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10 Sep 2004

battle of the sunday night parties

With the recent closure of Centro, where do the boys go? Jeremy Gopalan checks out Happy, Cocco Latte and Chinablack and brings you a low down of the clubs.

With the recent closure of Centro's Sunday Boys' Night, where do the boyz go? Jeremy Gopalan checked out Happy, Cocco Latte and Chinablack and brings you a low down of the clubs.

From top: Happy, Cocco Latte and Chinablack.
How is that Sunday nights in Singapore have evolved to be the official Gay Party Night? There isn't much clue to that, and it bewilders me as much as it does you. But with the recent closure of Centro's Sunday Boys' Night (along with its after-hour sister spot, Lola), there suddenly seems to be an avalanche of smaller venues clamouring for a piece of that heralded Sunday pie, further perpetuating this odd evolution in the local gay scene.

First on the list is Happy. This new kid on the block, still very much a minor considering it's all of five weeks old (its official opening will only be on September 23), is showing a ton of vigour and spunk. Ever since cleverly incepting itself just the week prior to Nation weekend, it's been steadily pulling in the crowds on Fridays and Saturdays - and now evidently, Sundays too. Perhaps it was the cunning move of snagging the party people during the nation's birthday week, as the positive word of mouth from then has just stirred up the vibe and kept interest afloat.

Located right smack in the gayville of Singapore, Tanjong Pagar, the club occupies the space where the old Taboo used to operate out of - but is at least twice as large as the former club since it's taken over the premises of the unit next-door. In all honesty, its name had initially drawn some flak and dubiety (I mean, talk about cheesy, why not just 'G-A-Y', right? But oops, that's been done in the UK already!), but the nightspot is certainly proving its mettle and proving its detractors wrong.

Boasting a decently sized dance floor (ok, it's no Zouk, but it's good enough for a once-upon-a-time shop house!), the place churns out a steady beat of classic and contemporary house anthems, helmed no less by Centro's former DJ Ramesh who handles turntable duties. Unlike many of the other gay locations in town, this place is surprisingly classy and contemporary, exuding in fact, a certain stylish designer chic. Perhaps it's the New York inspired dcor and imported furniture that contributes to this ambience, but the general feel of a seductive lounge is definitely appealing and attractive. The Sunday-Night Boys here aren't quite from the stand-on-the-platform-and-preen school either; rather, the partygoers generally do seem more approachable and down-to-earth, and actually appear as if they're there to have a casual, good time and interact with others. And by that I mean chatting, not cruising!

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!

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 dcor 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.

All things considered, the demise of Centro has certainly spawned some fairly competent - albeit littler - distractions to take one's mind off the Sunday night lull. With this peculiar trend of partying on the end of a weekend continuing, I suppose the phenomenon of Monday MCs too will just have to go on!

Pacific Plaza Penthouse
9 Scotts Road 12th Floor

Cocco Latte
76 Robertson Quay #01-09
The Gallery Hotel

21 Tanjong Pagar Road


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