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TIME Magazine article 19th July 1999, see bottom of this page
November 1999 issue of Interiors - New York
The Sugar Vault Singapore 2000
By Eddy Koh : Men's Folio
The main hall is a cool gray industrial space with raw cement and burnished stainless steel finishing. A long bar counter hugs one side of the hall while hexagonal-shaped tables repeat the shape of the holographic vinyl wall-pads seen at the end wall
The male and female restrooms are divided by a glass brick wall. The interiors are clinical looking with stainless steel basins, gray cement flooring and holographic vinyl-padded walls
View of the transition from closed-in space to the open-air courtyard. On the left is the computerized music system which is neatly tucked away in a cubby box reached via a ladder.
Inspired by a Mexican hacienda spread in Vogue Magazine, the open-air courtyard with an original well at the back of the bar is a sparse space with a brilliant palette in the style of architect Luis Barragan. Originally planned as an alfresco sitting area, Gary says the authorities did not allow the intention as the open bar area with its attendant noise-level is too close to Aspen Heights Condominium for the comfort of residence there
A metal circular staircase leads to the upper floors which house the offices and storage areas
Another view of the back courtyard looking onto the circular staircase. The red panel keeps the air cooling system out of sight
S W E E T S W I T C H
Portrait photographer Gary Sng is passionate about his new joy of a job as the owner of Sugar Bar, the latest darling of the chi-chi crowd with its lovely three-in-one ambient effects.
Laidback-looking Gary has an engaging way of rolling his eyes when he says something witty or funny before breaking into a soft chuckle. He does that a lot these days in the flurry of renewing old acquaintances and meeting close friends as they flock in to check out his Sugar Bar, all eager to confirm grapevine reports of how clever and imaginative the place is before passing on the good news.
Smack in the middle of the terrace house row in Mohamed Sultan Road which is better known for its motley mix of salt-of-the-earth drinking joints, and mobs of barely-past 18-year-old act-toughs cruising the strip for cheap beer. Sugar is a diva with a three-tier tiara. It's way way more ostentatious-looking with designer-garbed clientele paying higher-priced drinks.
An interior designer's dream realm behind its forbidding but elegant Straits-Chinese architectural facade, Sugar's entrance hall is a tribute to the Italian renaissance with its floral-motif fresco-decorated walls and vaulted ceiling, an opulent green and clear crystal chandelier, and a marble mosaic floor paved after San Marco Square in Venice. But this romantic vestibule from the past is abruptly left behind when you enter the second hall.
A cool gray industrial space with a hint of 70's retro disco feel, the second hall is all about raw cement-screed flooring, granite-cladding, a streamlined brushed stainless steel long bar, hexagonal aluminum tables with glittering vinyl stools, gleaming mirror balls hanging down the skylight, and a holographic vinyl-padded wall. Gary refers to it as the main hall as this is where mingling is at its meatiest.
Gary explains that it is also the spot which will undergo a design makeover once every three months. "You might find a place you like to go to but year in and year out, it's still the same, I want Sugar to be different. To constantly change. So I put aside a budget to do this (with the help of an in-house artist)." If you observe carefully, the main hall is a basic generic shell with stage-ready details like vinyl pads velcroed onto the wall so that they can be easily changed, eye-beams you can hook things on, and a steel-reinforced drinks-rail that can hold up large wall props. A space that's ready to be transformed into whatever fancy strikes Gary.
When you decide to break away to relieve your body fluids or freshen up your breathing apparatus, Sugar's open-air courtyard at the back is a rainbow barrage of bright pink, orange and lime walls a la Mexican hacienda style popularized by architect Luis Barragan.
This procession of three diverse design themes at Sugar is Gary's creative indulgence par excellence. It comes after his two and a half years hiatus from work. In that time, he was pre-occupied with his mother's health. Gary says that her serious medical condition has stabilized and she is well-cared for by two nurses. It was in February '98 that he decided to start doing something again but just didn't want to go back to photography. Or take the predictable video route most photographers here graduate to.
