair of gay Singaporean Chinese twin brothers opened another gay karaoke joint in the 1990s, just a few units away, at 78 Tanjong Pagar Road. It provided divas with an outlet to show off their vocal skills for almost 10 years before drawing its shutters on 24 July 2004. It was later resurrected at 3 Duxton Hill, a stone's throw away from its former location. Tel: 6220-6966. Ample parking space was available just outside or at Craig Place along Craig Road which houses a multi-storey carpark.
Not to be outdone by their male counterparts, female entrepreneurs opened a disco for the lesbian community situated between Babylon and Inner Circle and opposite Play disco on the other side of Tajong Pagar Road. It was located at unit numbers 60 to 64. It was managed by a lesbian who later became a popular entertainment icon.
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: 
It was housed in the building at 21 Tanjong Pagar Road which was a growing arts, entertainment and lifestyle block managed by Guan Seng Kee Pte Ltd, just next to Ya Kun Kaya Toast. The lift serving the upper floors had a modern interior but was rickety and painfully slow. The building housed the following establishments in the 2000s:
- 1) Space 21
An unrenovated 1950-sq ft art space and multi-function hall situated on level 3, the second home of Utterly Art.
It was a versatile venue which could be transformed into a bar-cum-function space equipped with lights, sound and platforms to hold events like product launches, birthday bashes and cabaret shows. Former tel: 6323-9438, fax: 6227-9647.
On Monday, 31 March 2008, Mox Bar and Cafe, which had been recently voted as Singapore's favourite gay bar at the Fridae ae-List Awards, closed its doors, with a garage sale on Thursday, 27 March and a farewell party called "End of the Rainbow" on Saturday, 29 March 2008. Mr. Mok, the co-owner and engineer by profession and his 4 partners including buff-bodied doctor, Toby Hui, also holders of full time jobs, had considered keeping the party going in his absence, but with high rental costs (double what they were when the bar opened) and a generally dwindling nightlife scene, they decided to let it go.
- 3) Bianco
(formerly known as The Attic)
The topmost floor is a vault-like loft under the same management as MOX Bar & Cafe. It has a seating capacity of up to 150 people and is suitable for exhibitions, fashion shows and performances. It was the former location of the Sunday services of the Free Community Church (from 2002 to 2004) and Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble (from 2004 to 2005). Currently, it houses the all-white decor-themed Bianco and contains a small bar, in addition to unique, squarish bed-like seats and a DJ console. Dr. Russell Heng's talk When Queens Ruled! A History of Gay Venues in Singapore was held here on 16 Aug 05 as part of IndigNation, Singapore's first gay pride month. It was the home of Pelangi Pride Centre for several years since mid-2007.
70 Amoy Street. Gay-owned and staffed, the bar offers room to enjoy cocktails, meet people and indulge in chit-chat.
The decor is modern and warm with natural wood flooring and fixtures. Friendly, professional and attractive staff make one very welcome. It is a nice addition to the local club scene and is close to other clubs and discos. It closed in September 2005.
Oso cafe restaurant
A gay-owned and managed bar serving fusion cuisine, beer, wine, and cocktails. A cosy place for friends to gather, sing karaoke, and spend quality time together. Frequented especially by Chinese-educated bears, it spins good music and has a soothing ambience.
208 South Bridge Road, #01-01 (in the same building as Utterly Art), tel: 9842-7849. A gay-owned, second home for anyone seeking Prince Charming or looking for a nice cozy place to dine with their dates.
It serves authentic Thai food prepared by Chef Deang, with 20 years' cooking experience, who cooks home-style dishes with a passion. Karaoke starts after 8:30 pm abetted by a great sound system to accompany one's crooning. It especially welcomes bears, chubs and their admirers. Regulars, who tend to be Chinese-educated, chat on EFNET IRC, channel #GAYCHUB@SG.
The management allowed the organisers of IndigNation, Singapore's inaugural gay pride month in August 2005, free use of its premises to conduct the historic, first-ever public talk on homosexuality to be held in an indoor venue since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2004 liberalisation of the rules governing these events. The lecture was entitled "Same sex love in classical Chinese literature" and was delivered to a capacity audience by Dr. Tan Chong Kee on 2 Aug 05 .
