Tiong Bahru: old-school charm meets indie enclave
Peppered with hidden haunts tucked behind charming shophouse facades, this 1930s public housing estate near Chinatown has grown to become one of the trendiest micro-'burbs in Singapore. The buzz began in 2011 when indie bookstore BooksActually and caffeine hot spot 40 Hands opened shop here, yet despite several dozen cafes and boutiques moving in since, tiny Tiong Bahru has managed to retain its residential village vibe.
If you're in Singapore to shop, pop into Strangelets and Maissone (maissone.com) for homewares, accessories and gifts sourced from Singapore and beyond. Peruse the hand-picked wardrobe at Clothes Curator (clothescurator.com) or flick through vinyl at Curated Records (55 Tiong Bahru Rd). When it's time for a pep up, get your sugar hit at Whisk Café (58 Seng Poh Rd) or Plain Vanilla Bakery (plainvanillabakery.com), or try some old-fashioned treats at Tiong Bahru Galicier (55 Tiong Bahru Rd).
For proper meals, there are plenty of options. PS. Café Petit (pscafe.com) serves up tasty Italian fare while Open Door Policy’s (odpsingapore.com) sharing menu is made for indecisive diners. For local flavours, order pepper crab at Sin Hoi Sai (55 Tiong Bahru Rd) or head to the second floor of the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre for Hainanese boneless chicken rice or char siew (Cantonese barbecued pork).
Keong Saik: red-light district turned trendsetter hangout
Focused around three roads, Keong Saik, Jiak Chuan and Teck Lim, this area on the fringe of Chinatown is a favoured after-dark destination for the cool crowd.
Whisper the password to the bookkeeper to gain access to The Library (49 Keong Saik Rd), a secretive watering hole serving up imaginative cocktails behind a bookcase; ask the waiting staff at British-style bistro, The Study (the-study.sg), next door for the key. The Cufflink Club is geared towards gents with its brooding decor and a drinks menu to match, while new-kid-on-the-block Copper (coppersingapore.com) houses the largest selection of gin on the equatorial line.
If you're coming for dinner, too, nearby Potato Head Folk delivers an all-in-one venue complete with burger bar, cocktail lounge and alfresco tiki-style rooftop bar. For casual fare, Muchachos (22 Keong Saik Rd) serves up good-value Mexican from noon until midnight. Or check out Mariko’s (marikos.com.sg); named after a fictional Japanese manga hooker, this dimly lit place evokes 1950s Tokyo.
Daring diner? Adventurous palates will be pleased by the ever-changing menu at Lollapalooza (lollapalooza.sg) or 19-seat Esquina's excellent (albeit pricey) tapas. Head to South Korean chain Banana Tree (26 Keong Saik Rd) for kooky potted desserts.
Keong Saik has its daylight pleasures, too: stop by Rose Citron (23 Keong Said Rd) for French- and Asian-inspired home furnishings, accessories and children’s items.
Everton Park: housing estate turned hipster hangout
Heralded as the next Tiong Bahru, Everton Park (southeast of Chinatown) is an eclectic mix of new and old. Start your day at Nylon Coffee Roasters with a caffeine hit delivered with true expertise; staff source, roast and brew its beans from around the globe. Just Want Coffee (justwant.com.sg) and Cozy Corner Coffee (cozycornercoffee.com) also pour a great cup.
If you’re looking to indulge your sweet tooth, you’ve come to the right place. Batterworks (batter-works.com) offers a stunning repertoire of treats and pastries, while Grin Affair (grinaffair.com) uses natural ingredients for their glass jar creations. On hot days, Seriously Ice Cream (facebook.com/seriouslyicecream) hits the spot, and for a traditional Singaporean treat, join the line at Ji Xiang Confectionery (jixiangconfectionery.com), which is famous for its ang ku kueh (glutinous rice cake).
For something more substantial, take a seat at casual eatery The Provision Shop (Blk 3 Everton Park) for a classic and affordable meal, or at Chew the Fat (Blk 6 Everton Park) for comfort food. Health nuts would be wise to visit Eden’s Kitchen (edenskitchen.sg) for green tea products and coconut oils.
Cementing Everton Park's hip status is vintage-style barber A Few Good Men (afewgoodmensg.com). Meanwhile, Beauty by Kew (beautebykew.com) is widely adored for its organic treatments and cult brand products.
Jalan Besar: historical neighbourhood on the up and up
Famous Lavender Food Square shut in late 2014, but this foodie enclave between Little India and Kampong Glam is still great for local eats. Seek out Beach Road Scissors-Cut Curry Rice (220 Jln Besar), where your meal is snipped with scissors (hence the name), or try old-school laksa, still cooked over charcoal fire, at Sungei Road Laksa (sungeiroadlaksa.com.sg). For something out of this world, sample UFO-shaped snacks from Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake (166 Jln Besar) – one is never enough. And for late-night dim sum, look no further than Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant (sweechoon.com), a Singapore institution.
Some locals say Chye Seng Huat Hardware (papapalheta.com) is the best spot here for caffeine addicts. Head upstairs to appreciate good design at the General Company (thegeneralco.sg); its range of artisan products will tempt you to sign up for one of their craft workshops. For brunch, it's all about The Bravery (eat.thebravery.sg), which serves good pancakes and a unique lavender latte. For something sweet, visit Windowsill Pies, whose homemade tarts will have you drooling from the window, or sample the cupcakes at Butter Studio (thebutterstudio.com).
After some new threads? Enjoy a spot of retro shopping at a.e.i.o.u. (aeioulife.com) and try their famous avocado coffee, or sashay into achingly cool The Refinery (therefinery.sg) for a bite to eat and to explore the craft workshop upstairs.
For dinner, head to Suprette for comfort food with a grown-up drinks list. For more upmarket fare, check out rustic French restaurant Cocotte (restaurantcocotte.com), or find French-Japanese fusion like steak and foie gras donburi at Babette (babette.com.sg).
Geylang: a new lease of life for Singapore’s infamous red light district
Dotted with beautifully preserved shophouses and rich in Malay history, there's a lot more to this eastern Singapore suburb than its red-light district.
For a hit of coffee and cake, head to Maple and Market (f81 Marine Pde); their homemade cakes are on rotation so there’s always something new to try. Hole in the wall Brawn and Brains (brawnandbrains.sg) has great coffee and yummy sandwiches, and if you need to work it off, Yogi Inc. (yogainc.sg) and Onsight Climbing Gym (onsight.com.sg) are just down the road.
Coming for lunch? Try The Real Hut (Blk 46 Sims Place), which serves vegetarian meals created around a healing concept. If meat is more your thing, Char (char.com.sg) uses a blend of Asian and western techniques, spices and herbs to offer a unique take on traditional char siew. If you want some adventure on your plate, try a local delicacy at Lion City Frog Porridge (Lorong 9, 235 Geylang Rd). The even more adventurous may consider stopping by Old Geylang (oldgeylang.com.sg), where they dish up crocodile tail, turtle soup and penis – we can’t comment on the taste.
Treasure hunters will be happy shifting through Hi-Thrift (1 Geylang Rd) for second-hand clothes, books and more. For vintage grooming, take a seat at The Panic Room (thepanicroom.com.sg) where hair is taken very seriously.
For a nightcap, head to The Tuckshop (thetuckshop.com.sg) where you'll soon find yourself chatting with your neighbours and feeling thoroughly immersed in Singaporean local life.