by Marsita Omar
The Satay Club was an open-air food centre filled with hawkers selling satay, a popular local skewered meat dish. Previously located at Queen Elizabeth Walk, the Satay Club was demolished in 1995 to make way for Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and the Nicoll Highway extension.1 The Satay Club offered decent and affordable outdoor dining in the downtown area.
The first Satay Club
The original Satay Club, prior to the one located at the Esplanade, is said to have started in the late 1940s on a short thoroughfare off Beach Road known as Hoi How Road (now expunged), between Marlborough Theatre and the Singapore Volunteer Corps headquarters. One end of the road was used as a bus terminal by the now-defunct Chan Kwee Sung Company. As such, the place was filled with a mixture of fumes from the buses and aroma from the foodstalls, but that did not affect business. Customers sat on low stools and wooden benches. However, being located next to the busy terminal led to accidents. Hence, in the mid-1950s, the hawkers were relocated to a field between Dhoby Ghaut and Prinsep Street, but their businesses declined. The stallholders successfully petitioned to return to the original site, and business picked up again. However, in 1970 they were asked to move to the Esplanade.2
The Satay Club at the Esplanade
The Satay Club that most Singaporeans remember is the one at the Esplanade, which opened in January 1971. It was an open-air food centre, with most food stalls selling satay. Families would crowd around each stall, watching as the skewered meat was grilled over hot charcoals, eagerly waiting for the satay to be served with the sweet-and-spicy peanut sauce.3 The Satay Club opened from sunset to early morning. It sat in the Esplanade park under big, old trees and had a relaxed and cheerful ambience that was much loved by locals and tourists alike. Unlike other food centres such as the Newton Food Centre where fights would sometimes break out at the time, the Satay Club was a peaceful place for family outdoor dining. The nearby Queen Elizabeth Walk added charm to the place.4
In 1994, the Satay Club stallholders were told that they had to relocate to make way for two projects: Esplanade —Theatres on the Bay and the Nicoll Highway extension. They were given until May 1995 to decide to either move to another food centre or receive a compensation of S$15,000. The Satay club was demolished in 1995.5 There were 28 stalls around the time of its closure.
Eight of the stallholders moved to the new Clarke Quay Satay Club when it was set up in 1995.6 Rental at Clarke Quay was S$3,000 as compared with just S$300 at the old place.7
In 2004, four ex-Satay Club stallholders led a business venture to bring back a taste of the old satay to the Esplanade. They opened D’Original Satay Club, which was located under the Esplanade Bridge.8 It boasted original recipes from the days of the old Satay Club. However, the business failed due to poor foot traffic at the site and D’Original Satay Club closed the following year.9
The latest incarnation of Satay Club, called Satay by the Bay, is located at Gardens by the Bay. There are eight pushcarts serving satay among other popular local dishes.10
1. Tan, D. (1995, March 25). Satay down by the river. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chan, K. S. (1996, December 13). The real Satay Club revisited. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Tan, W. J. (1971, January 2). Satay in new found style…. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Food, glorious food! (2001, September). Treasures of Time. Singapore: Historic Sites and Public Education Units of National Archives of Singapore, pp. 15-16. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TT-[HIS])
4. Ida Bachtiar. (1994, November 20). The scattering of Satay Club. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Ida Bachtiar. (1994, November 20). The scattering of Satay Club. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan, D. (1995, March 25). Satay down by the river. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Wong, A. Y. (1997, March 9). Satay Club name booked by Esplanade. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Teo, P. L. (2004, June 6). Join the club. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Wee, L. E. (2005, June 28). Old Satay Club operators face gruelling time. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lin, M. (2013, April 26). Nostalgia on a skewer. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at October 2020 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.