57 Neil Rd (next to Taboo), tel: 6227-6772. A new kid on the karaoke scene, gay-owned and managed. It offers a very wide choice of songs from the region, even Thai and Japanese. It has friendly staff and a very talented young boss. To ensure that the air stays cool and fresh, the pub is fitted out with ionizers and air fresheners. The simple, modern decor gives the place a cosy and warm ambiance. Drinks are reasonably priced with frequent special promotions for customers. It opens daily from 6pm to 3am.
It is located on the second floor, accessible from the staircase beside Legend bar. To drive away the Monday blues, it is free pool all night long. Opening hours are from 9pm onwards on weekdays and Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays and public holidays.
95 Club Street, tel: 6325-9595.
Situated in a busy night life area in downtown Singapore, this lesbian-owned and managed bar offers a relaxed, cool, modern style, with excellent music and a friendly welcome. Saturdays are theme nights. It is open daily from 7 pm till late. Happy hours are from 7-9 pm.
47 Neil Road.
A karaoke bar run by lesbian owners, it is patronised by a mixed gay and lesbian crowd. It holds soup nights and pool tournaments.
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 first establisment which held a gay disco night every Sunday in the late 1970s as far as older members of the gay community can recall was a seafood restaurant at the end of the road leading to Punggol (formerly spelt "Ponggol"). It probably had a nondescript Chinese name which is why no one seems to be able to recall it. According to some sources, there were 2 other seafood restaurants out of the handful or so located there which doubled-up as gay discos on Sundays.
One of the reasons why a seafood restaurant at such a peripheral location could transform itself into a gay disco may be the fact that the mindset of the police regarding the taboo on same-sex dancing underwent a sea change in the late 1970s. As a reward for the seafood restaurant's bold experiment in converting its premises into a gay disco on Sunday nights and since their male customers were allowed for the first time to dance with each other, it experienced an upsurge in business as gay men flocked to the place packing it to the brim. One must bear in mind how far the end of Punggol Road was and how much past-midnight taxi fare would have cost. Furthermore, if the place was packing them in on a Sunday night when people had to wake up early the following day to go to work, it demonstrated how starved of a place to dance gay people were. The remoteness of the place could have helped it to evade police detection. Alternatively, the police knew and was prepared to close one eye because being in such a distant corner of Singapore, it disturbed nobody.
The early 1980s was a period of widespread prosperity and new freedoms which saw the opening of clubs like Marmota,Shadows, Legend and Niche which catered to a predominantly gay clientele even though they were not exclusively gay. These discos would be closed by the time of the mid-1980s, for unclear reasons, to be replaced by weekly Sunday Night Gay Parties or "Shadow Nights" run by the former management of Shadows (affectionately known as the "Shadow Management"). These "Shadow Nights" were roving events held at semi-permanent venues which included Rascals (at the Pan Pacific Hotel), Heartthrob (at Melia at Scotts), The Gate (at Orchard Hotel), Music World (in Katong) and Studebaker's which later morphed into Venom (at Pacific Plaza). It is interesting to note that men's night parties held since Studebaker's were no longer run by the "Shadow Management".
These events were now officially sanctioned and no longer discouraged by their managements. Men were not prevented from dancing with other men as they were in the previous decades, even during slow numbers. No Police raids at these establishments took place. With these weekly gatherings for energetic dancing to let off steam and meet new friends, homosexuals felt the first bonds of a relatively cohesive community- a warm feeling of being welcomed into a new brotherhood, in contradistinction to erstwhile isolation, alienation and loneliness for many.
Singapore's first gay pub-cum-disco located in a hard-to-find offshoot from Upper East Coast Road near Bedok was operational from the 1970s to the early 1980s. One had to trudge along a length of unpaved road up a mild slope to gain access to the bar, which was housed in a whitewashed, relatively linear, cluster of elongated, small, single-storey bungalows known as The Summit Hotel. However, for those who drove, parking (albeit illegal) was easy to find on the opposite side of Upper East Coast Road as it was then just a patch of undeveloped grassy land and not the complex of condominiums which exists today. The Summit Hotel was probably a clump of former colonial bungalows which was converted into a budget hotel to cater to Caucasian and Asian visitors. Today, a condominium called The Summit sits in its place. The patrons of the Sunday-only gay disco were Westerners as well as locals, although its existence was not very widely known. Looking back, some customers presently in their late fifties could not imagine how they could have grooved to the now seemingly uncool hits of that era like 'Beautiful Sunday' by Daniel Boone.
