Niche is swish

Niche is swish

The rise of mid-sized clubs is giving partygoers more clubbing options as they offer distinct character and music in a cosy setting

In these days of podcasting instead of broadcasting and with the proliferation of boutique hotels, it seems the one-size-fits-all approach is turning out to fit few.

Mega dance clubs have been feeling the brunt of the trend towards "niche is nice". The defunct Ministry Of Sound and Zirca are the most prominent victims.

With the Titanics sunk, a new breed of mid-sized and boutique clubbing venues have been grabbing the attention of partygoers with their distinct personalities and entertainment offerings.

At about half the size of a mega club or smaller, at least five mid-sized nightspots spanning between 4,000 and 8,000 sq ft have mushroomed this year, each marketing itself to a specific clientele.

Clubgoers like how these smaller venues have more character, a greater feel of exclusivity and are a point of gathering for like-minded individuals.

Credit analyst Eva Yeung, who has partied at mega clubs Zouk and Avalon and new smaller clubs such as Club Kyo, says "people's tastes always change over time" and that mid-sized venues throw up more options for clubgoers.

"Let's say I was going out with my colleagues after work, then Club Kyo would work because it's more chill and it's an older crowd. If I wanted to party and have a big night out with my friends outside of work, then I'd just head down to Clarke Quay," says the 30-year-old.

Clubgoer Steffany Rene, 22, says she prefers smaller venues because they "have more personality" and "they're not too crowded". The staff nurse adds: "I like that I can have my own personal space and everyone who goes there likes the same kind of music."

Nightlife operators tell Life! that such smaller-sized venues are easier to manage and focus on a target demographic of clubgoers, which is better than a mega club's all-inclusive approach.

First to open in January was Dom Lounge, a 200-capacity club lounge at Marina Bay Sands modelled after an ornate Russian palace. It offers personalised bottle service and there is at least one bartender attending to each table as its patrons groove to remixes of commercial chart-topping hits.

In March came the Asian-inspired basement nightclub Club Kyo at Cecil Street. The 6,600 sq ft venue caters to executive types in the Central Business District with its themed nights spinning hip-hop, R&B, techno and house music.

At nightlife destination Clarke Quay, the 8,000 sq ft futuristic-themed nightclub Dream also opened that same month, playing hard electronic dance music and remixes of commercial chart- toppers to a predominantly younger group of clubgoers in their 20s.

Three months after Dream and Club Kyo opened, the Great Gatsby-inspired club lounge Fenix Room joined the scene in June. The 5,000 sq ft upscale nightspot in Clarke Quay marketed itself to an older group of clubbers in their 30s and 40s willing to spend on premium bottles of liquor. It offers a mix of nu-disco, hip- hop and retro tunes from the 1980s and 1990s, and plays harder electronic dance music in the later part of the night.

Mid-sized clubs are just more manageable than mega clubs, says Mr Phillip Poon, a director with Massive Collective, which operates Fenix Room and Dream in a collaboration with LifeBrandz.

"The rent in absolute dollar terms would be lower and your fit-out costs less as well, as it's a smaller space. With a smaller-sized venue, there's also less pressure to fill the club up as it has a smaller capacity," he notes, adding that their clubs' target clientele "prefer to be in smaller venues rather than a mega club that tries to cater to everyone".

Mr Poon, 36, says the growing number of mid-sized clubs helps to "grow the scene" and "with more options, patrons and operators will stand to benefit as more people venture out".

Two weeks ago, newcomer f Club at Clarke Quay, the first club linked to fashion and lifestyle broadcasting channel Fashion TV, had its official opening.

Even though it spans 10,000 sq ft, the space is split into two rooms: Diamond Room with its plush red velvet "love seats", hanging chandeliers and DJs spinning trance music; and Ruby Hall, a room inspired by "Parisian renaissance" with its golden framed oil paintings and angel statues at every corner of the club, which plays hip-hop and R&B. The two rooms are connected by a short tunnel.

Mr Volkan Gumus, 29, one of the directors of f Club Singapore, says: "If the space is too small, it will not be able to have two different rooms. If it is bigger, it will be yet another commercial club."

He adds that mid-sized clubbing venues "are for advanced clubbers, the people who have been in the scene for a couple of years and have developed a certain taste in music".

Boutique clubs may now be the way to go as recent history, with a few exceptions, has shown.

When nightlife group LifeBrandz opened British super club Ministry Of Sound in Clarke Quay in 2005, it took up a massive space of 40,000 sq ft. The club lasted three years before closing for good.

Another commercial dance club, the 18,000 sq ft Zirca, took its place, but that too lasted for four years before closing down earlier this year.

Now that same space, along with what was the now-defunct boutique club Rebel, has been carved up into Dream and Fenix Room - both are popular clubs that draw full-house crowds on most weekends.

Brand name superclub Avalon, a sprawling 17,000 sq ft nightspot at Marina Bay Sands which opened to much fanfare in 2011, is undergoing renovations in a bid to improve "customer experience".

When Life! visited the club last Saturday at 1am, there were fewer than 30 clubgoers at the venue and not a single pair of feet on the dance floor.