"I decided to open a bar or club because I had always wanted to. I have been clubbing since I was 16 and I basically know what is lacking (here). It is based on info that has subconsciously filtered in," says the bubbly 34-year-old who has been organizing parties for Velvet Underground, Zouk and Boom Boom Room on and off in the past few years.
Gary says opening Sugar is not very different from when he was doing photography. "I only shot people and it was the interaction that interests me. Getting the right responses from them and setting the atmosphere. I like to shoot them in very artificial sets, very created. Now the bar is very created. Except that people walk into it now and there are sound effects. So Sugar stems from my photography concept," says the ebullient cameraman behind Dick Lee's Mad Chinaman' album cover and many others for the region's better known artists.
Gary had originally bought house number 25 down the road to use as a photo studio but a building control stipulation that would have reduced the useable space put paid to it. He sold the house a while back and as fate would have it, number 13 came on the market for sale when he started searching for a premises for Sugar.
"In a place like Singapore where rents can go haywire, it is a good idea to own the building. Otherwise I wouldn't pump money into it (the architectural renovations). I would say it is more feasible for me to do whatever to make the place more special when it's my own. There is no need to suffer the consequences of the landlord," says the astute business side of Gary.
Talking about his Sugar design collaboration with Poole Associates, the people who are also responsible for his residential interiors, Gary says: "When I sit down with Ed and tell him my ideas, he is able to pick them up immediately. We get things settled quickly at each meeting. (For instance) I got the idea for the courtyard from a Mexican spread in Vogue (magazine) and when I shared it with Ed, he knew about it and he mentioned the name of the architect. The courtyard is refreshing. We need to liven Sugar up. It's also an extension of my 'Vivid' exhibition which was about all these colors.
"I like to buy the fixtures and fittings first. Like the (entrance hall) chandelier from Bangkok. Then Ed will go from there. He gets it all together. If you go the other way, you might not be able to buy the right item to fit."
The design part is simple for Gary. The toughest is coming up with a name that is catchy. "Sugar is so simple. It sounds like good clean fun. Every time you go out for a meal, there's sugar in front of you. It's like free advertising for us unless people decided not to call sugar, sugar."
Gary also capitalized on the name by using hexagonal shapes to mimic the chemical structure of sugar in the interiors finishings. For the graphics and a small line of merchandise including T-shirts, tea and coffee cups, and a CD (in cooperation with Rock Records), Equinox Design gave Sugar a fun approach with cheerful colors.
Friends are making Gary's place happening. "I originally didn't want to advertise. I am a bit precious about it. Calling and inviting friends, instead. Luckily, word has spread very fast. Sugar now has a bizarre mixed crowd. Maybe I shouldn't use the word bizarre. It might put people off," he laughs. You will most likely meet the advertising, entertainment and creative types here with a sprinkling of the curious who spill over from their regular haunts down the road.
Very much an entertainer himself (he was one of the 'Supple Sisters' trio who performed AIDS education skits in a funny but informative way at AFA events during the mid '80's), Gary is a self professed leftover from the disco-era who plays mainly disco and high energy music at Sugar to attract what he describes as "People who know how to have civilized fun. People who can let their hair down without feeling bad".
We would add that Sugar is for those of us who also appreciate little personal touches like the stuff Gary picks up from the supermart and video store for the bar - the campy Barbarella and Frankenstein videos, seasonal flowers, scented tea candles and complimentary sweets. With a staff strength of 15, Sugar is no masak-masak. It functions more like a full-fledged club than the bar it actually is. And we can bank on it never looking common nor feeling tired with the different transformations Gary has in mind for Sugar in the coming months.
No. 2 Nov | Dec 1998
A delicate beauty contrasts with the hand-painted grotesques and crackle-finish. She wears Blumarine wool turtleneck.
Spin spin sugar
Mirror balls of assorted sizes hanging from the light well dazzle with disco drama. She wears metallic dress by Moschino Jeans. Shoes by Anna Molinari.
Art Deco lamps above the main bar.