A Singaporean who visited the place in the 1980s, near the time of its closure, recalls that it had the atmosphere of a cheap disco for the working class where patrons could just buy one drink and sit or dance for a long time. During a change of proprietorship, he was introduced to a couple of shareholders who actually, coincidentally, worked in the hangar or some engineering outfit!
Located on the second level of Kallang Leisuredrome above the bowling alley and operating in the early to mid-1980s, it was one of the first to hold regular Sunday gay nights. One would find the dance floor 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.
On the third level of Lucky Plaza opened when Shadows at Kallang Leisuredrome closed down. It was in operation for only a couple of years in the mid-1980s before the hotspot moved to Niche at Far East Plaza (see below).
(at level 3, Far East Plaza)- opened in April 1983 to cash in on the popularity of Marmota. More patronised by the English-educated crowd. It spawned a popular latter-day namesake at 32 Pagoda Street in Chinatown, exactly where Absolute sauna now stands. This second incarnation in Chinatown 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.
Located on the ground floor of the Pan Pacific Hotel in the Marina district, Rascals disco held gay parties every Sunday night in the early 1990s.
The most infamous incident, which won it a significant place in Singapore's gay history, happened on 30 May 1993 when the police conducted a raid there, on a Sunday gay night. When the lights came on, patrons were lined up, shouted at, and asked to show identification. Those who did not have identification with them were taken to the precinct station at Beach Road. However, they were released the following morning without being charged, which indicated that it was an act of intimidation.
A group of 20 people, mostly the same people involved in PLU then and headed by lawyer Wilfred Yeo, sent a letter of complaint to the precinct police station about the harassment. Totally unexpectedly, they actually received an apology from the police, not for the raid itself, but for the rudeness of the police officers! This was hitherto unheard of, as far as police raids on homosexual congregations were concerned.
To commemorate the seminal event, the organisers of IndigNation, People Like Us (PLU), launched a biennial award worth S$2,000 (US$1,500) called the Rascals Prize to recognise the best research work related to LGBT topics in Singapore on Friday, 1 August 2008, 7 pm, at 72-13, during the reception of IndigNation 2008.
Situated at the top floor (level 12)of the present Pacific Plaza along Scotts Road was the largest and most posh disco that homosexuals had ever experienced in Singapore. Gay men could pay to become members who were given privileged access without having to cue and the use of its private rooms. 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. In 1998, it changed its name from Studebaker's to Venom. In May 2001, rumours circulated that Venom was allegedly refusing entry to several people who were suspected of organising competing gay parties.
One of Singapore's largest discos on the third level of One Fullerton (opposite Fullerton Hotel), Collyer Quay with gay Sunday Boys' Nights. It opened in 2003 but closed in September 2004 to be succeeded by Onyx at the same location but under a new management.
(Main article: Happy: Singapore gay disco)
Happy was a gay disco opened and co-owned by impresario Alan Seah and Glen G. in August 2004. Its official opening was on 23 September 2004. It took over when the former disco, Taboo, vacated the premises. It was located at #01-02/03/04, 21 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088444 (Tel: +65 6227 7400, Fax: +65 6227 7440).
56-58 Tras Street, very near the Tanjong Pagar MRT station, tel: 6323-3010. Former karaoke pub which was converted into a disco after the karaoke craze died down. Less posturing and more wild dancing than at Happy. In 2003, its manager was Louie Chang. Despite drawing the young crowds, it closed down in mid-2007.
This was an interim venue, located along Craig Road, used by proprietor Addie Low during the shift of his disco, Taboo from 21, Tanjong Pagar Road (currently occupied by Play) to its current location along Neil Road.
