While in Singapore for the grand opening of the Marina Bay Sands casino resort, I had an evening out with Dennis Foo, CEO of Saint James Holdings and Singapore’s leading nightlife impresario. We started at Saint James Power Station, a ten club complex that Foo created inside a decommissioned electric generating plant. The different room feature entertainment from Canto pop to hard rock to Paraguayan acoustic, and, even on a Wednesday night during World Cup, the place was hopping.
After giving me the tour, Foo suggested we check out Shanghai Dolly. As in most Foo’s clubs, live entertainment is big part of the Shanghai Dolly experience. There are about 20 Shanghai Dollies, including some male Dollies, singing mainly in Mandarin and dancing in the vast downstairs bar area with tables and a dance floor. In the best tradition of modern Singapore, the show is sexy but not sleazy. Upstairs, there’s a restaurant that serves food until 3:30am, and a piano lounge, where a Dolly tickles the ivories and sings alone with a partner. A fellow patron assured me that I could request songs in English.
Shanghai Dolly’s success seems natural; Foo claims it’s the highest grossing club in Singapore – but Foo reminded me that he took over the site from Crazy Horse Paris. Singapore’s government brought in a branch of the French topless cabaret to boost tourism and demonstrate that it had grown up into a modern, progressive city, no more nanny state. Crazy Horse was a dismal failure. Singapore’s casino resorts are another bold step with the same aim. As I wrote in Asia Times, even the boldest step is simply the first step along a lengthy road to success, or failure.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.