But Mr Peter Coney, 58, who oversees the club's operations, tells Life!: "All big clubs have good days and bad days. Two weekends ago, Avalon had a strong turnout... we can't always predict the crowd. This is the club business, unfortunately... it's unpredictable."

Clubgoers' preference for "smaller, cosier" joints is what compelled Mr Gordon Foo, 31, coordinating director of operations for St James Holdings, to downsize the 12,000 sq ft nightclub Powerhouse to a 4,500 sq ft venue in August. Renamed District One, the club operates from Wednesdays to Saturdays, with a resident DJ spinning commercial dance hits. Mr Foo says: "In nightlife, we always have to change to keep up with the times."

Two of the handful of big clubs that are thriving here have carved themselves up into smaller spaces.

The iconic Zouk, which is 22 years old, divides its 40,000 sq ft into a wine bar, the main Zouk dance hall, a smaller club (Phuture) and the Velvet Underground, a chilled-out lounge and dance room which caters to an older crowd aged above 25. Even then, it is looking outwards as it seeks to improve itself.

Mr Timothy Chia, 32, Zouk's head of marketing and events, says the club is organising more outdoor DJ gigs at venues such as Fort Canning Park and Sentosa to attract more clubgoers and "get the Zouk name out there by exposing it to an even larger audience".

The 17,000 sq ft Mandopop club Shanghai Dolly and many Thai discos - each often bigger than 10,000 sq ft - are also doing well for massive venues.

Says St James Holdings' Mr Foo, who oversees operations at Shanghai Dolly and Thai discotheque Neverland 2 at StJames Power Station: "Dolly is split up into five different concepts (a dart lounge, lobby bar, chill bar, kitchen and the main stage and hall) to cater to as many people as possible.

"As for the Thai disco, the stage has to be sizeable because of the live shows we have to put up, so we need a slightly bigger space compared to mid-sized dance venues."

The Butter Factory's executive chairman, Ms Tay Eu-Yen, 34, says that "it makes sense for new operators to have a smaller space" with more competition these days.

She adds: "It is true that clubbers enjoy having and exploring choices, and that contributes to places preferring to stay small since the crowd comes and goes."

Club-hopper Marie Soh, 23, who has partied at Dom Lounge and Zouk, says: "A megaclub is not so intimate and sometimes it feels like everyone is trying to impress everyone else in terms of buying alcohol and looking good.

"At some smaller venues, everyone's familiar with one another, you know the DJs and they know you. The vibe and atmosphere are great."

melk@sph.com.sg

FENIX ROOM

What: A 5,000 sq ft club lounge inspired by the Jazz Age of the 1920s that takes the second-storey space formerly occupied by commercial dance club Zirca. 

Expect some chill house tunes in the earlier part of the night before the club hots up with harder, electronic dance music in the wee hours of the morning, with some nu-disco and hip-hop jams thrown into the mix.

It caters to more affluent clubgoers in their 30s and 40s who are willing to spend on premium bottles of champagne, vodka and whisky.

Where: Block 3C River Valley Road, Clarke Quay

When: Wednesdays, 10pm to 4am; Fridays and Saturdays, 10pm to 5am

Admission: $35 at the door (includes one drink)

Info: Call 6734-0205

F CLUB

What: A 10,000 sq ft club space that is linked to international fashion and lifestyle broadcasting channel Fashion TV. The club is split into two adjoining locations: the Diamond Room with its plush red sofas, chandeliers and DJs spinning trance and house music, and the "Parisian renaissance-inspired" Ruby Hall, which plays hip-hop, R&B and chart-topping remixes.

The club's manager says it is the "hangout spot" for beautiful people and famous names in the music, fashion, film, business and art world.

Where: 3B River Valley Road, Clarke Quay, 01-08

When: Wednesdays, 10pm to 3am; Fridays and Saturdays, 10pm to 4am

Admission: $25 (includes one drink)

Info: Call 6338-3158

DREAM

What: An 8,000 sq ft futuristic-Themed, neon-lit nightclub (right) that appeals to a predominantly younger crowd in their early 20s with harder, electronic dance music. A crowd-puller at this club is 22-year-old female DJ Tinc, who is known for her remixes of commercial chart-toppers and has garnered a strong following in the clubbing circuit.

Where: Block 3C River Valley Road, Clarke Quay, 01-06

When: Wednesdays, 10pm to 4am; Fridays and Saturdays, 10pm to 5am

Admission: $28 at the door (includes two drinks)

Info: E-mail reservations@clubdream.sg

CLUB KYO

What: A chill-out basement club lounge (above) at Cecil Street opened by the same group that runs upscale bistro lounge The Vault. The club has several themed club nights offering a mix of house, disco and dance classics as well as contemporary electronic dance music.

It is popular with executive types and expatriates in their 20s and 30s who prefer some cocktails, Asian-inspired bar bites and good music.

Where: Keck Seng Tower, B1-02, 133 Cecil Street

When: Wednesdays and Thursdays, 9pm to 3am; Fridays and Saturdays, 9pm till late

Admission: $20 for women, $25 for men (includes one drink)

Info: Call 8299-8735 or e-mail info@clubkyo.com


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