By Wan Ting Koh and Vernon Lee
The bar whose logo is based on drug lord Pablo Escobar will keep its name but change its design following the advice of local authorities amid strong condemnation by the Colombian community in Singapore over its theme.
Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore at Escobar bistro on Thursday (8 February), the owner of the bar, Stan Sri Ganesh, 35, said that he met up with six officers from Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) on Wednesday (7 February) to discuss the proposed changes, which will take at least a month to implement.
“We are very sorry, our intention was never to offend a particular individual or a community. Our intention was to have everyone come here and enjoy this place as how it is, without having to feel like there is a hole in their wallet,” said Stan. The bar also posted its statement and apology on its Facebook page on Wednesday night.
The bar, which is located in China Square Central, first made headlines on Monday after Yahoo News Singapore reported that the Colombian embassy wrote a letter condemning the theme of the bar. In the letter directed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the embassy expressed its concern, saying the theme “pays tribute to the worst criminal in the history of Colombia”.
It appealed to the MFA to “reverse the harmful image” caused by the bar. Pablo Escobar, who died in 1993, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Colombians when he was the head of the Medellin drug cartel.
Stan, however, stressed that the bar has never done anything illegal.
“Over here we are not going against the law… we’re not doing anything illegal here, their (the authorities’) concern was not even the embassy or Colombian society or anything, it’s more of any societal issues,” Stan said.
The bar has already spent $20,000 on the paraphernalia bearing the drug lord’s image, according to Stan. The items include a large balloon with the archetypal image of Escobar wearing a pair of sunglasses outside the bar, mugs, name cards, and murals on the walls. These will soon be dumped or revamped.
Stan said that he is looking to spend another $10,000 to implement the changes, which include having an artist to redesign the murals. One of the murals currently depicts Escobar – who became a multi-billionaire from the drug trade – sitting on a mountain of cash.
However, the name Escobar will remain as it is a “common Latin surname” that is used even in Colombia, he added.
When asked if the bar is in contact with the Colombian embassy, Stan maintained that the embassy has “never” gotten in touch with him. He only found out about the issue after Yahoo News Singapore reported about the letter sent by the embassy to the MFA, he said.
“If they had spoken to us first, maybe we could have come to an agreement,” said Stan.
Escobar’s owner to file police reports
Amid the uproar over the bar’s theme, Stan said he has also been receiving death threats against him and his family, including emails that threaten to bomb his bar. He continued to receive the threats even after he announced the change in the bar’s design.
He added, “One thing I would really like the Colombian community to do is this. They have been telling us that we should stop this because of the violence and the damage (caused by Pablo Escobar). When they do that, they should in turn make sure that their community doesn’t come on Facebook or email us threats and violence against me and my family.”
Pointing out the hypocrisy of the threats, he said, “When they start sending us messages like ‘I should burn, kill your family, hang you’, isn’t that going against what they have been preaching to us?”
Stan said he will be filing police reports on each of the threats that he has received, on the advice of the police.
Even as the revamp gets underway, it is business as usual at the bar, which has seen a 50 per cent increase in customers since its grand opening on 26 January.
Stan, a food and beverage veteran with 15 years of experience, said that he has plans to open another bistro bar in Circular Road.
“If there is a way to get things moving away from this issue that we are having, and if it is not going to affect my business fully, I will do it,” he said.
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to CNB and the Colombian embassy for comment. The embassy has declined to respond on the bar’s plan to change its logo.