The LGBT guide to Singapore ahead of Pink Dot - how to attend the rally despite curbs, and where to party, drink and eat
Foreigners are no longer allowed to join the rally after the Singapore government amended its public order laws. Here’s our list of bars and clubs that are still welcoming people regardless of sexual orientation
“Don’t worry, I am approved by the government,” says Singaporean cross-dressing stand-up comedian Kumar, assuring his audience that it is alright to laugh at his risqué and politically incorrect jokes.
Kumar, who has been entertaining since the 1990s, has learned to decode Singapore’s “Out of Bounds” or “OB” markers regarding homosexuality. These boundaries include not cross-dressing on national television or at public events, only in clubs and private corporate functions. Gay marriage is not legal in Singapore, where sex between two consenting adult men is a crime punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
“Even though almost every family has a gay person, it is difficult to be openly LGBT in Singapore. Coming out to parents in Singapore is a big issue,” says Kumar, adding that it’s especially hard for people in the corporate world to come out of the closet.
As 51-year-old home-patisserie owner/chef H.L. Chai puts it: “It’s OK to be gay as long as you stay out of trouble, especially with the police.” Chai does not go to spas catering to gay men. “I’ve been told police raid saunas occasionally checking for illegal workers, drug use and licences. It’s also one of their scare tactics. They don’t raid clubs so much.”
In June last year, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs announced an amendment to the Public Order Act, regulating assemblies and processions in public places. Until last year, foreigners were allowed to “observe”, though not take part in the Pink Dot rally. Now, police will no longer distinguish between participants and observers. The gathering at Speaker’s Corner on 1 July, is restricted to Singaporeans and permanent residents. The government’s stated rationale for the move is to prevent foreigners from “advancing political causes in Singapore”.
“We were very sad that new amendments to the Public Order Act in Singapore impose a blanket restriction on foreigners assembling in Speakers’ Corner and had even entertained the thought of cancelling the event as a form of protest,” says Paerin Choa, a spokesperson for Pink Dot Singapore. “But with the knowledge that Pink Dot is the only day where people – regardless of race, language, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity – can come out and be themselves without fear of discrimination, we have chosen to push on with this year’s event.”
J. Tan has been frequenting LGBT-friendly clubs for five years, since he was 20. “I have never met anyone ‘significant’ there so far,” he says. “Most people use the internet and apps to meet other LGBT people.”
From all accounts, though, Singapore still has a vibrant and visible gay scene. Most of the LGBT-friendly places listed below are located in Chinatown. Bar-hopping along Neil Road, is the thing to do for Tan and his friends. There are also a couple of places in the nearby Orchard shopping district.
Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, and aimed for those who love to be somewhere over the rainbow, Dorothy’s Bar is located in the heart of Chinatown. Dorothy’s will live stream the Pink Dot rally at 5pm on July 1. “With the changing rules this year we have many overseas customers and many in house expats who can’t attend the event,” says Rob Collins, owner of Dorothy’s. “We just want out-of-towners to know they have a place, too.”
The 1950s shophouse has terraces overlooking Chinatown. It has been the location of a gay bar for the past 15 years.“We are open to all. We cater to the whole gay market, and LGBTQ in general. We have lots of boys, girls, bi, trans. I think we are the most open in that way.”
13A Trengganu Street
Tel: +65 6221 6806
Currently the only lesbian bar in town, Ladies District will also be live streaming the Pink Dot Rally at their “PINK IS LOVE” event. “We’ve noticed there aren’t any bars that cater exclusively for women, especially queer women,” say owners Nana Aw and Mira. “We want to provide a safe space for them to socialise freely. We feel that the lesbian scene in Singapore has died down a little for lack of places for them to go to. We hope to make things more exciting and fun.”
72 Duxton Road
Tel: +65 8187 5636
While there seems to be a dearth of places for lesbians to meet and party, various clubs do host regular gatherings for the community. Overeasy’s Orchard Road outlet is hosting the PinkDot after party, promising a drag host and line-up of DJs.
541 Orchard Road
Tel: +65 6684 1453
One of the largest on the Neil road stretch, Tantric Bar is a complex comprising the main bar, dance floor, bar lounge area, Peppermint Park restaurant serving handmade pizza and pasta dishes and May Wong Cafe, which has a pool table, dartboards and electro music. You can order bar snacks, such as chicken wings, fried fish balls and seaweed chicken at any of these places. Tantric is a favourite among foreigners, especially at the weekends.
78 Neil Road
Tel: +65 6423 9232
Located opposite Tantric Bar, E-Bar is a gay-friendly karaoke bar, patronised mostly by Cantonese-speaking customers from Singapore and Malaysia. Customers pick a song and wait for their turn. There is a large selection of hits, past and present, in Cantonese, Putonghua and English.
57 Neil Road
Tel: +65 6324 2802
Taboo Club may be the longest-standing gay club in Neil Road, having been around since the 1990s. It is a dance club with a late closing time. It’s a popular place to drop in on after a night of bar-hopping on Neil Street.
65-67 Neil Road
Tel: +65 6225 6256
A traditional Chinese tea house in a three-storey heritage shophouse, Tea Chapter serves different varieties of Chinese tea with light snacks including tea eggs, jellies, sweet pastries and biscuits. It is near the Neil Road clubs and LGBT customers stop by for their “Imperial Golden Cassia”, a light Oolong tea which was served to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited 28 years ago.
9 Neil Road
Tel: +65 6226 1175
DYMK (“Does Your Mother Know”) is a chill out bar catering to a thirsty crowd, with creative décor, comfortable couches, original artwork and wooden settees. There is dancing upstairs and parties on Thursday nights.
41 Neil Road
Tel: + 65 6224 3965
A relative newbie on the Neil Road stretch, the restaurant and dessert place opened in October last year. Another heritage Chinatown shophouse establishment. Its galaxy cakes have become popular and customers swear by their lime margaritas.
47 Neil Road
Tel: +65 6610 6271
Another Neil Road LGBT friendly place. It has a cosy, inclusive atmosphere and everyone seems to know everyone.
43 Neil Road
Tel: +65 6224 2865
W Hotel – Sentosa Cove
On the first Sunday of every month, the W Hotel Sentosa hosts the Endless Summer Pool Party with a line-up of international DJs. “While it’s not an exclusively gay event, you can expect gay men in sexy swimwear to show up,” says Tan.
21 Ocean Way
Tel: +65 6808 7288
Where to relax
Ten Mens Club
This gay sauna’s most popular theme night is a twice –monthly “skin nite”. Located above a Thai restaurant, Ten Mens Club has a relaxed atmosphere and a ‘reject no-one’ policy.
32A Pagoda Street
Tel: +65 6327 8870
Spalogy offers spa and wellness services for men only, including full body aromatherapy massages, water therapy, body scrubs and facials. This spa and its two affiliates, Shuang Spa and Waterspa, have a Trust Accreditation Award from Singapore’s consumer association. Some themed rooms come with a shower attached for full privacy.
34 Craig Road
Tel: +65 6221 2441