2-storey club with an intimate lounge area on the first floor and DJ on the second. Despite unique features like kitschy decor, striptease poles, flashing neon signs, drink specials and date-matching via number tags, the atmosphere is rather sedate. Open Tuesdays to Sundays. Sunday nights is Cocconuts, a boyz party from 7pm-3 am. It closed down towards the end of 2006 but has been reincarnated under the same management at the Home Club at Riverwalk Galleria.
Read Fridae's review of the venue:
"Another contender to the Centro Sunday heritage is Cocconuts (now don't you just love that name) at Cocco Latte? Also fairly new having just opened in June, this club is quirkily housed in its own 2-storey structure just along the perimeter of the Gallery Hotel. Typically funky and intentionally kitsch, the mod-retro-inspired lounge area on the first floor is decorated with furniture and ornaments designed and made by its owners (a candelabra of plastic bangles, anyone?). The clubbing section on the second floor is a fun space designed as a strip bar of sorts with flashing "Live Sex" and "Nude Girls" neon signage, and - get this - stripper poles for the go-go-boy wannabes.
While ultra gay-friendly considering its eccentric and artsy quality, the club does seem to attract a scattered few breeder-types. Perhaps lost (or perhaps still harbouring some unresolved identity issues, ha!), these partygoers tend to be the designer/ fashion-student sort with crazy, psychedelic hair and, occasionally, multiple face piercings. All this abundance of style and personality, while engaging in a curious way, is perhaps not quite what the Sunday Boys are looking for. Despite drink specials and the prospect of date matching (they have a system of tagging customers with number tags so that you can report the one you like to the cupid master, and if it's a mutual match, then voila, you've got yourself a hook-up!), the crowd was weak and rather disappointing. Consisting mostly of small groups of friends sitting and chatting, there wasn't much energy in the air and people certainly didn't look like they were out to party in spite of the thumping hip-hop, house and electronic music. Worst of all, despite its allure, there was no groin-grinding to be seen at all on the poled platforms. What a letdown!"
5 Magazine Road, Central Mall, tel: 6535-3030. Nearby Clarke Quay MRT station. A huge new dance club launched by the former operators of Venom and Chinablack. Features include drag shows, snooker tables, Sunday gay nights and valet parking.
The present reincarnation of Studebaker's/Venom occupying the sprawling 2-storey penthouse on level 12 of Pacific Plaza at 9 Scotts Road, tel: 6734-7677. It has 3 bars, a dance floor, an Oriental theme including teak panelling, Indo-Chinese lamps and Chinese calligraphy wall hangings. Features techno beats and gay anthems, ideal for bare-torsoed exhibitionists itching to strut their stuff on platforms.
Read Fridae's review of the venue:
"Finally, harkening back to the fabulous Sunday gay nights of yesteryear at the now-defunct Venom is the newly minted theme night at Chinablack. While occupying the same premises as the former - the top floor of Pacific Plaza - this club has in recent years gained notoriety as a hangout for university kids and - dare I say it? - bengs and lians. Perhaps wanting to regain a stake on the former glory of its predecessor, it's now decided to reintroduce Sunday Boys' Night.
Cavernous and tomb-like, the dark interior of the club leaves little of its decor to be observed, save for the bits of oriental elements (yay for Chinese characters on the wall) strewn about as obvious homage to its name. With three main bars lining the dance floor, getting a drink isn't too much of a tedious process here, unlike how it is at many other clubs where you usually have to jostle and claw your way to the bar counter, after which you're dealt with the bartender acting like he's a circus performer twirling his bottle in the air and pretending to be too busy to take your order. (Damn them.) Maybe gay men don't drink or simply don't understand the concept of drink specials, but there was practically no one ordering, and my bartender (who behaved like one and actually poured drinks) seemed quite happy to service. Hmmm, wonder what else he's happy to do.
Just the atmosphere considered, it would seem that Chinablack bears most resemblance to the former Centro. Pulsating with grooving taut bodies, and yes, showcasing topless show-offs on the platforms, the vibe of this place simply rings 'PARTY'. The music is practically a rip-off of Centro with typical techno beats and gay anthems, and boys snogging and gyrating with each other, legs intertwined. It's great too that there're plush sofas at the VIP section, but considering it's for the Very Important only, one would probably have to slut around a little before landing a spot on the prime seating."
