During colonial times, freighters in Singapore’s clamoring harbor unloaded goods onto small “bumboats” for transfer up the river to warehouses in Clarke Quay. Today, groups can book modern bumboats to navigate towards the Quay and some of Asia’s newest and hippest dining/nightlife in venues like The Clinic. The edgy gastrolounge features a “pharmacy-kitsch décor” with wheelchairs placed around hospital bed cocktail tables. Drinks are served in syringes or IV bags, the most popular of which is Sex on a Drip.
“Years ago we were seen as a little staid perhaps but as a local I can proudly say that we’ve entered a new era of excitement,” understates Anthony Ang, director of international sales with the DMC, Pacific World Singapore.
“Clarke Quay, for example, is under constant reinvention, it has a very fresh feel so I like to bring friends there who are visiting from overseas. It’s uniquely Singapore, where we’ve always blended the old and new, East and West.”
Check out Bar Cocoon, Singapore’s first ice bar, which sits below Madame Butterfly restaurant. The idea here is you undergo a “metamorphosis” from one venue to the next. The 22,000-sf space also houses a renowned collection of Chinese art. A “spanking new hotspot” (Ang’s words) is ZIRCA where lithe bartenders pour drinks upside down while wrapped in silk drapes hanging from the ceiling. Likewise, the retro supperclub Bellini Grande just opened where attendees dance to the 18-piece house orchestra playing Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass classics, after dining on crayfish cannelloni in the brasserie. YELLO JELLO Retro Bar is also new, where live bands cover The Beatles with “retro funk disco” mixes.
“They’ve put a lot of effort into creating a new Clarke Quay,” says Ang. “In the last few years, suddenly it’s attracting large groups and locals. Because of all the cultural influences, you can inject so many leisure activities into a meeting that are also multi-hued learning experiences.”
The new energy is surging throughout town. Singapore’s rebirth of sorts was made official last year when Amsterdam’s uber edgy supperclub concept opened for the first time in Asia, near the financial district. The 13,000 sf of function space is available for private dinner and events, including the lipstick red Le Bar Rouge and all white La Salle Neige.
Just 15 minutes from downtown, Capella Singapore opened in March on Sentosa Island, rife with tropical foliage surrounding a restored 1880s colonial barracks built by British military. Norman Foster, who’s also British and one of the globe’s greatest living architects, built the rest: 72 rooms, 38 garden villas and 24,500 sf of function space. The four F&B spots include Bob’s Bar, a sexy Cuban rum joint, while the Auriga Spa experience rooms have private floral gardens.
Quick history lesson: Cavanaugh Bridge was built in 1869 to cross Singapore River to the regal parliament offices at Empress Place. It was here where Sir Stamford Raffles established the British Empire in the Far East. Two centuries ago, English merchants traded for Javanese tea at the foot of the bridge. Today, well-dressed attendees traverse the Victorian span on their way to hear the national symphony.
Just ask, and they’ll close the thing down.
“That’s my favorite venue for groups,” says Ms. Wen Ee Lim, Singapore Tourism Board’s eastern US director. “The Convention Bureau will block the bridge off for dinner under the stars, and that provides a very exclusive ambience for up to 150 people. It’s wonderful. We’ll have local chefs set up food stations and everybody sort of mingles about, which really enhances networking while having fun.”
In the era of globalization, the city-state is Asia’s face of multiculturalism. A population of 4.8 million is a mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian, infused with over 1 million expats. It’s the global melting pot and food is serious business. In the 2009 Miele Guide, three of the top four restaurants in all of Asia are in Singapore: Iggy’s, Les Amis and Gunther’s.
“We’re very open to food. Our two favorite pastimes are shopping and eating. We go crazy about that,” giggles Lim. “Due to our pool of nationalities, cuisine in Singapore is such a vibrant blend of fusion and experimentation.”
Lim also suggests group dinners in the Old Parliament House, converted in 2004 to The Arts House—a new age art and performance venue. The six private function rooms seating 150 are the epitome of British Colonialism, including the original debating hall and Prime Minister’s office. “It’s very intimate and you feel like royalty,” she adds.
For hotel venues, Cynthia Duggan, CMP/CMM, has orchestrated numerous international meetings based at Fairmont Singapore and the legendary Raffles Hotel Singapore near the harbor, along with The Regent Singapore off the famed shopping street Orchard Road. Her last group with Abbott Nutrition International in January consisted of 330 delegates with 75 members from the US attending the company’s 2009 global marketing meeting.
“Even if you’re a very experienced traveler who knows food, you might not know Malaysian cuisine very well, so Singapore takes it up another level,” says Duggan. “Plus the service is just phenomenal, it’s raised to an art form there.”
Fairmont designed a 5-course dinner with three small Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes per course. There was also art and music from each culture, and everyone was welcomed with a scarf made of three different fabrics, one from each culture.
“Not only was the food utterly delicious, every dish looked like a work of art,” says Duggan. She also enjoys Singapore’s hip hotspots. Her group visited the new gastrobar One Rochester, a 1930s heritage house with lots of buzz, lush gardens and design mixing Chinois-eclectic and resort casual.
Back by the harbor, Anthony Ang recommends The China Club on the 52nd floor atop The Capital Tower, with views clear to Malaysia. The private executive club and restaurant seats up to 180, serving dishes like hoisin marinated rack of lamb with black pepper tiger prawns. Pacific World is a member, and Ang likes to create events with a string and flute orchestra and bian lian opera performers. That’s a traditional Chinese “face changing” drama involving dancers revealing a different mask in rapid succession. Somewhat appropriate in today’s Singapore.