Man who raised the bar

Fabrice de Barsy talks about how the years has him in the business.

SINGAPORE - One of Singapore's iconic nightlife pioneers from the 1980s and 1990s, Fabrice de Barsy, died unexpectedly last Saturday night in Yangon, Myanmar. He was 51.

His brother says that he died of a heart attack in his sleep on Saturday night.

Mr Thibault de Barsy, 41, tells Life! via e-mail from Luxembourg that he was informed of his brother's death by a mutual friend last Saturday.

The chief executive of an online bank who is based in Luxembourg says: "It is comforting to us that he died in his sleep, in a private home. His heart probably chose to no longer support the lifestyle he had chosen. He did not suffer. All his friends know that a hospital is the last place where he wanted to be."

He adds that there will be no funeral because his brother "never fantasised about a funeral... instead, he wanted people to have fun thinking of him".

The Belgian club operator was best known for setting up the Saxophone Bar at Cuppage Terrace in 1985, Singapore's first outdoor casual French bistro-cum-jazz-and-blues bar.

It hosted jazz greats such as American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and American flautist and saxophonist Ernie Watts, with resident band O.D. And Friends churning out its blend of jazz, blues, rhythm and blues regularly.

The bohemian jazz bar, popular with expatriates and airline crew transiting in Singapore, was a place where one could tuck into home-cooked Belgian food like lamb stew made with Belgian beer that de Barsy would cook himself.

Saxophone was voted one of the best bars in the world by Newsweek magazine in 1995. It closed in 1998, with de Barsy telling The Straits Times in December that year that the reason was high rentals.

A prominent club owner in Singapore's nightlife, de Barsy also ran several other nightspots in the 1990s, including Fabrice's World Music Bar at Marriott Hotel, which opened in 1992 and had outlets in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta; Ka, his second nightclub at Pan Pacific Hotel in 1995; and nightclub Rampage at Ming Arcade in 2000. All three clubs have since closed.

The Belgian was also a key member of the former Association of Entertainment Organisations in the mid-1990s, a 500-member group that represented the interests of pubs, lounges, discos, restaurants and show promoters here.

Life! understands that the bachelor left Singapore more than a decade ago, spending a few years working in Europe before returning to Asia to work in the food and beverage industry in places such as Bangkok and Bali.

Long-time friend and veteran local jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro, told Life! that de Barsy had been living in Yangon for the past year, scouting for a location to set up a Saxophone Bar there. Monteiro, 53, says: "The last time we spoke was May 8. He asked me to play at the new bar for its opening.

"Fabrice loved life, partied and drank quite a lot, but he had toned down a lot in the last few years, and he wanted to restart his own place again. He was a really affable, loving guy."

Indeed, friends of de Barsy say they remember him best as a larger-than-life character who loved music and to party, zipping around in a pink Jaguar painted with jaguar spots and a jungle scene on the sides.

DJ and nightclub owner Godwin Pereira, 40, who used to patronise Fabrice's World Music Bar as a teenager, says: "Whenever he's in town, he comes to my club Kyo. He was a jovial character. He did throw a lot of very good parties."

Nightlife honcho Dennis Foo recalls bar-hopping with de Barsy, visiting 10 clubs a night in a taxi with Swiss expatriate and managing director of Top Ten bar Peter Bader. Foo, 61, chief executive of nightlife group St James Holdings, says of his old friend: "Fabrice was the true impresario of the nightlife scene here in the 1990s. He was the first to bring a Latin brand to Singapore at the Marriott Hotel with his famous champagne parties and really lived it up."

This article was first published on June 3, 2014.
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