The miracle that Zouk needs

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By Ivan Lim

So Zouk — the longest-running club in Singapore, global dance club icon and tourist attraction — will cease operating at the end of the year. Unless a miracle happens.

But why let it go?

Why allow something that put Singapore on the world map of entertainment long

before the advent of the integrated resorts and Formula One Grand Prix to be lost forever? Why allow an icon that has been a rite of passage for many a Singaporean fade into oblivion when it is still so relevant and loved?

The 23-year-old super club, a fixture on DJ Mag’s annual Top 100 Clubs poll where it was placed seventh last year, has had its lease extended thrice – each for a period of six months.

Zouk’s founder and owner, Lincoln Cheng, requires a longer lease extension at the end of 2014 –three years – so that the club can find a suitable venue and build a new space to move into.

Cheng, 67, has expressed a very strong interest in moving to the area where the Singapore Flyer stands, and many netizens have agreed that Zouk being the anchor tenant there might just solve the problems that either side is facing.

It was reported that the company that runs the Singapore Flyer is bankrupt and is waiting for tenderers before it can make the site available to potential tenants such as Zouk.

In the meantime, the six-month lease on Zouk’s current location at Jiak Kim Street is too short for the club to operate within and it offers little in the way of job security for Zouk’s 200 anxious employees, more than 40 per cent of whom have worked with the club for more than 15 years.

Would another extension be granted?

The official word, from the Urban Redevelopment Authority is that “over time, the surrounding area has become an established residential precinct. As such, the use of the site by Zouk has become incompatible with the residential nature of the area.”

According to newspaper reports, residents of the surrounding condominiums have told URA of the “nuisance” caused by large numbers of young people at the waterfront area near Zouk.

The suggestion that the “nuisance”, which includes noise and litter, specifically bottles and cans, is because of Zouk may not be totally compatible with the truth.

Zouk, as far as I know in the 23 years of its existence on the street, does not sell drinks to be consumed outside of their club. It also does not allow bottles or drinks to be taken out of the club premises.

Which means, of course, that the people who are causing the “nuisance” which the condominium residents have to put up with are not from Zouk.

The outdoor drinkers who have so offended the condominium owners get their supply of drinks from nearby convenience stores.

Zouk has even made overtures to these outdoor drinkers, giving them flyers to invite them to the club with promotions and events, but with very limited success as the drinks from the convenience stores are obviously and understandably a lot less expensive than those sold at the nightspot.

Alcohol picnickers continue to camp out at the waterfront even on non- clubbing nights at Zouk.

What to do then?

The authorities could ban the sale of alcohol at convenience stores in the vicinity of these condominiums after sunset. Which means, of course, that these alcohol picnickers would simply get their alcohol from another convenience store or at a supermarket before heading to their own self-made outdoor nightspot or alcohol picnic, which would, of course, not remove the nuisance.

However, if the powers that be were to ban outdoor drinking, or confine drinking to within a venue with a liquor licence, the nuisance would be considerably reduced.

If these options are incompatible with the resolve of the powers that be, then Zouk will have to be sacrificed.

In any case, it is extremely odd to link public drinking nuisance to Zouk, which has done all it can to keep the noise levels down, even hiring auxiliary police to maintain traffic at the entrance to Jiak Kim Street.

Should that measure – that of banning public drinking, or banning public drinking at the waterfront area – be put in place, would the URA budge on a request for another extension?

According to its spokesman, Zouk will need to find a new site and “not count on indefinite extensions. The site which Zouk now occupies was slated for hotel use under a previous MasterPlan, but has since become “Residential with Commercial at first storey” following its development into a residential area.

However, Zouk is by no means asking for an indefinite extension. All it is asking for is three years – so that during that time, it can find a suitable location, build a new club and start operating from there.

Some have suggested that the magic may be lost should Zouk move from its present location. Perhaps. But if you consider the success of the 10-year-old Zouk Kuala Lumpur, success at an alternative venue within our shores would be more easily replicated.

Besides requiring a three-year extension would also address the concern of job security for Zouk’s200 employees.

Zouk has been looking for a new venue since 2010 and the Singapore Tourism Board has done its part in facilitating talks between Zouk and the owners of commercial properties as well as government agencies.

Singapore, with more than 1,000 nightspots, has a vibrant nightlife with possibly the best variety of clubs in the world. There are regular bars and pubs, Thai-style discos, Chinese nightclubs and Bollywood-style clubs too, along with dance clubs. The crown jewel of this plethora of nightspots has to be Zouk.

Its programming remains the best in the country and region, with top DJs performing regularly throughout the year. After 23 years, it continues to attract probably the best-looking clubbing crowd in the land, many of whom were not even born when the club first opened its doors.

Cheng has announced his decision to close Zouk if there is no three-year extension and the availability of a suitable venue.

Zouk has also started an online petition, www.save-zouk.com, as a signal to the powers that be of the popularity of the famed club. The number of clubbers signing that petition is expected to exceed the population of a Group Representation Constituency, but the exercise is more a symbolic gesture than a demand for action, though with it, Cheng has placed the ball firmly in the authorities’ court.

Every weekend, the club sees 10,000 visitors through its velvet rope. Its annual outdoor festival, ZoukOut, brings in up to 40,000 visitors, including tourists who fly in specifically for it.

It would be a tragedy to let it go.

Unless, of course, the authorities decide to play ball, which will be the miracle that Zouk so badly needs now.