The padded honeycomb wall shimmers with holographic vinyl. He wears cotton fitted shirt, flat-front pants, both by D2.
Toilet doors of ring-polished stainless steel are high on proportion and ziltch on words. He wears stretch cotton sleeveless shirt, matching tie, both from D2.
Adding zap to Zen
Prehistoric Balinese lava pots riddle the courtyard. He wears a yellow sleeveless top, white denim jeans, all from Power Tools
Photographer : Mark Law
Sittings editor : Jeffrey Tay
Hair : Dennis Seah
Makeup : Wilson Eng
Models : Kaoru & Jeoffrey
I F T H E W A L L S C O U L D T A L K
Sugar is way off the usual 'been-there, drunk-and-passed-out-there' trail, like Orchard Road, Boat Quay or Holland Village. Its location at Mohamed Sultan Road is really a hoot, being enticingly offbeat and quaint. Off River Valley Road, this quiet street (in daylight hours), features a neat row of prewar shop houses, some nicely restored, housing a mix of homes, entertainment outlets and offices.
Though concrete urbanization fast encroaches and threatens to overwhelm the street with overpowering office blocks, it still has a certain charm. And certainly, a quietly thriving nightlife. Way down yonder, decrepit warehouses are found over one side, while down at the other, crowded late-night coffee shops offer scrumptious local hawker fare that cost a mere fraction of that gin-and-tonic poison you imbibed earlier in the evening.
Here, you literally rub shoulders and share makeshift tables with other night prowlers - Thai and Indian foreign construction workers, dialect speaking, gold chain-riddled, middle-aged men sprouting monstrous neighborhood perms, good-time party queens (both sexes included) with attitude and drop-by-the-minute accents.
Now, let not Sugar mislead you by virtue of its name, because it is not a sweetie Bo Peep-and-Peek style karaoke joint heavy on curtained ruffles and nymphet waitresses or a darkened dingy dive for drunk, stressed-out executive types riding out the economic crisis.
So Sugar is...hmm, well, what? For starters it's a bar set on the ground floor of a refurbished, three-story shop house. Now imagine three distinctly different areas. First, a monastic vaulted front room with camp, eccentric French Renaissance accents (crackle-finish walls with hand-painted faeries, a grand chandelier, disco-glitter bar counter). Then, a main bar room discofied to the hilt (13 revolving mirror balls, Art Deco lamps, holographic vinyl wall padding).
Finally, an open air, Zen-like courtyard infused with contradiction (antique Balinese lava pots juxtaposed against walls screaming blazing colors). Getting the picture? Guess what, you're still not there.
Work with me, now. Forget that Viagra pill, because at Sugar, you can gulp down a Frozen Orgasm, a house specialty with potent shots like Baileys Irish Cream and Tia Maria all slushed up. That guarantees a lasting, climactic high that just keeps riding on and on (trust me, the build-up is just the fun).
Let that Orgasm course through your body, tingling your senses, while remixes of Sister Sledge, Sylvester and other divas snap with funky fortitude.
Once you get past the solid wooden doors, the feel is of another time, another place. The essence of Sugar, really, is the evocation of various moods through diverse settings as you move from the entrance area to the main room, and from there to the courtyard way back. The decor takes you on an entertaining visual journey that embraces both modern and traditional; high camp and calm; disco overdrive and classical undertones.
Observations pour forth from gregarious Sugar owner and director, 34-year-old Gary Sng. I prod incessantly for buzz words. He valiantly keeps up, 'High energy bar. Camp. Futuristic. Modern'. A deep breath. 'Very unSingaporean'.
What's with the name? 'I decided on something generic and catchy that every Singaporean can remember and pronounce'. Sng explains, 'And then I thought, 'Sugar'! After all, every time you go out for a meal in a restaurant or coffee house, you see packets of sugar on the table - free advertising for the club!'
