Clarke Quay operators: Shorter liquor hours won't work

A fight breaking out among friends at Clarke Quay Read Bridge on Sunday morning (July 21). No one was injured.

SINGAPORE - It was 4am on Sunday and Clarke Quay was still bustling with revellers.

At Read Bridge, which links the quay to Riverside Point, an argument turned into a shoving match between intoxicated men. They were friends.

Around Clarke Quay, four people had passed out in public, among them a woman who struggled to respond coherently to her friends' attempts to rouse her.

The bridge was littered with young people, including tourists and expatriates, still drinking alcohol despite the late hour.

Next to them were empty bottles and cans of booze, some still inside plastic bags from the nearby convenience stores.

But these scenes could soon be a thing of the past.

From Oct 1, Clarke Quay tenants will see shortened liquor licensing hours following reports of drunken behaviour in the area.

They can no longer sell alcohol after 3am on Sundays and weekdays, and after 4am on Saturdays and the eve of public holidays.

When contacted, a police spokesman told The New Paper that the new ruling will also affect convenience stores in the area.

Could this be the solution to the problem of drunk and rowdy revellers plaguing the entertainment district?

A manager at a restaurant at Clarke Quay, who declined to be named, doesn't think so.

"Shortening the hours of alcohol sales may not be the solution. These people could always buy their alcohol early and drink after 3am or 4am," he said.

"As long as public drinking is allowed on the streets and at places like Read Bridge, which is away from the clubs and bars, you'll still see drunken people and fights breaking out. "I don't think the new ruling will change things."

Other operators agreed.

Instead of a blanket ban, some suggested that landlords should have more security personnel monitoring common areas. More police patrols would also help.

If the aim is to stop the problem of public drinking, perhaps the solution is to ban drinking in public areas, said a bar manager who also declined to be identified.

Attica's marketing manager Amanda Ng, 33, agreed that the authorities could have considered making Clarke Quay "a dry zone where no street drinking is allowed".

Cheaper alternatives

Others, like Mr Gordon Foo, pin Clarke Quay's woes on the nearby convenience stores, which sell cheaper alcoholic drinks.

The 30-year-old coordinating director for operations at St James Holdings that manages Mandopop club Shanghai Dolly at Clarke Quay, said: "Curtailing liquor licence hours may be a solution, but really the convenient stores selling cheap alcohol are also responsible for what is happening."

He has a point.

When TNP visited two convenience stores in the area at around 2am , business was brisk with snaking queues of shoppers carrying shopping baskets filled with alcoholic drinks. It is understood these stores currently have licences to sell alcohol round the clock.

Attica's Ms Ng said: "If these stores contribute to the problems at Clarke Quay, then targeting just the nightspots is extreme.

"Clubs here have a demerit points system so they could tighten that rule instead of enforcing a blanket ban."

Under the demerit system, if a club continues to serve alcohol to an intoxicated patron, it risks being fined up to $5,000.

And if it doesn't ensure that fights don't break out on its premises, it may receive demerit points that could lead to its licence being revoked.

Today, Clarke Quay houses more than 60 tenants, including nightclub Attica, which opened in 2004, and Shanghai Dolly, which opened in 2009.

So how bad does it get after 4am?

Very bad, said cleaner Kerra Peli, 46, who has the worst job there.

"Every week, it's always the same. They get drunk and then they fight," the bachelor from Sarawak, Malaysia, said, as he readied a plastic bag to pick up the bottles and beer cans left behind.

"I've worked here for over a year and I always see an endless stream of drunks and fights. These drinkers will sit here until early morning, leaving a huge amount of trash we have to pick up."

In May, it was reported that there had been an increase in thefts in the area in recent years - from an average of three cases a month in 2011 to five in May.

The police have sent out alerts about molest and thefts, with Read Bridge identified as "a particularly vulnerable area" for theft.

Mr Foo said: "The crime situation at Clarke Quay must have reached a tipping point for the authorities to take such an action".

While clubbers approached by TNP said the ruling was "absurd", the club operators said it was too early to say if it will have any impact on business.

Mr Foo said: "Our customers come in as early as 7pm, hence the effect on our business may not be that much. However, it may not be the same for clubs that attract a late crowd."

Replying to the concerns of club operators, Ms Indranee Rajah, Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC, said: "The root of the problem is excessive alcohol consumption. Having more security personnel or police patrols would not address that."

She said the idea is not to stop people enjoying themselves, but to limit excessive drinking.

"One way of re-calibrating the balance is to adjust the duration of time within which people can have access to alcohol. That's what the recent changes seek to do," she added.

Nuisance

She said excessive drinking leads to issues like public disorder, fights and rowdiness, and social nuisances like noise, littering and vomiting in public areas.

In 2011, Ms Rajah, who is also the Senior Minister of State for Education, called for alcohol to be banned around the nearby Robertson Quay area.

Residents in her ward had complained about the littering, noise and drunks in the area.

Ms Rajah also added that the new restrictions at Clarke Quay would have no impact on the problems at Robertson Quay.

She said: "The problem of drunkenness with the consequential nuisances arises from youth buying alcohol from convenience stores and other outlets, then bringing it to Robertson Quay to party.

"I remain of the view that the only long-term and effective solution to the Robertson Quay problem is to have the bridges and pedestrian walkways around Robertson Quay declared as non-alcohol zones."

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