To many of us, independent cinema The Projector is more than a place to see arthouse films or regional productions. It’s a culturally-sensitive, minority-friendly, inclusive space where creatives have a platform to share and collaborate, where aficionados of local films rub shoulders with fans of French cult classics, and the glittering event calendar includes live drag shows.
Since April 2021, The Projector has popped up at a former siam diu aka Thai disco as Projector X: Riverside. Like The Projector at Golden Mile Tower, which took over another venue with a colourful past – in this case, Golden Theatre, a notorious “adult cinema” in the 90s – whilst preserving its unique character, Projector X went as far as to leave the old changing rooms used by bar hostesses completely untouched, rendering it an art installation.
The Projector has been a vital part of Singapore’s cinematic landscape since its inception in 2014, but General Manager Prashant Somosundram is equally focused on developing an F&B program that can stand on its own merits. Your basic popcorn and soda concession stand, this ain’t. I’m talking about The Riverside Bar, the cinema’s 50-seater bistro/bar serving artisanal hotdogs, thin crust pizzas and homegrown cocktails and exclusive craft beers. Perched on the fourth floor of the fading Riverside Point, the bar is a bright, airy and charmingly eclectic space, with a surprisingly scenic and rarely-afforded view of the Singapore River and Clarke Quay.
Those in the know will recognise the art-championing DNA shared by now-defunct Artistry Cafe, an art gallery/brunch cafe Prashant ran as owner before joining The Projector full-time. The Jalan Pinang space was a much-missed platform for new artists, hosting poetry nights, live musical performances and illuminating talks – something Prashant hopes Riverside Bar can be once current restrictions are lifted.
For the menu of cinema-friendly, cutlery-optional fare – how did he put it all together? “I was trying to work with local producers and local suppliers, rather than just taking the cheapest option that is commercially available. We’re quite conscious in terms of trying to figure out who we want to work with,” he explained. One of them is halal gourmet butchery called The Meatery. The 100% Muslim-owned shop, founded by a Singaporean husband-and-wife team, supplies gourmet sausages for their hot dogs. “They were someone we had a personal connection with, and it’s also about supporting smaller start-ups in Singapore, just like us,” he added.
Indeed, when Popspoken was by for an invited tasting, the A24’s Minari, a Korean-style dog inspired by, well, award-winning film “Minari” was easily one of the highlights. A meaty chicken sausage topped with mouth-tingling kimchi, minari (Korean watercress) and gochujang dressing on a very soft bun, it was messy and moreish and very satisfying. Despite the limitations of not having a full-fledged kitchen, the food menu is surprisingly extensive, with salads, cinema classics like nachos and popcorn, made-to-order pizzas, and even hearty sit-down meals like salmon soba. While a grilled cheese sandwich isn’t yet a natural go-to for most moviegoers, Prashant reckons it’s one of the best, underrated items on the menu. “The Triple Cheese (dark cheddar, young gouda, camembert) is a personal favourite.” Not surprisingly, their 10-inch pizzas are more of a crowd-pleaser. We liked the locally-inspired Chilli Crab pizza that’s topped with blue swimmer crab, surimi, egg and sliced chilli. And though it’s not exactly the chilli crab we’re familiar with, it’s an interesting, and no less tasty, take on the Singaporean favourite.
Pairing with the cinema bites is an equally robust drinks menu. Other cinemas offer alcoholic beverages too, sure, but to be fair, their selections tend toward the generic and mass market. Rare for a local cinema, The Projector offers craft beers on tap, brewed exclusively for them by Australian independent beer makers Rocky Ridge Brewing Co. The Siam Diu Sessions, a cheekily-named session IPA is a well-balanced and eminently quaffable brew, not too hoppy but still full of flavour.
If it’s cocktails you’re after, homegrown small batch cocktail specialist Sunday Punch has curated six heady libations exclusively for Projector X. The Gunpowder Whisky, which happens to be this writer’s favourite, was a slight departure from Sunday Punch’s trademark flavours. The whisky is slow-infused with lapsang souchang tea, with a touch of demerara sugar for body. The result is a mellow, sippable drink with a light smokiness and unexpected complexity.
“The Gunpowder Whisky was an infusion we had been tweaking for a while – we needed it to have just the right amount of smoke balanced with the right type of sweetness so it would be a pour that was rich in flavour with a dry finish whisky drinkers could enjoy over an evening,” explained Sunday Punch co-founder Mark Tay. What else would he recommend? “The Dried Longan Vodka packed a lot of nostalgia with its distinct fruit notes that weren’t too sweet which we felt made for a nice alternative to the whisky-based infusion.”
On working with The Projector: “It’s great to know the good people from The Projector are not just supporting the appreciation of independent film culture in Singapore, but also creating unique spaces for the young and young at heart to gather and experience iconic spots that might otherwise be overlooked. Having the chance to work together with them to bring local flavours to their cocktail menu through the years has been an extremely fulfilling experience for us at Sunday Punch too.”
While there’s no doubt The Projector has their share of loyal supporters, the pandemic has proved to be one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced. They were forced to go on a brief hiatus last year, explaining to The Straits Times it was due to “severely restricted capacity, no food and beverages sales on premises, low job support grants and no rental relief”. The cinema operator turned to creating merchandise in the form of tote bags to stay afloat. That success allowed Prashant and his team to launch The Projector Plus, a streaming platform that enabled audiences to watch movies without leaving home. The digital service was also key to making up the shortfall of cinemagoers due to reduced capacities in theatres.
While The Projector valiantly powers on, Prashant admits they’re not out of the woods as yet. “Cinema is still bleeding. The conditions are still challenging, (yet) the overheads stay the same.” Filmgarde, another small player of the local cinema industry, announced the shuttering of two of their cinemas in January. He and his team continue to scout for new locations, but “we can’t go too far from the city (due to) the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) guidelines: R21 films can’t be shown in heartland areas. It’s been quite a difficult year – we’re still working on many parallel tracks.”
For now, there’s the 150-seater, single-screen cinema due to launch in the second quarter of 2022. It’s part of Lendlease Reit’s redevelopment of the Grange Road open-air carpark in collaboration with Live Nation. And we’re hearing murmurs of a festival screening at Pasir Panjang Power Station in April. The show, after all, must go on.
The Projector X: Riverside is located at 30 Merchant Road, Riverside Point #04-13, Singapore 058282. For more information about the venue and cinema, go to theprojector.sg.
For more interesting food & beverage places and cool activities, check out our Lifestyle section.