At One Fullerton (opposite Fullerton Hotel), Collyer Quay. Nearby Raffles Place MRT Station. Formerly known as Centro, the venue's theme remains the same - shirtless worshippers slaving to the beat and soaking up the sweat, muscle and sexual energy. Sunday is their ONS (One Night Stand) gay party night and women are discouraged from entering by charging them higher entry fees.
69 Circular Road, #01-01, tel: 9191-4846.
Singapore's first gay after-hours club spinning progressive and tribal house. RAV decks itself out in a vibrant coat of red and a kaleidoscope of enticing lighting. There is a cozy semi-enclosed chill lounge off to the left of the dance floor. Saturdays and Sundays, 3am to 6 am.
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 facade 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.
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.
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 4-level sauna along Neil Road, the brainchild of gay activist Alex Au, it opened in 2002 and positioned itself as Singapore's first luxury gay sauna, with prices to match. Its reputation for cleanliness was superlative as employees were tasked to clean the dark rooms every hour and the hot pool was completely drained of water and scrubbed once every few days. The name "Rairua", essentially meaningless, was chosen because it was cheaper to buy a domain name on the Internet for advertisement purposes which was not a popular word or words which would be hotly contested by other entrepreneurs.
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 the major draw for all local gay saunas today. However, initially, patrons were coy and reluctant to parade in the altogether, so "Sarong Nights" were introduced as an aperitif in which semi-transparent plastic sarongs were handed to customers to wear instead of requiring complete nudity outright. As Singaporeans got used to the idea, it became easier to introduce the classily named "Simply Skin" nights in which nudity on all the upper levels was strictly enforced by an employee stationed at the base of the ground floor staircase. Rairua also organised special events like cultural talks, personalised photography  and naturist art sessions, and erotic dancing by showerboys. Unfortunately, due to the expiry of its lease and disagreements with its landlord over maintenance, the proprietor and his business partners decided to close it down without any prior announcement on Monday, 25 April 2005.
The third sauna established by entrepreneur Max Lim in 2003, its competitive advantages are its budget entry fees, 24-hour opening times and a 'barracks' containing individual rooms for those desiring to stay for prolonged periods. It pioneered the concept of theme nights, which later spread to all saunas. This introduced variety and catered to subsegments of the gay crowd such as chubs, foam party lovers, minority races, foreigners and sun worshippers. It also experimented, for a short period, with an a la carte restaurant on the ground floor, a transvestite cabaret and male undergarment/swimming trunk fashion shows. It was the only sauna to proudly hang a rainbow flag, an LGBT icon signifying diversity, outside its main entrance. It is located next to Ann Siang Hill, already a popular cruising ground. Membership is no longer required.
It has private suites, group areas, a steam room, jacuzzi, hydrojet cool pool, cafe and private sun deck. Open Mondays to Fridays from 4pm and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon. The crowd is a mix of locals, expats and visitors. It is billed as Singapore's largest gay sauna and also the most expensive. Its monthly nude "full moon parties" held once a month on the 15th day of the Chinese lunar calender, and youthful attractive patrons are the greatest attractions. It has been consistently ranked as the most popular sauna in Singapore through various polls.
Closed down end 2007. Their website announces that they would open at a new location.
V-club was a 3-level sauna appealing to a mainly Chinese-educated clientele which opened in the mid-2000s. It has the most nude nights in a week - on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. A unique feature of the sauna was a room next to the showers on the topmost floor which had water-filled mattresses, resembling waterbeds, with a hose nearby, presumably for "water sports". Snacks and drinks could be obtained on the ground floor. After a couple of years of operation, it underwent a facelift and changed its name to Sphere. It closed down on Sunday, 11 March 2007 despite a rumoured attempt at keeping the enterprise afloat via an infusion of funds from an investor.
The Box was Singapore's first cruise club, a concept which proved less popular locally, so it was later converted into a sauna, using the new name of Shogun Spa. In mid-2006, it moved its location several units away, from 182 to 176 Telok Ayer Street. It was one of the last saunas to introduce nude nights. No membership is required. It closed down in mid-2007. The New Shogun Spa is now operating at 18A Hong Kong Street across the road from the "THE CENTRAL" near Clarke Quat MRT.
