It may be one of the city-states oldest residential areas, but it’s clientele are far from tired
By Claire Knox
Quaint, but cool, Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest residential estates in the country and is characterised by low rise, curvaceous Art Deco apartment blocks and swaying palm trees., Its charm is being further enriched by fashionable new restaurants, cafes and retro bars as well as a number of independent vinyl, vintage and book shops as it becomes increasingly gentrified.
Nostalgic, retro design is ubiquitous in Tiong Bahru. This open-air restaurant and bar on the corner of Eng Hoon Street sports kitsch and quirky interiors, modelled on Singapore’s beloved old kopitiams (coffee shops) and European brasseries. Classic, local cooking and fusion dishes reflect the diversity of the island state: there’s Malay-style sambal eggplant, satay and kampong fried rice, plates of grilled prawn, fish and tender meat tandoori as well as Eurasian creations. Cocktails are Asian-inspired too (a fresh sugarcane martini is a case in point) and there is Hofbrau beer on tap along with bottled craft brews and wines.
In the age of Spotify the recent renaissance of old-school record shops in Singapore is a pleasant surprise. With more than 1,000 records to sift through, this newish, pint-sized record store has perhaps the most carefully chosen range of vinyl in Singapore. Old favourites and current indie darlings rub shoulders in the racks. There are also mainstream releases from the likes of rapper Kendrick Lamar. Rumour has it there’s also a rare first-press of Nirvana’s In Utero up for grabs. Tucked away amidst the charming 1930s walk-ups of Tiong Bahru estate, it is as much a local’s hangout as a retailer.
The brainchild of Kenny Leck – one of the biggest champions of local literature in Singapore – this beloved indie bookstore is perhaps Tiong Bahru’s most famous store. More importantly, it stocks the country’s largest range of local literature, offering a much wider platform to up-and-coming Singaporean writers. Even avid bookworms will find a depth of choice second to none in the region, from Singaporean authors to American classics by Jack Kerouac and Carson McCullers and newer writers such as Téa Obreht. There are regular readings and other literary events at the store as well as a curious back room full of collectables and trinkets.
This new “liquor convenience store” and beer garden is the perfect to indulge in quality tipples out in the sunshine. With over a hundred bottles lining the shelves, Booze Pharma-C is a candy store for discerning boozers. There are bottles of IPAs, stouts, pale and red ales and smoked beers from the likes of Green Flash, Yeastie Boys, Stone, Tempest Brewing, Buxton and more. You’ll also find small batch, single malt whisky from leading independent specialist Douglas Laing, wine, sake and cocktails. The best part about the place is the friendly, homely vibe. The staff is welcoming and will let you bring your own homebrews it you have a batch ready to go.
Nestled between the lively Tiong Bahru wet market and a large lawn this high-end condominium was designed by award-winning architect, Mok Wei Wei, of W Architects and boasts a number of special features. There’s a shaded Olympic-length pool and an elevated 180m “green ridge” with facilities such as an art lounge, fitness station, barbecue pavilions and butterfly gardens. There is even a communal urban farm on the 22nd floor. The one-to-four bedroom luxury apartments all boast elegant fittings from Hansgrohe to Bosch and residents can also enjoy concierge and limousine services. The first 500 units were finished in 2013 but developers released a new batch of units averaging SGD1,765 (USD1,239) per sqft in April.
Tiong Bahru has always been a little different. Before it was full of working class colour, but the estate is well on its way to gentrification. The prestige of its renovated Art Deco walks up apartments is attractive particularly amongst expatriates. The low rise, white-washed apartments tend to be spacious and often feature spiral staircases and curvaceous balconies. Mortgagee sales are rare in Singapore, but this year a renovated conserved apartment in Tiong Bahru’s Moh Guan Terrace went up for sale by mortgagee due to its prime location and strong rental potential (apartments in this market will easily rent for up to SGD4,350 (USD3,054) per month for an 860 sqft unit), so there is scope for investors.