Ad gab aside, he wanted a bar that was different from every other place on Mohamed Sultan's row, and anywhere else in Singapore, for that matter. A former fashion and portrait photographer who studied at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Sng explained that he missed creating and wanted a place he could design 'just like a set from one of my photo shoots; a place to play my own music, mostly 70's music with a twist, rather than the usual stuff you hear all around you. I like that era, that was my time'.
He is clearly serious about enjoying and promoting the sounds of that era which saw, at its peak, a much slimmer John Travolta gyrating to the disco beat in the 1977 hit movie, Saturday Night Fever. Sng scoured through London and the US for music, yielding quite a bounty. His Data-Beat computerized sound system has some 3,000 remixed songs (with more than half of disco persuasion) just waiting to be blasted through Nexo speakers.
Sugar has, in fact already produced a remix compilation CD of popular 70's sounds called An Evening at Sugar. 'There are some campy songs, like the first track, which is a new take on the theme song from Charlie's Angels, and then there is Thelma Houstons Don't Leave Me This Way'. Other tracks given a shot of innovative computer sound imaging include Xanadu, Let's All Chant and I Am What I Am.
At $13, it is available at the bar and 'any record shop that wants to carry us'. Sng has a succinct tale of the number 13, normally associated with bad fortune, but which is his favorite number anyway. 'The bar is located at number 13. There are 13 songs on the CD, which costs the same figure. And in the main disco room, there are 13 mirrored balls'.
Working with design consultant Ed Poole of Poole Associates, the concept of Sugar was borne with the initial accessories like the Art Deco lamps and Venetian glass chandelier. Sng explained, 'Whenever I do something, I always buy the lightings and fittings first'.
The bar opened in October this year after almost six months of extensive renovation, which included stripping down and rebuilding termite-infested walls, reinforcing drink bar counters with concrete and steel, and installing an elaborate air-conditioning system. 'Good ventilation is vital - when you leave Sugar, you won't smell of cigarette smoke', he reasons.
The front room, with its monastic vaulted ceiling, has an elegantly eccentric French Renaissance feel. The ceiling and walls feature exquisite hand-painted grotesques 'inspired by Marie Antoinette's bedroom'. Playful faeries pose in peek-a-boo fashion among the painted flora and urns. The grotesques and crackle-wall effect (created by a chemical reaction between different paints) took a month to achieve and was the handiwork of Filipino fine arts artist Willy Baet.
The flooring, inspired by an old Italian palace, is a muted geometric concoction of silica sand terrazzo, white marble crystal and set fragments of smashed-up champagne and wine bottles.
The room has been kept deliberately low-key for a variety of reasons. Since the target clientele is the crowd from advertising, entertainment and media as well as 'civilized party people', Sng rightly reasoned that 'anyone walking through the front doors would think it is an older person's sort of place, with cigars and wine. That keeps the young, wild kids out'.
Of course, after a minute (ten seconds on the flora, the rest on the faeries), you start taking in the champagne-toned glitter of the bar counter. The shiny, sequin-padded bar wall. And the final stamp of camp - an ostentatious Venetian glass chandelier which Sng purchased from an antique shop in River City in Bangkok.
Drift into the next room, the sprawling main bar area, which has a futuristic feel, with Art Deco accents, like the long streamlined ceiling lamps from San Francisco. The color scheme has deliberately been kept monochromatic, with a muted palette of silvers and grays, carefully chosen to highlight and recess objects and surfaces. Flooring is in plain cement. The bar area is spare and streamlined, with a stainless steel counter. The sense of embellished minimalism conjures up images of Star Trek on a collision course with a disco ship.
One wall is strikingly packed with honeycomb-inspired hexagonal shapes covered with holographic vinyl, and another with glass blocks. The decor theme here is in keeping with the name of the bar. See, sugar crystals are new, shiny, clear and sweet cubes, just like the shiny vinyl, the cubic glass blocks, the honeycombs. Get it?
The New-Age television sets boast completely flat screens, which eradicate any reflection from disco lighting. They play black and white classics, like Psycho and Frankenstein, including a cheeky take with Road To Singapore, a 1940's film starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.
