The Original Bugis Street

There are two Bugis Streets in Singapore. One is a semi-air conditioned shopping mecca with three levels of bazaar stalls selling apparel, beauty services, and food. The third is hidden beneath the concrete blocks of Bugis Junction, which were removed from our street directory in the late 1980s and almost forgotten today.

This is about the second, which was formerly known as Bugis Street. Bugis Street was a popular eating and entertainment area in Singapore from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, famous for its alfresco dining delights, bazaar atmosphere, and most importantly, nightly adult-themed performances by transvestites.

The crowd at peak hours. Image Source (Yeo Hong Eng)
Lion dance could denote celebrating Chinese New Year or opening of a new stall. Image Source (Yeo Hong Eng)

After the Second World War, roadside dining came alive, and hawkers began to sell food and goods on Bugis Street. More people, both local and international, came to visit the lively bazaar atmosphere. The foreign company included most of the colonial soldiers, tourists and sailors on shore leave.

The famous cabaret shows on Bugis Street in which transvestite performers were known to disrobe, tease, and sit on people’s laps for money have long been a source of contention. Prostitutes would also stand on street corners and advertise their services.

Fruits were sold side by side with the cooked stalls. Image Source (Yeo Hong Eng)

A certain popular act that involved alcohol-infused bravado, bare bottoms and paper flames was also performed on top of the ceiling of a public toilet. Another highlight of the evening was the Queen of Queens, a pageant where these transvestites would compete to be the top beauty queen. Bugis Street would grow to become a notorious tourist attraction in the region with its nightly cabaret shows and parades.

Bugis Street, Singapore. The day they demolished it. Image Source (Flickr)
Bugis Street, Singapore. Image Source (DestiMap)

The Bugis area underwent a major renovation in the mid-1980s. The building of the Bugis MRT Station necessitated the demolition of the historic Bugis Street. Above ground, the station was also home to Bugis Junction, a retail-shopping complex erected on top of the subterranean Bugis Station.

The boogie nights vanished along with the old Bugis Street. After Bugis Street was removed from the maps, Johore Road followed suit.

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