I was sitting in a cafe eating an excessively buttery croissant in downtown Singapore. The guy next to me offered me a much-needed napkin and we got to talking. About Singapore, his home country of Colombia, my travel blog, and of course, nightlife. After scarfing down my croissant, he invited me down to this new bar, Escobar. It was barely a month old and already causing an international ruckus.
We walked a few blocks down to China Central Square, hauntingly empty on the second day of Chinese New Year. The humid heat, pastel-colored buildings, and loud Latin music gave me Colombia vibes before we even reached the bar. A big balloon thing with Pablo Escobar’s face stenciled on let us know we were at our destination.
The bar was full of Pablo Escobar themed artwork. The iconic image of Pablo burning his stacks of money in a fireplace was on the back left corner. Across from it was Pablo Escobar, portrayed as the devil, sitting next to Jesus during the Last Supper.
From a neutral standpoint, it is a pretty nice place. It was clean, vibrant, and opened up into the streets, giving it the potential for Latin-style street parties in a city that could use a little more excitement. The artificial roof covering the entire street also guarantees that the party will keep going even in rain or 100-degree weather.
Now, on to the controversy.
The Colombian embassy has expressed their concern that the bar is glorifying the worst criminal in Colombian history. One of the main points is that it is not depicting Colombia justly, stating that the Colombia of today is far from what Narcos portrays it.
Fair enough. I couldn’t agree more about their intent. Colombia is an incredible country and these days, it is as safe as any other country. It is far from what most outsiders believe it to be, especially ones that base their entire knowledge on Netflix’s Narcos. I spent a day wandering Medellin’s most notorious neighborhood alone, and not only lived to tell the tale but made friends and spent the day playing football with the locals. The Colombian people deserve better than to have their country portrayed as a drug-fueled hellhole of a third-world country.
However, Singapore’s Escobar, as admitted by the owner and founder, is named that simply because it is a play on words. It has the word “bar” in it, so they chose to name it that and theme it around Colombia’s drug lord. It is a bit misguided and silly, but there is definitely no malice intended by the owner. One thing to note is that the bar is not doing anything illegal. It would be completely different if they were cultishly worshipping Pablo Escobar while dealing crack to the pub goers.
I cannot speak for the Colombian people but something that I noticed while in Medellin was this. They did not try to hide what happened there. They did not deny their bloody past. Instead, they chose to educate the travelers and bring the past to light. They are able to control the narrative by informing the misinformed. Yes, it happened, but this is how it happened and this is what Narcos didn’t tell you.
I came into Colombia extremely interested about Escobar and the cartels, especially after watching Narcos. I am not the only one whose interest was piqued by that show, and I definitely am not the only one who was at least a little bit ignorant about the history. Everyone knows who Pablo Escobar is but not everyone knows what actually happened. His immense wealth, improbable rise to power and status as the world’s most famous drug lord has made Pablo Escobar a household name. As long as history remembers his terrifying reign, then Pablo will be synonymous with controversy.
Many people look up to Escobar as a symbol of wealth, humble upbringings, and immense power and influence. Even in Colombia, a sizeable percentage of the population still believe that Pablo Escobar was a good person for what he brought to Colombia’s poorer communities. Unfortunately, many people ignore the violence, terrorism, and deaths that went side by side with his rise to power and affluence. This is a huge problem and one that I support the Colombian government in combating.
However, a harmless Latin bar in Singapore is not the problem. The Colombian government should seek to educate, not silence. Taking a special interest in this particular bar will cause problems not only for Singapore’s Escobar but also for the Colombian government. It sets a precedent that will be difficult to meet. If they shut this one down, then will they try to shut down every Escobar-themed bar, club, restaurant, tattoo parlor and so on across the world? Will they start shutting down all of the narco and cartel tours in Medellin, as well?
The Colombian I came here with was one of the few Colombians in all of Singapore. Following the situation pretty closely, he told me that he didn’t understand the backlash aimed at the bar. He stated that the only ones causing an uproar are those outside the country who don’t know the situation, or the ones feigning outrage since they have nothing else to do with their time. You know the type, the self-righteous people whose only form of activism is writing 1-star reviews on Facebook.
The owner was also met with threats to himself, his family, and his business. It is admirable to protest for what you believe in. However, protesting against the bar by threatening to burn it down and harm the owner and his family is a bit hypocritical when you consider what they claim to be protesting against.
Feeling a little more invested in the whole ordeal, I created a poll on Instagram just to gauge how the general public felt about it. An overwhelming 84% felt that it was no big deal, while 16% thought that it was a little messed up. Obviously, the reliability and accuracy of an Instagram poll won’t be cited by national news anytime soon, but take it for what you will.
There are bigger problems than this one going on in the world. It happened, the world knows about it, and nothing can change that. In fact, paint a few informative facts onto the walls and it could be used as a way to educate pubgoers and bring awareness to what Pablo did and why he was indeed a terrible person. If the Colombian government’s goal is to erase Pablo Escobar’s name from the history books, then shutting down a harmless bar in Singapore is like taking a water gun to a wildfire.