2 Jalan Pinang, near Bugis Junction outside the CBD. Parking is available at the Golden Landmark Hotel. The Bugis MRT Station is closest. From here, it is a 5 min walk in the direction of Sultan Mosque. Tel: 6295-5668.
Established by naturalised Frenchman Jacques Marly who was a chef-turned entrepreneur, it had a full gym, a cafe with free Internet access (the first gay sauna to offer such a service), and a large steam room. The entrance fee was inexpensive and no membership was required. It was patronised by a crowd of all nationalities. Nude nights were on Sundays; Thursday nights were for 20-somethings only. Another 4 men were arrested here in April 2005 in a police raid masquerading as a night-time fire-safety inspection. It ceased operating in mid-2005.
05-01, Sultan Plaza, 100 Jalan Sultan near its junction with Beach Road, tel: 6392-2396. It is unique amongst gay saunas in that it charges a standardised entry fee of $19 and that it closes relatively early even on weekends.
It started as a straight sauna offering massage by women masseuses, but gradually gained a predominantly gay, elderly Chinese-educated clientele. This phenomenon of homosexuals eventually forming the majority of patrons in a previously straight establishment is affectionately locally known as "colonisation". It was the first sauna to have a coin-operated karaoke machine on its premises, free buffets and Hollywood/Hong Kong movie screenings, all of which proved to be very popular. It closed in early 2005 for renovations and reopened for business on 29 May 2005 with a relocated entrance but has, since the latter date, been patronised mainly by elderly straight Chinese customers, making it more of a mixed sauna again. Recently Wednesday nights have been promoted for chubs and their chasers, with this phenomenon spilling over into the weekends.
Located at 16A, Smith Street in the Tanjong Pagar area, it opened in November 2006, advertising itself mainly through the Trevvy website. It initially billed itself as a no-frills sauna and charged only $6 per entry at all times, with no membership required.
Outdoor nocturnal cruising venues were the first places where homosexual men could seek others of a similar orientation in early Singapore.
From the examples listed below, one can discern the factors which made an area popular for gay cruising:
1) it must be a relatively large, open-air space that people could walk around and "go shopping", as it were
2) there must preferably be a place where they could sit and chat up each other before indulging in petting or oral sex
3) the areas in which these activities happen must be shielded from the gaze of passers by by foliage, man-made structures and the relative absence of lighting.
Another 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.
The section of the bank of the Singapore River known as Boat Quay and the adjoining back alleys parallel to the Singapore River's west bank were very cruisy at night before the area was rejuvenated with the present row of restaurants in the early 1990s. It was lined by abandoned derelict shophouses and the river had already been cleaned up following Lee Kuan Yew's push in the 1970s. It therefore provided and ideal spot for night time cruising as one could stroll along the bank, the corridors of the abandon buildings or sit along the river's edge without being put off by the foul smell and litter that was present before the 1970s. However, 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.
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.
The Esplanade or more accurately, Queen Elizabeth Walk, and not the current arts establishment which inherited its name, was also a popular area for gay men to meet each other from the 1970s to around 2000, when the Theatres on the Bay were built. Today, it is known as Esplanade Park and comprises the whole area between Queen Elizabeth walk and Connaught Drive. Flower pots, painted white and with a more complex shape than those found at Hong Lim Park, were also found there. One difference from those at Hong Lim Park was that they contained a hollow interior, which allowed men to sit inside the pots and indulge in petting or have oral sex whilst being shaded from external view by the shrubbery. The former Esplanade was frequented especially by gay young men who acted more girlishly than usual, or don makeup and earrings, to attract straight partners for the night. Others came looking for South Asian men, of which there were many.
A tunnel underpass located at The Esplanade also saw raunchy cruising activity during the same period. Interestingly, just across the road on the Padang, crowds of straight couples, especially on Saturday nights, could be discerned in the dark, making out on mats which they brough with them to lie on. Other parks which were relatively cruisy but less well known in the 1970s were Central Park, accessible via the long flight of steps up from River Valley swimming pool, Fort Canning Park nearby, Labrador Park, accessible only by car or motorbike, Mount Faber, the Botanic Gardens and MacRitchie Reservoir.