The light well at the center of the room holds a surprise. At midnight, a special motorized rig dramatically lowers a contraption which holds 13 mirrored disco balls of different sizes and dimensions. Sng promises exciting revamps for the room every three months.
Toilets feature extra tall ring-polished stainless steel doors that stretch proportion. No lettering here, simply symbols for both sexes that often create confusion and unintended toilet humor among clueless patrons.
In there, the user-friendly, hands-free policy is taken a step further than just auto-flush. In order to activate the taps, one has to step on the floor. That takes a while to figure out, especially when tipsy. As you are waiting for tap water (which means you are still rooted to the wrong spot), while away time with piped-in music, which is different from the rest of the bar. It is a constant surprise - Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street singing a duet, a soprano trilling her lungs out, and even a Mancini reworking of Madonna's Material Girl.
Finally, the courtyard. The setting is inspired by the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragan, noted for his work on city suburbs, a Zen-like feel prevails, with antique Balinese lava pots strategically placed, making it almost perfect for winding down after the frenetic interior.
Again, there is the element of contrast and irony, because the hard abstract stone pots seem to take on the look of alien pods, suggesting organic growth. (Then again, the multiple Frozen Orgasms could really be kicking in by now). Adding zap to Zen are walls painted intense floral petal tones, like tangerine, rocket red, apple green, raspberry, hot pink and bougainvillea.
By now, as you stumble through the courtyard, you may be mind-boggled, pop-eyed, confused, or just plain drunk. And still insist, 'Look here, what's Sugar?' Right, here goes: It is honeyed. Lush. Sticky. And oh yes, sweet.
Sound file sample from: An Evening at Sugar 1998 Rock Records (S) Pte Ltd. All Tracks under license from VMP International. All rights of the producer and of the owner of the work reproduced reserved. Unauthorized copying, hiring, lending, public performance and broadcasting of this recording prohibited. Marketed and distributed by Rock Records (S) Pte Ltd
Photography: Peter Mealin
S U G A R S W E E T
One of the most extraordinary pubs around Mohamed Sultan Road, Sugar breaks away from the dark interiors common to most pubs in the area.
It consists of three sections with each having its own unique identity. As you walk through the doors, you are greeted with Roman architecture and an intricate fresco; ideas taken from the bedroom of the beheaded Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. A chandelier is the main focus, but if you have the time, study the crack-wall paint and find strange creatures with human heads and ornate flowers and plants reaching for the ceiling (Marie sure had strange bedroom companions).
Another door leads you into what could very well be the belly of an alien spaceship with its psychedelic, refractive walls and table tops! The wonderful thing about this area is that you may come back a month later and find the decor has changed. This chameleon effect is the brainchild of the owners who think that this will keep up customers' interest in the pub. A DJ spins music to dance to but look out for the descending mirror balls (yes plural!). A stark contrast to this is the alfresco Japanese Zen-like courtyard out back. It has a more serene and surreal feel to it. No music there though, but that is its charm. An original water well (filled up and with fish in it!) is an unusual icon here.
The crowd is definitely the younger yuppie crowd. Besides the run-of-the-mill house pours, Sugar experiments with Slushes - try the Frozen Orgasm. Kudos must go to the very young and adventurous owners for Sugar's all-round, non-conformist concept. Memorabilia are for sale for those who would like to take a little Sugar home.
Singapore July 19th 1999
Singapore's arts scene and nightlife have changed dramatically. AIDS, a subject once considered taboo in the public realm, was aired in a recent play featuring Paddy Chew, above. Locals looking for something lighter head to the SUGAR BAR, left, on Mohamed Sultan Road, for a shot of tequila. Or they hit the dance floor at Zouk, far left, where DJ's are often flown in from Europe for the packed weeknight crowds
photo : John Stanmeyer--Saba for TIME
S I N G A P O R E L I G H T E N S U P [excerpt]
Nanny state? Hardly. Once notorious for tight government control, the city-state is getting competitive, creative, even funky.
Three of the above projects listed: Sugar, Hooters & House of Mao, were designed by Poole Associates Private Limited