First published on 2 Sep 2010. Updated on 12 Feb 2012.
During college, an average weekend reeked of drunken desperation. We downed boxed wine, shots, forties (or 40 ounces of rancid malt liquor), anything alcoholic that bore two essential traits: super-cheap and super-strong. Those were days when my body enjoyed the habit and was resilient enough to elude nasty hangovers.
Now, armed with a shred of dignity and a liver past its prime, reliving my salad-days degeneracy in an hour felt ideal – enough time to imbibe at will and yet, with a limit necessary to prevent a morning-after malady. To make it eventful, and ‘uniquely Singaporean’, a bumboat ride along the historic river seemed in order, with as many regular stops as time would allow to binge at key watering holes.
Hence I started my stopwatch and (mis)adventure at Clarke Quay, the 19th-century centre of commerce – the lighters and their cargo now replaced by a neon-lit nightlife mecca, shaded by hulking retrofuturistic umbrellas – and made a pit stop at Muchos (#01-04, 3D River Valley Rd; 6338 4748) for happy hour. The sun was still out and the bar empty except for two American marines homesick for nachos. I settled for a snooze-worthy vodka cranberry ($10) to offset an impending urinary tract infection.
I headed for what I thought was a ticket stand until my Alzheimer’s-addled brain realised it wasn’t one. Another ten minutes was wasted as I dashed to Riverside Point. En route, I guffawed at a couple on a wedding shoot. The theme was Flamenco gone Ang Moh Kio. Unfortunately, further distraction came my way: $10 wine specials at Wine Garage (#01-07, 30 Merchant Rd; 6533 3188)! So I sipped a lovely Austrian Riesling with a name I could not pronounce as the sun sank a little deeper behind a skyscraper.
Time was ticking as I bolted to the actual SRC booth (6336 6111, www.rivercruise.com.sg) just in time for the next river taxi ($4) to Boat Quay, the former shipping hotbed where men in pigtails once gingerly scaled narrow gangplanks to unload gunnysacks of rice. Approaching the Quay, the skyline had transformed from what I remembered. The unexpected protrusion of Marina Bay Sands’ ultra modern cantilevered platform seemingly sprouted from the colonial Empress Place building, while formidable glass and steel structures dwarfed conservation shophouses painted a sickly pastel. Sir Stamford Raffles’ statue appeared almost obsolete.
‘Girl ah! Where you from?’ My reverie was broken by the acrid, beer-soaked breath of an old vendor named River JJ, who was convinced I was a Japanese ninja and attempted to waylay me at the steps to buy more taxi tickets. I warded off his touting charms – ‘No time, uncle! No time!’– and dashed to The Penny Black (26/27 Boat Quay; 6538 2300) to maximise on my last 15 minutes.
The Victorian pub meticulously assembled by speciality craftsmen was swollen with after-work throngs in power suits deep in conversation. I imagined how, in days of yore, merchants, ship owners and tradesmen would meet here to discuss the day’s dealings. Instead, the investment banker with whom I broke the ice somehow found it vital to divulge his activities as a back alley swinger.
Barely buzzed, I knocked back two tequila shots ($8.50 each), smiled politely and watched the lights of the southern bank switch on – an instantly perfect sundowner in the final minute.