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Keong Saik Road: The coolest new block in Singapore
The former red light district has a library with a secret watering hole, chic restaurants and a 1980s-themed bar
In the old days, a cab driver might give you a greasy look if you told him you wanted to go to Chinatown's Keong Saik Road.
Once a gangster-filled red light district, in recent years the vice has been swapped for trendy hotels, bistros, cafes and boutiques.
Together with neighboring streets like Bukit Pasoh and Cantonment Road, Keong Saik Road is in the conserved area of Bukit Pasoh, known for colorful two- and three-story art deco shophouses and other places worth hitting.
From the outside, it's a small, dimly lit library with (usually) a solo reader sitting in front of a big bookshelf.
Walk in and the reader looks up as if she/he is waiting for something from you. A password.
The Library is actually a not-so-secret speakeasy that serves fantastic cocktails.
After you give the right password -- it changes weekly -- the reader will lead you into the bar through a secret door.
The password isn't really that difficult to obtain. You can either ask the waiter at Keong Saik Snacks -- the restaurant next door -- or follow Keong Saik Snacks’ Facebook page.
The Library, 47 Keong Saik Road, Singapore
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Buckhouse Refinery, which just opened a few weeks ago, is the latest hip addition to the clothing and accessories scene in Keong Saik.
“What we’re trying to do is offer a good mix of labels but a cohesive selection,” said Karen Heng, the founder of Buckhouse Refinery.
“The brands we carry are contemporary high street fashion that are daring and focus on individuality.”
These include Staple the Label, Bones and Feathers and Somearethieves.
Good news for those who like to shop with a buzz -- Heng says they’re considering adding a cocktail bar to the shop.
The Buckhouse Refinery, 18 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6224 2752; open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
At the back of the Buckhouse Refinery is a small workshop owned by Heng’s husband, Webson Souza.
The Brazilian makes customized speakers in his workshop out of scraps. But when it comes to prices, size is irrelevant.
“You can't categorize them by size,” he says. "They're all different -- it depends on what music you listen to and where you're going to put it."
The most basic stereo costs about SG$500 ($396) and will take at least four days to be made.
Drophead (inside The Buckhouse Refinery), 18 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6224 2752; open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Keong Saik Snacks
This city can't seem to get enough of Jason Atherton and Andrew Walsh.
The third Singapore venture from the celeb chefs, Keong Saik Snacks is a chic restaurant serving polished fast-bites as well as more elaborate comfort food with a lower price tag than the chefs’ other outlets.
The unpretentious atmosphere is perfect for a friendly small group gathering while the slow poached egg with haddock and spring onion mash and milk will brighten any rainy day.
Keong Saik Snacks, 49 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6221 8338; open Tuesday to Sunday from noon-3 p.m., 6-10:30 p.m.
Tong Ah Eating House
Once set in the iconic triangular corner house on Keong Saik Road, this fourth generation kopitiam (coffee house) recently moved out of the 1939 structure to a smaller space on the same street.
“I greatly studied all my recipes, from toast to tea,” says owner Tang Chew Fung. “I use a special butter and my tea powder is allowed time to age for the perfect flavor.”
Kaya toast in Tong Ah is delicately made -- steamed white bread sliced in half, perfectly toasted on the outside with soft insides tangled with melting butter. Kaya (coconut egg jam) is served on the side.
Tong Ah Eating House, 35 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; open daily, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m. (to 11 p.m. during weekend), closed alternate Wednesday
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Founded in 2006 by French designer Zoe Borie, everything in this playful shop has French flair and a social conscience.
Featuring accessories, clothes and home decor, Rose Citron is the perfect place to hunt for random fashion treasures.
The designer, now based in France, sends her designs and fabrics from France while the rest of the work is done locally. Usually no more than two of each item is produced so stock is limited.
Rose Citron, 23 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6323 1368; open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple
This colorful Hindu temple dating back to 1925 lies at the junction of Keong Saik Road and Kreta Ayer Road.
The entrance, Rajagopuram, features five stories of detailed ornaments.
Offering a bit of back story, the temple's website features the tale of its main deity, Vinayagar, the first god of the Hindus, including details of how he gets his elephant head.
The temple is usually open for tourists, but visitors should read the official guidelines before a visit.
Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple, 73 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6221 4853; open daily 7:30 a.m.- 8:30 p.m.
The playful Retrospective Restaurant and Bar is a British venue that celebrates the days of casette tapes, shoulder pads and other 1980s paraphernalia.
The wall of the restaurant is lined with retro artifacts, from brick-sized mobile phones to a Nintendo Entertainment System (along with Duck Hunt and Mario Brothers cartridges). There's even a functioning Pac-Man arcade game at the back of the restaurant.
"I challenge anyone to beat my record on the Pac-Man machine," says Patrick Fok, co-owner of the restaurant.
The menu is also inspired by the era. Fok recommends the corned beef hash topped with fried egg, the chicken kiev and crepes suzette for desserts.
The Retrospective, 21 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6223 1334; open Monday to Thursday from noon to midnight, Friday to Sunday from noon to 1 a.m.
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If you're on a mission to go on a dress-shopping spree in Singapore without breaking the bank, Love Mi is the place.
Featuring clothing designed and made locally, the shop started out online before opening its first retail store on Keong Saik Road.
Most dresses are in the SG$30-60 price range.
Love Mi, 14 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6221 2962; open Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m., Sunday, 2:30-7:30 p.m.
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