Its retro Art Deco-like structures and housing blocks have long lured design and architecture buffs, but in recent years Tiong Bahru has become Singapore’s coolest kid on the island thanks to an influx of trendy bars, cafés, and art spaces. Here’s how to spend a day wandering one of the republic’s most happening housing estates.
9 a.m. Treat yourself to one of French baker Gontran Cherrier’s rich almond-chocolate croissants or a perfectly crisped kouign amann pastry at Tiong Bahru Bakery , still one of the most beloved cafés in the neighborhood some five years since its debut. For something more savory, try the squid-ink baguette with smoked salmon, assuming it’s not sold out already.
10:30 a.m. There’s a remarkable collection of rare and signed books to browse at quiet BooksActually, which is also one of the better places on the island to find works by Singaporean poets and authors. Of particular note, the shop’s own small imprint, Math Paper Press, publishes a series of titles filled with fascinating stories from local residents about the neighborhoods they’ve called home for at least a decade.
12:30 a.m. Follow the locals’ lead with a casual Singaporean-style lunch at Tiong Bahru Market, the huge open-air hawker centre that re-opened in May following a three-month closure for significant renovations. Join the lengthy queue at 178 Sharks Meat Lor Mee for a hot bowl of sticky noodles topped with fried shark meat—it’s worth the wait.
3 p.m. Escape the midday heat inside a few of Tiong Bahru’s best boutiques. Vintage and alternative vinyl hunters could spend hours rifling through the more than 1,000 records at Curated Records. If you’re more interested in designer fashions, head to nana & bird, the one-time pop-up run by two Singaporean women with keen eyes for style.
5 p.m. Attend a current events discussion, join a hands-on workshop, or just browse the curated galleries at Grey Projects, a non-profit platform for all things art. Two- to three-month studio residencies for emerging Singaporean artists ensure a steady schedule of new and interesting exhibitions.
6:30 p.m. Kick back with a cold sundowner at Booze Pharma-C, a new bottle shop with a few street-side tables out front. It’s one of the only places in the area exclusively offering imported and local craft beers. Look for bottles from Brewlander & Co., a new local brewery that launched in March. Its Wild IPA, a hoppy, somewhat funky ale fermented with wild yeasts, is exceptional.
8 p.m. Though domestic vegetables and herbs unfortunately remain few and far between in Singapore restaurants, Open Door Policy bucks the norm by growing its own greens in its in-house vertical garden. Chef Ryan Clift’s menu features full-flavored dishes like pan-seared crispy quail and king crab orecchiette—you’d never guess everything is dairy- and gluten-free.
10:30 p.m. Head through the non-descript door in the back of an old converted kopitiam to Bincho, the multi-concept eatery that by night morphs into an Osakan-style izakaya. Go for one of the bar’s Japanese cocktails or rare whiskies; if you’re still hungry, chef Asai Masahi’s yakitori should do the trick.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2017 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“A Day in Tiong Bahru”).