A new experience in open-air cruising afforded itself in the 1980s when a huge stretch of the East Coast was reclaimed by land filling. The minimum period for the earth to settle before the new land could be developed or have structures built upon it was ten years. Therefore, during this time gays would venture there, despite having to brave a long trek through secondary forest, to be able to cruise at the beach in splendid seclusion.
This cruising ground became popularly known as Fort Road Beach by the cognoscienti although there existed no official name for this stretch of beach. There were two main stretches. The moiety on the left, facing the sea, became closed off to the public in the mid-1990s and thus could no longer be used for cruising. This area became overgrown with undergrowth in due course. Gay cruisers had to be content with the right half which was had a slightly different character because of different geographical features.
Fort Road Beach became so popular with gay men using it for skinny dipping and sex, either in the more interior forested area or, the more daring ones right on the beach or in the sea, that it attracted several tabloid articles with titles such as "Homosexuals pollute East Coast". The New Paper and the Chinese-language evening tabloids on several occasions carried blurred pictures of men apparent having sex or walking naked along the beach.
The right half of the beach eventually also became closed to the public in early 2010 as development of the area was ramped up full swing.
Less frequented stretches of beach included the more secluded areas near Changi Point which in the past were occasionally visited by heterosexual Gurkhas and Korean construction workers who served as the draw for local gay men, the segment of East Coast Parkway near Big Splash and the area near the People's Association chalets.
Cruisy at night since the early 1990s, but much less so since a landscaped sanctuary named Ann Siang Hill Park was built in 2004 with adequate illumination so that clandestine activities are not so convenient.
Back alleys in the Central Business District and Tanjong Pagar
Less popular after the sprouting of numerous gay saunas since the late 1990s and the development of well-lit commercial complexes like China Square which replaced the dark, dank, derelict shophouses where night-time cruising took place.
Indoor public venues
Public toilets have their fair share of furtive homosex. Some of the historically popular ones which no longer exist were those near Hong Lim Park, especially the one sandwiched between North and South Canal Roads which was demolished in the 1980s, at the former Odeon cinema along North Bridge Road, along Balestier Road next to the open market and at the former National Library along Stamford Road.
The most notorious one no longer extant after its demolition in mid-2011 was River Valley swimming pool. It was one of the few public pools built in the city area, sandwiched between Liang Court and the imposing backdrop of Fort Canning Park. In April 2002, Lianhe Wanbao, a popular Chinese-language evening tabloid published an article entitled "Good husband has rendezvous with lad in public pool" which reported that a 48-year-old married man and his 27-year-old lover of 2 years each received a one-month jail term after confessing in court that they had committed an act of gross indecency at the pool on 11 July 2001 at 4:35pm. The pair had waited until the other swimmers left before they had oral sex in the pool, underwater. It was also one of the few swimming pools where outdoor photography was banned, presumably because the gay men there, who tended to wear skimpy swimming trunks and who loved to sun tan, were very sensitive about having their photographs taken.
A favourite cruising area in the late 1950s and into the 1960s was the passageway in the Capitol Building that led from the street through to the Capitol Cinema, although it was dangerously frequented in those days by hustlers who were not above blackmail.
- Roy Tan, "Photo Essay: A Brief History of Early Gay Venues in Singapore" in the book "Queer Singapore - Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures" edited by Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow, Hong Kong University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-988-8139-34-7,,,,,,.
- Dr. Russell Heng's article on Yawning Bread, "Where queens ruled! - a history of gay venues in Singapore", August 2005. 
- Dr. Russell Heng's article archived on Yawning Bread, "Tiptoe out of the closet: the before and after of the increasingly visible gay community in Singapore", June 2001.. This paper was originally published in the Journal of Homosexuality Vol 40 Numbers 3/4 2001 Special Issue - Gay and Lesbian Asia: Culture, Identity and Community, edited by Gerard Sullivan and Peter Jackson, pp 81 – 97.
- Fridae articles on Singapore gay venues: .
Photo albums of gay cruising venues in Singapore: 
This article was written by Roy Tan based on his personal experiences, verbal accounts provided by friends and information on Yawning Bread, Fridae, SiGNeL, Blowing Wind, anonymous contributors and other Internet sources.