SINGAPORE — Three years after a bar in Singapore courted controversy over its theme featuring notorious Colombian drug lord and narcoterrorist Pablo Escobar, a new eatery in central Singapore has followed suit with its logo bearing the latter's image and a huge mural of him adorning the dining area.
On the menu of Pablo's Kitchen along Stirling Road in Queenstown are items such as "Sicario's chicken burger", "Kingpin's chicken burger" and "Cartel's beef burger". Sicario is Spanish for hitman or hired killer.
The eatery opened its doors in early April, according to its Facebook page, and serves "affordably priced nasi lemak and burgers".
Escobar, who died in 1993 after a shootout with the Colombian national police, was the head of the Medellin drug cartel. He is widely considered as one of the most violent criminals in history and was responsible for the deaths of thousands.
On Wednesday, a link to an online article featuring the eatery was shared by Tanjong Pagar GRC on its Facebook page. "Queenstown may be a relatively mature estate but there are a number of cafes that have opened up in recent times adding some vibrancy to the estate," the GRC said in its post. "Do check it out if you are around the neighbourhood."
The Facebook post by the GRC has since been taken down.
The article, which was published by Mediacorp's 8 Days magazine last month, quoted the cafe's owners Patrick Mervin Maran, 28, Alex Neo, 38, and Jing Hui, 31, as saying that they “really like” the American crime drama television series Narcos, which tells Escobar's life story.
"The branding is very memorable and ‘in your face’," the magazine quoted Neo saying. In response to a Facebook comment expressing concern about naming one of its burgers as “Sicario”, Neo reportedly said in the article, "If the food is good, we can call it anything – people will still come".
However, on Tuesday, Pablo's Kitchen took to its Facebook page to address its controversial theme. "Though Pablo's Kitchen may seem to have drawn some link to a certain Drug-lord, we want to be clear that our team dispraises his crimes in narcoterrorism," it said.
"Like the TV series, Pablo's Kitchen is drawn to the story of the crackdown on drugs...To prevent misunderstanding, we will be making changes to our space in the coming week, we welcome everyone to come check it out and grab a burger to-go," the eatery added.
Not the first eatery to court controversy
This is not the first time that a public venue has named and themed itself after Escobar in Singapore. In early 2018, an eponymous bar was opened along Cross Street in China Square Central serving among others, "Narcos chips" and "Stab in your heart burger". And its walls were adorned with paintings of the Colombian drug lord.
In the wake of the bar's opening, the Colombian embassy in Singapore sent an official note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) condemning its theme, which it said “pays tribute to the worst criminal in the history of Colombia”.
The Colombian community in Singapore “feels indignation towards this case” and appealed for the MFA to reach out to the owner to “reverse this harmful image” caused by the bar, the embassy said.
Escobar built an “evil empire of drug smuggling and narcoterrorism”, it added. “In order to achieve what he wanted, he corrupted and murdered thousands of Colombians throughout more than 620 terrorist attacks, killing more than 400 innocent civilians, injuring more than 1,700,” the embassy said.
“He ordered the death of around 20,000 people in all possible violent ways. His sicarios kidnapped, tortured and killed more than 550 police officers, detonated hundreds of bombs, in schools, banks, shopping centres and many other public and governmental places where innocent people worked.”
The bar later changed its theme, after discussions with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF).
While the theme, logo and interior design of a food and beverage establishment do not come under the SPF’s licensing conditions for public entertainment outlets, the use of Escobar's name and image to promote the bar "is highly objectionable and runs counter to Singapore’s zero tolerance approach towards drugs and our efforts in preventive drug education," said CNB and SPF in a joint statement.
"The glamorisation of a drug kingpin and associated drug use is irresponsible,” the law enforcement agencies said.
"CNB and SPF take a serious view of individuals or establishments that put up displays or references which glamorise drug use or criminal activities. While we acknowledge that some businesses may adopt certain themes or associations as part of their marketing strategy, this should be done in a manner consistent with Singapore’s policies to keep our country safe and secure," they added.
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to CNB and the Colombian embassy here for comment on the theme of Pablo's Kitchen.
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