May 15, 2020

When PM Lee announced on 21 April that we would be shuttered in our homes for another full month, the first thing I thought was ‘I need a drink’. It’s been too long since I have had the luxury of sitting at a bar. I miss the soft, mellow beats and the warm glow of ambient lighting that envelops you in moments of intimacy and genuine conversation—the unfiltered kind. 

 Although the richness and dynamism of the nightlife scene are hard to replicate, that has not stopped the industry from venturing towards ‘cloud clubbing’ and virtual bars. While sceptics have often lamented the Internet’s insidious power to alienate, it is proving to be the thin lifeline we cling to for any sort of human connection amidst social distancing. 

Intrigued, lonely and incredibly bored, I planned myself a little night out on the virtual town. First up, William Grants & Sons’ 1887 Virtual Bar. Every week, they feature a bartender from various watering holes across Singapore. For this particular night, Christyne Lee from Tess Bar and Kitchen, was on shift. As she shuffled behind the dimly lit bar top, ground rules were laid out: no crying babies, barking dogs or indecent behaviour. 

Gin and tonic in hand, I listened as Christyne talked about the variation and balance of drinks; how egg whites give a Clover Club a smoother texture, the importance of mint garnish on a Chocolate Mint Martini, and the secret to floating (to create a layered cocktail). As she mixed and measured, she guided us through her recipes, while answering questions about how she became a bartender and what her favourite cocktail was. It’s pisco sour, if you must know. The percussive sound of the ice tumbling in the metal shaker brought on a pang of nostalgia, reminiscent of the sensation of being in bar.

Nestled along Seah street, Tess Bar and Kitchen’s jovial and welcoming atmosphere never failed to console me on a bad day. I would perch myself on a barstool and have casual (semi-flirtatious) but not artificial exchanges with strangers. Despite Christyne’s Seussian nature and people engaging in the channel, the online experience left something to be desired. The same lightness and good humour (I had grown to love) did not translate on-screen. Someone typed ‘Tequila!’ and a string of messages chanted for an ABC, the outlet’s infamous concoction. “Maybe later,” she said. 

Feeling buzzed, I logged onto a different Zoom room—Club Quarantine, which I chanced upon while reading suggestions on how to let loose during isolation—and was transported to a purple-tinted living room full of flamboyantly dressed youths. Clad in everything from maroon to crimson lipstick, black tutus to bell-bottoms, they lounged on a leather couch, smoking seductively and occasionally body-rolled with enviable flexibility. 

About a hundred others tuned in to listen to Oscar Nñ’s music. The screen was a window into everyone’s night. My initial self-consciousness quickly dissipated and evolved into a fascination with how open and quirky participants were. Someone dressed in yellow plaid and fuchsia winged sunglasses bopped along to the bass-pounding track and a man in high heels dropped his skin-tight leather-covered ass to the floor. When he twirled and looked into the camera, I felt like he was looking straight at me. Hungry for frivolity and distraction from a life in quarantine, we gathered to experience the exhilaration of not drinking and dancing in solitude. 

Amid all the hip thrusting and gyrating, the chat was flooded with loud comments, underscored by a ton of exclamation marks. There was an immense sense of liberation and comfort within the community, a feeling of ‘togetherness.’ A bartender I used to work with always said, “Togetherness is foreverness,” after the end of our shift, with shots poured. 

As relieved as I was to have a drastic change in pace from my sterile and repetitive routine, a sharp prickle of loneliness gnawed at me. I was, after all, still alone in my bedroom—suddenly reminded of all the other things I couldn’t do. Like linking arms with my girl friends, feeling the thump of the sound system and having a serendipitous encounter upon locking eyes with a stranger. I logged off, wondering if this virtual world would become our new reality. Marquée, Bang Bang and the like are livestreaming DJ sets, promising revellers a good time.

I don’t know when I will feel the warmth of a body brushing up against mine. Until then, the always available and always compliant (given the right keyword search) Internet will have to be my ultimate companion. Not only does it respond to my visceral need for connection, but it also provides me with a rabbit hole to escape into when idleness strikes.