Around midnight, a female impersonator in a blond wig, heels and fishnet stockings introduces himself as "MiStevious" and points a manicured fingernail at couples canoodling on the white cushioned ledges that line the walls of the 6-month-old restaurant/lounge called supperclub Singapore.
If the party is slow to start, supperclub's host enlivens it by roller-skating and lip-syncing to the disco anthem It's Raining Men. Meanwhile, fashionably dressed women and men will "have a hug and a cuddle, maybe really make out," the U.K. native says. "It's the place to do it."
Singapore? The former British colony famed for banning the sale of gum to eradicate discarded wads and still caning those caught engaging in licentious behavior and other offenses?
Indeed, Singapore is slinging aside its stuffy reputation. The wealthy island nation now is a destination filled with trendy clubs, chic restaurants that attract a multicultural crowd and cutting-edge boutique hotels. "Eat. Party. Chill," urges a hot-pink tourism brochure. You even can sit in a wheelchair and sip from an IV bag at the Clinic bar in the Clarke Quay nightlife area.
Casinos (two) are due to come in by early 2010, along with more clinics catering to the growing number of "medical tourists."
Who says there's no sin in Singapore? Discreetly packaged condoms are handed out to supperclub's guests, and the city has a red-light district (not sanctioned by the government).
"Five years ago, I would have said Singapore was staid, but it's not. It's a happening place," says Brit Jill Birch, features editor for Expat Living, a magazine for the many expatriates who work in such fields as finance, shipping and technology. "Everything here is being continually upgraded." It's also a rare place "where all the cultures fuse well" and enrich city life, she says.
While the majority of the population is Chinese, diversity is underscored by Singapore's four official languages: English (widely spoken), Mandarin, Malay and the Tamil dialect also spoken in India. Although 18 hours-plus by air from the USA and not a magnet for American visitors (about 400,000 last year), the Singapore Tourism Board is campaigning to raise its profile.
"If you ask someone who has not been there, they say, 'It sounds like a strict place,' " says tourism board chief Kah Peng Aw. "Singapore is not (what) we're made out to be. You can chew your gum in public, and you can chew it loudly." More seriously, she says, Singapore embraces change, thanks to entrepreneurs from inside and out who keep adding attractions.
"Singapore is such a magical city," says Horst Schulze, the former Ritz-Carlton chief who founded a new luxury chain called Capella Hotels and Resorts and who is opening a Singapore Capella March 30. "The welcoming people, the stunning setting, and the vibrant history and culture make Singapore one of the world's great destinations."
Small, safe and clean
Singapore's main island, surrounded by five dozen tiny ones, is small (about 26 miles by 14 miles). Most of its 4.9 million inhabitants are packed into the city. With a skyscraper skyline, densely populated Singapore still is one of the world's safer and cleaner tourist spots, which is signaled on arrival in Changi Airport.
The terminal is spotless, with polished floors, free-to-use computers, plants and a butterfly garden to make waiting bearable.