Commerce Now and Then
Together with Boat Quay, Clarke Quay – a waterfront area located upstream from its historical counterpart – used to be the heart of commerce and trade during colonial life in Singapore. Named after the 1870s governor of the British Straits Settlement, this part of town along the Singapore River was a prime location for warehouses and cargo boats for about one and a half centuries. Though there is not much left to bear witness to its somewhat rough-and-tumble past, Clarke Quay remains true to its commercial roots, after a fashion.
Since the early 1990s, the riverside promenades of “CQ”, where stevedores, seamen, traders, and hawkers once thronged, have become a favorite destination for shopping enthusiasts, tourists, and partygoers. The thriving retail and entertainment precinct harbors several pedestrian malls along the quay, as well as one of the hubs of Singapore’s bustling nightlife.
A Paradise for Shopping Lovers and Party Animals
The Central Shopping Mall is probably the best-connected of the various department stores in the neighborhood. The five-level, 19,000 m² shopping center sits directly above Clarke Quay MRT station, an underground stop of the local rapid transit network.
The huge complex with its distinct Japanese theme features several fashion and design outlets, plus over 150 retailers, offering everything from art to fine wines, from beauty treatments to stylish homeware and knick-knack souvenirs. On the weekend, the Central Singapore River Market transforms the promenades outside into an open-air maze of arts and crafts stalls, inviting both locals and tourists for a leisurely stroll and some gift-shopping.
On the other riverbank, you will find Clarke Quay proper, a popular assortment of numerous venues for dining, drinking, and clubbing. Sleepy in the morning and pretty low-key during the day, CQ doesn’t wake up until night falls in Singapore – and then keeps partying from dusk till dawn. The former godowns (warehouses), now splendidly refurbished, and tongkangs (Malay cargo vessels), moored along the riverfront, house a variety of bars, pubs, cafés, ice-cream parlors, restaurants, live-music venues, lounges, and nightclubs.
Tips for Dining and Clubbing
If you enjoy Asian food, Clarke Quay is definitely the right place to go. Within a fairly small area, you can feast on Balinese, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, and Vietnamese dishes, or taste contemporary Pan-Asian fusion cuisine. Carnivores may rather go for the local steakhouses or BBQ places, and you could try the more dubious charms of takeaway franchises or the Singapore Hooters as well. German travelers and expats might be tempted to have a look at the Paulaner Beerhouse – also represented at the annual Singapore Oktoberfest – and see what passes for authentic “Gemütlichkeit” halfway around the globe.
After a lavish dinner at Clarke Quay, it is probably not advisable to join the screaming youths on the reverse bungee thrill ride, the only one of its kind in the city. After all, there are plenty of other venues to choose from. However, you shouldn’t be adverse to “themed” clubs and lounge bars: From faux-Cuban to pseudo-Irish, there’s a lot of that going on here.
But never mind the décor and interior design. Music is king in the later hours of the evening. For hip-hop or R&B, you should pop in at The Arena; Mandopop lovers hang out at Shanghai Dolly, and to listen to some blues, folk, or rock, you have to seek out The Crazy Elephant. The best live acts normally show up at Grand Hollywood, whereas PlayHouse hosts slightly risqué cabaret shows. Once the night is no longer that young, the real party is only getting started – at least at The Attica and its spin-off venue, Attica Too.
Escape from CQ
Of course, Clarke Quay has its downsides, too. With several international hotel chains in the vicinity, it is a rather touristy area that often gets very crowded at night.
If all the hustle-and-bustle should prove too much for you, there’s an easy escape from CQ’s party people. Just take a river cruise that starts at Clarke Quay. In the comparative serenity of your boat, you will be able to relax a bit and admire the bright neon-colors of the nightly illuminations from afar.