Bricklane’s co-founder Jasmin shares the most memorable stories of SMU students’ favourite watering hole with Writer Xing Yu. (WARNING: May feature puke, lots of it actually)
It’s a gloomy October afternoon when we roll up to Bricklane Bar at Level 1 of the Li Ka Shing Library. As we arrive, we can’t help but notice the not-so-discreet posters politely reminding patrons that a $50 “fine” would be imposed for puking within the premises.
I chuckle under my breath as our interviewee, Jasmin Ong, genially greets us at the door and we take our spots in a cosy corner underneath the polaroid-lined walls (adhering to Safe-Distancing measures obviously). With that, we begin with the most important question: “What’s with the fine?”
A Tale of Puke, Puke and More Puke
Jasmin explains that the fine was for practicality reasons, as we all know. Alcohol often causes some very unfortunate “accidents”, specifically those involving vomit. So, what happens when loads of people get drunk in a small area? A big mess on the floor for the staff to clean up. The fine not only helps to offset the cost of new cleaning supplies but also repays the efforts of the staff in cleaning up after the patrons.
...when large gatherings were allowed, “one person puked and then another person puked, it took up quite a lot of effort.”
It was way worse pre-pandemic, Jasmin explains, when large gatherings were allowed.
“One person puked and then another person puked... It took up quite a lot of effort.” In any case, she happily concedes that the Covid mask mandates have made their jobs considerably easier.
Naturally, we’re pretty curious as to whether the fine has any real impact on their customers. Do people really care?
Apparently, they do. Jasmin tells us that nowadays when someone within a group is about to throw up, their friends will ask for plastic bags and even help to clean up, if necessary. However, the fine isn’t foolproof and cleaning up any vomit outside of the premises (demarcated with a red line outside the front door) is still the responsibility of the restaurant staff.
It is worth noting that the $50 fee is inescapable should you puke past the red line, so don’t do that.
In a perfect world, all customers who fall afoul of the puking fine would willingly cough up the $50. But the world isn't perfect, and the team at Bricklane are painfully aware of this, having had some less than savoury encounters with uncooperative guests.
Jasmin recounts a particularly troublesome incident where a group of patrons had thrown up in the bar. While the group had initially paid the fine, some members of the group then refused to leave the bar. They started arguing with the staff and demanded the $50 to be refunded to them.
“It’s just water leaking from the mouth” - The group had argued.
This disagreement ended up causing the staff to stay behind about 2 hours after closing time. The exasperated staff eventually decided to refund half of the fine amount to the group. Jasmin emphasises that this is a one-off exception as the staff were at their wits’ end.
Unfortunately, this was not the only hiccup the team at Bricklane has experienced. Jasmin recounts that the Starry Night at Campus Green (an event marking the last day of the semester with live performances and, of course, lots of alcohol consumption) had always generated a fair bit of chaos. She tells us that on that night, a drunkard had tried to sneak alcohol out of the restaurant premises while also breaching the safe distancing measures.
When confronted, he hurled vulgarities at the staff until his friends came to diffuse the situation. He eventually showed signs of remorse and posted an apology via Instagram.
Other shenanigans that have occurred on the premises include empty bottles being thrown around, cases of puke-and-runs, and other rebellious acts in general.
All in all, running Bricklane isn’t easy. Besides worrying about the quality of the food, the staff often have to deal with the mayhem caused by alcohol consumption.
“Sometimes the customers are out of control, but we try our best.”
So maybe next time when you’re out having a good time, try not to go overboard with the alcohol and spare a thought for the staff that put a great deal of effort into ensuring a good experience for customers. PSA: if you sense vomit rising up your throat, it's probably best to hold off on that next shot and head to the washroom.
A difficult climb to the top
We take a little break from talking about drunken stories and ask Jasmin about how such an integral SMU icon was established.
Founded in 2018 by Jasmin and her business partners, Bricklane was meant to satisfy their vision of creating a little slice of nightlife on campus. They bought into the idea of running a restaurant selling alcohol at night and when the opportunity arose, they jumped at it.
It was not always smooth sailing though, she tells us. They had initially faced restrictions from SMU banning them from selling beer towers, but eventually the school relented and gave them permission to do so, provided that the sale of alcohol only commenced after 5 PM.
Jasmin also fondly recalls the pre-pandemic times, when social distancing rules didn’t exist and they had long tables, providing a cosier atmosphere. She even tells us that a certain professor used to frequent the bar and even held his Zoom classes here. He certainly does have his priorities in order, I guess.
“Everyone very family family lah, since they are generally all students.”
As we near the end of the interview, I can’t help but take in the décor of the restaurant – the neon lights, brick façade and retro posters – that certainly provide the perfect ambiance for an evening gathering with friends. The wall of Polaroid photos catches our attention, and Jasmin tells us that the staff would help patrons take photos and stick them on the walls.
The group would also write the phone number of the single person on the Polaroid. That’s when it strikes me what the place is really missing – people. It is a staunch reminder of how Bricklane’s atmosphere is as much about being with friends and loved ones as it is about having a good time.
I’m hopeful that when the pandemic becomes a thing of the past, lively crowds will return and Bricklane will transform back into the bustling party town of SMU.
Also, I might get my shot at having my phone number on the wall.
*In the meantime, check out some of Bricklane’s current promotions (as of 27th February 2022):
3L Yakult Soju Tower @ $49.90
Mango Soju Tower @ $39.90
$1 Mantou Monday
$2 Truffle Fries Tuesday
3 for $33 Soju Bundle on Mondays and Tuesdays
$10 discount for a large snack platter with every large beer tower purchased