All Quay-ed up over dining and liquor sales restrictions

SINGAPORE - More than a week after news broke of tougher rules for Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay food and beverage outlets, operators have banded together to appeal, even as tenants and patrons alike wonder: What next?

Earlier this month, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) issued new guidelines restricting outdoor, riverside dining in parts of the two quays, including Riverside Point. Watering holes and eateries in this zone will have to remove tables that they have set right by the river.

The police will also shorten the liquor licensing hours for bars and nightclubs stretching from River Valley Road to the Clarke Quay Read Bridge, affecting a third of the more than 60 tenants in the area.

From Oct 1, bars, dance clubs and convenience stores will have to stop serving alcohol after 3am on Sundays and weekdays, and after 4am on Saturdays and the eve of public holidays, instead of as late as 6am currently.

SundayLife! understands that Singapore River One, a non-profit organisation which represents business interests of tenants across Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay, may be appealing against the rules on behalf of affected tenants.

When contacted, Mr Ty Tabing, 45, executive director of Singapore River One, acknowledged that there would be "a certain impact on businesses in the area", but would only say: "Singapore River One was invited to a meeting earlier this week attended by many of the larger operators at Clarke Quay and have heard their view points. However, our organisation does not support the appeal in its entirety. We're still gathering the input of members and stakeholders and will have our position firmed up next week."

The Singapore Tourism Board, which actively promotes nightlife along the iconic Singapore River, also says it will "work in tandem with the police, URA and relevant stakeholders to ensure that Clarke Quay remains an attractive and vibrant precinct for tourists and locals alike".

Business owners worry that the rules will impact their bottom line and affect the image of the two quays as premium nightlife destinations.

Mr Dan Durkin, corporate operation director of the Menu Group, which owns Mexican restaurant-bar Cafe Iguana and microbrewery-restaurant Brewerkz, both at Riverside Point, says the new rules take away the vibrancy of the Clarke Quay area.

"We have diners who specifically request to sit outdoors," the 42-year-old says. "Singapore has done so much to change its scrubbed and sterilised image. Let's hope this move doesn't set us back in the long run."

Jumbo Seafood restaurant, which is also at Riverside Point, declined to comment. The rules affect its outdoor dining area, which can seat about 40 diners.

The rules do not impact restaurants and bars in the Clarke Quay Conservation Area, which includes River Valley Road, North Boat Quay and Tan Tye Place.

Business analyst Eric Tan, 39, who dines at Clarke Quay once every few months, says: "Overseas, I enjoy dining by the water, whether along West London's riverbank or in Brisbane. My wife and I miss that buzz, so the closest we get would probably be Clarke Quay, even in the humid weather here. It's a refreshing change from the office or shopping malls."

Clarke Quay anchor tenant LifeBrandz, which runs a stable of nightclubs and bars in the area, is similarly fretting over how the curtailed boozing hours will affect its business.

LifeBrandz chief executive Bernard Lim, 44, says: "I think business will be impacted on the whole. People will know it's an early closure joint, they'll party till 1 or 2am and move on to other places. Clarke Quay will be less exciting."

A spokesman for the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, whose two outlets located at Liang Court and Riverside Point will be affected by the licensing rules, says: "We need time to monitor and assess the situation before we can evaluate the impact, if any.

"We fully support responsible drinking and will be more than happy to support any additional measure to address the social problem of drunken behaviour in the area."

Meanwhile, St James Holdings chief executive Dennis Foo, 60, is not that concerned about the new licensing hours - his group's Mandopop club Shanghai Dolly in Clarke Quay typically sees customers coming in as early as 7pm and leaving at around 2 or 3am.

However, he cautions that already tipsy patrons may become unruly when the bar stops serving booze, even though the outlets remain open and the entertainment keeps flowing, and "more trouble will start".

If that happens, he adds, "the top nightlife destination in Asia will become just an ordinary place to visit".

Clubbers and pubgoers may even give Clarke Quay a miss completely, in favour of other 24-hour nightlife zones licensed to serve liquor up till 6am, such as Orchard Road, Marina Bay Sands and Harbourfront.

When SundayLife! headed down to Clarke Quay last weekend, there were still young clubgoers queuing outside nightclubs Dream and Fenix Room at around 3am, hoping to party till dawn.

Inside the clubs, fun-seekers were ordering bottles of liquor and jugs of housepours right up till 5am.

But all that might change when the new restrictions kick in.

As artist Terence Lim, 30, who heads down to Clarke Quay to club once in a while, says: "It's supposed to be a 24-hour party destination. But it definitely won't be one if they stop the sale of booze. Alcohol is what makes things fun, right?"

At least once a month, accountant Jeff Loh unwinds by the Singapore River with his colleagues, having dinner and drinks at Cafe Iguana or Brewerkz at Riverside Point in Merchant Road.

Mr Loh, 31, says: "We enjoy coming here for drinks on Friday nights because there's a nice buzz to the area and everyone is in a good mood, relaxing after a hectic week.

"Riverside dining adds to the charm of Clarke Quay and it will be a pity to cut it down."

Key changes at Clarke Quay

2004: Clarke Quay is designated a 24-hour entertainment zone.

2005: An $80-million revamp is completed, including a network of canopies above the area's two main walkways, with a climate-control system that rains cool mist on visitors.

2005-2006: Clarke Quay becomes an "it" lifestyle destination. Key tenant LifeBrandz opens a slew of bars and nightclubs in the area, including brand-name nightclub the Ministry of Sound (MOS), supper club Barfly and chi-chi bar Fashion Bar. Many of the outlets, including the MOS, close within five years.

January: Another makeover, to the tune of $14.6 million, is completed by landlord CapitaMalls Asia. The walkway along River Valley Road is spruced up and the tenant mix expanded to include more restaurants and bars. There are now 64 tenants at Clarke Quay.

This month: Police announce that shortened liquor licensing hours for Clarke Quay tenants will kick in on Oct 1, following complaints of drunken behaviour in the vicinity.

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