Joshua and Sarissa Schwartz on Singapore's sexiest new lounge
Lulu's Lounge is unlike any ordinary lounge. It's not a place to tune out as melodic piano tunes waft through the air, and neither is it a blast from the past Singaporean KTV lounge, where cigarette smoke permeates and men sing their heart out to beer and ladies. When Joshua and Sarissa Schwartz, the dynamic force behind Bang Bang and Employees Only, decided on their concept of a lounge — it was to be alluring, lively and tasteful in an offbeat fashion. Their inspiration was a fictitious character called Lulu, a vivacious, brash and hard-drinking New Yorker raised in the Bronx, who loves her feather boas, fascinators and plush furnishings. Walk into Lulu's Lounge and you'll see just that — risqué paintings on brick walls, cosy nooks with kitschy trinkets from the 1970s, and a combination of bar stools, leather sofas and animal-printed velvet seats. It's mismatched, it's Art Deco with a twist, but the vibe is right. You're smack in the middle of Manhattan, ready for a night of frivolous fun.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The lowdown on how bars are inked.
Joshua Schwartz (JS): I hate calling Lulu's a lounge because I think the word 'lounge' has a negative connotation. But coming up with the actual name and concept was a journey and one that we sat on for a very long time — three years to be exact — before coming together to write a short story about this fictional character before it took life from there. In one of the incarnations, we called him little Louie, but we felt that was too masculine for our liking and we needed something softer and quirkier.
Sarissa Schwartz (SS): We then thought, what kind of woman would little Louie be drawn to? That's where we thought of Lulu, and that allowed us to have a little bit more fun with the concept and the branding, as well as in terms of entertainment and design.
JS: Lulu is little Louie's girl. She's a fun girl, and she's great to be with, but you wouldn't probably marry her. We envisioned her as this brash, hard-drinking, loud-talking, former go-go dancer that's a little bit past her prime. Louie builds her a lounge where they can hang out together and where she's kept occupied. He does the bones of it, and she adds her tacky touches.
THE LOUNGE EXPERIENCE
It's not a bar, yet not a nightclub. Here's the preferred definition.
JS: We have the opportunity to take guests on a journey — that's something we believe in strongly and we do to some degree in all of our venues, but here we have the ability to do it to an extreme level. If you come in at 9pm, the experience is very different from at 11pm, and at 1am, the experience is different from that at 3am or 6am. Being able to take people on that ride is really exciting and something we have always wanted to do.
SS: I love the fact that we aren't a night club. We felt the market was ready for something a bit more evolved, and not being a nightclub meant that we could hold a more sophisticated party, one that doesn't involve entry charges or a minimum spend on tables. It's a more relaxed environment that will, of course, progress into a party. We can have live entertainment throughout the night that doesn't get lost in the fray. There's DJ performances and also other live acts that showcase pre-disco, old-school hip-hop tunes and songs you grew up on.
NIGHTLIFE IN SINGAPORE
In this small, buzzing city, creativity is key.
JS: The thing is, in Singapore you don't have the luxury of having 50 million tourists visiting in a year, like in New York or Las Vegas, so you have to rely much more on repeat business. Therefore, it means you have to be creative. Not that everybody does that, but if you really want to be successful, you have to keep pushing yourself and I really like that. Before we moved here, we heard a lot of advice from people like, "Oh, people want to be hidden in private rooms, nobody wants to be seen and they're very conservative." But we didn't find that at all. People in Singapore are very open and they take their playing very seriously. Those that go out really appreciate the time that they're out.
BENEFITS (OR NOT) OF WORKING WITH YOUR SPOUSE
How not to chew each other's heads off.
SS: Josh started out as my mentor, and he still is my mentor today. I've learnt everything that I know from him. I think it would be very lonely to not have somebody that understands what I do — when I go through my highs and lows, or when I get excited or depressed about something — he gets it and cares just as much as I do, which is really nice. It's also wonderful to be able to bounce ideas off each other, and you always have somebody there that you regard as an expert. That's a great asset.
JS: You never stop learning. The day you stop learning; the day you start thinking you know everything is the day you realise you know nothing at all. It's amazing to have this kind of cohabitation, co-working situation and I feel like it makes us better as we are constantly learning from each other. I'll come up with a crazy idea and she'll be like, "That's crazy!" But I'm not afraid to come up with that and vice versa. And sometimes it's those ideas that turn out to be great ideas. There is a negative side to it, though — the fact that it's hard to shut off. There are those times where you think you have immediate access to someone because you're out at dinner together, or they're sitting next to you all the time. We constantly try to have boundaries, but you know, it's also how we met and the only way we know how is to work together.
REINVENTING THE COCKTAIL WHEEL
When tradition gets a facelift.
JS: We have our specialty cocktails and the idea behind that is to do plays on classic cocktails. We really needed it to fit thematically within what we were doing, so instead of a Whiskey Sour, we have something called the Whiskey Pucker Up — which is a play on a Whiskey Sour, but there's maple syrup in it and a giant sprayed kiss on top of it (kind of like Lulu's kiss). We also reimagined the piña colada with vodka and kefir lime, and we called it Big Coconuts. We do have your negronis and old fashioneds too, for more classic tastebuds. We're not a cocktail bar by any means, but we have a very well-rounded bar. Our snacks are in line with America in the 1960s, such as meatball parma sliders, mozzarella sticks and charcuterie boards.
That golden moment when you feel like you've arrived.
SS: For me, it means being able to do two things. The first is making an impact in the F&B and entertainment scene in Asia, and the second is to use that impact to do good. I always say that my dream is to own a dog farm to help disabled and old animals and to use that influence...
JS: You do a lot of charity.
SS: Yes, I work with Women on a Mission and CRIB Society, and would love to eventually do more. I want to use that influence and translate that to do good.
JS: Unfortunately, I'm not as altruistic but I think at this point in my life, success means doing the things I love, yet having the time to appreciate the life that has been created for me. I've spent my lifetime working, you know, 17 or 18 hours a day. So today, success is being able to put my energy and life blood into something I love, but also enjoying pockets of free time, time with my wife and our dog, and being able to travel the world.
Lulu's Lounge. 7 Raffles Boulevard. To book a spot, call 9829 1922.