It opened in April 1983 to cash in on the popularity of Marmota, a gay disco at Kallang Leisuredrome on the outskirts of the city area. The proprietors who set up Niche probably thought that a more centrally located gay disco would draw in larger crowds, especially since they noted that the management and patrons at Marmota were not harassed by the police.
Prior to the 1980s, venues such as Pebble Bar were forbidden to have men dancing with each other but with the relaxation of this arbitrary rule at gay discos located away from the city area like The Hangar along Upper East Coast Road and Marmota at Kallang Leisuredrome, entrepreneurs were keen to test the waters in a more central location.
Niche was patronised by a more English-educated crowd than Marmota. As such, it played only English-language dance music and none of the cha-cha songs that occasionally used to be spun at Marmota. Niche was also a milestone and breakthrough in that it was able to operate as a full-time gay disco, catering to a gay clientele on every night of the week unlike Marmota, which was only gay on Sundays. Niche existed for a few years before closing down in the mid-1980s.
Russell Heng painted the political background which played a part in the liberalisation that enabled Niche to operate. In 1981, J.B. Jeyaratnam, the then leader of the Workers' Party won the Anson by-election, breaking the 100% monopoly of Parliamentary seats held by the People's Action Party (PAP) for a good one and half decades. When Niche opened in 1983, it was just one year before the historic 1984 general election where 10% of the popular vote swung against the PAP. It gave the party a jolt and made its leaders realise that their old way of talking down to people could not continue. This political shift was credited to a younger generation of voters coming on to the scene who were better educated and informed than their parents. Thus "liberalisation" came into the political vocabulary of Singapore and in the second half of the 1980s was given more form and profile by Goh Chok Tong, the man who would succeed Lee Kuan Yew. This was the sort of socio-politico-economic environment that gave birth to Niche.
Several years later, another disco bearing the same name opened at 32 Pagoda Street in Chinatown. The multistorey shophouse unit, whose dance floor was situated on level 2, was subsequently taken over by Absolute sauna and is currently occupied by Ten Mens Club, another gay sauna.
This second incarnation of Niche in Chinatown had its liquor license withdrawn in 1989 and was given only a week to close down. No reason was provided for the police action but a person, personally involved in the running of the disco, believed it was a reaction to the first reported AIDS death in Singapore in April 1987.
- Russell Heng, "Where queens ruled! - a history of gay venues in Singapore", Yawning Bread, August 2005.
- June Lee and Gary Kitching, "A contradiction in terms", I-S Magazine (reprinted by Fridae), 17 September 2004, .
This article was written by Roy Tan.