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Keong Saik Road: The coolest new block in Singapore
The former red light district has a library with a secret bar, chic restaurants and a reputation for being super-hip. Here's why
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In the old days, a cab driver might give you a dubious look if you told him you wanted to go to Chinatown's Keong Saik Road.
Once a gangster-filled red light district, Chinatown’s Keong Saik Road is now one of Singapore’s hottest hoods, full of trendy hotels, bistros, cafes and the odd boutique.
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 plenty else worth visiting.
Here are a few of our fave stops.
Potato Head Folk
Whether you’re after a quick late night gourmet burger, a sit-down meal or a last-call drink, Keong Saik’s Potato Head Folk has it.
Located in one of the street’s most interesting historic buildings, this is a place known for its artistic flair, casual food and great vibes.
Created by the owners of Bali’s Potato Head Beach Club, the four-story operation draws a crowd as eclectic as the murals on its upstairs walls.
Downstairs is on-the-pavement dining -- pay a bit more and you eat inside at the Three Buns restaurant.
Then there’s the third floor Studio 1939, one of the city’s coolest intimate bars, with leather couches and vintage seats.
The Potato Head bills its fourth-floor rooftop garden as a "bohemian oasis." This is the place for drinks with a view of Singapore’s ever changing skyline.
Potato Head Folk, 36 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6327 1939; dining, Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.–midnight, drinks, Tuesday-Sunday, 5 p.m.-midnight
Just off Keong Saik Road, this popular new restaurant is the brainchild of Singapore’s "restauranteur extraordinaire," Andre Chiang.
Led by Australian chef David Pynt, the 18-seat grill serves modern Down Under barbecue with a twist.
Cuts of meat are grilled on custom-built metal plates, with other dishes slow- or hot-roasted in four-ton brick and ceramic ovens.
If you’re game to wait -- and the one downside of this place is it can be virtually impossible to snag a table -- then the smoked quail eggs and the Burnt Ends Sanger (burger filled with pulled pork, coleslaw and spicy chipotle aioli) shouldn't be overlooked.
Burnt Ends, 20 Teck Lim Road, Singapore; +65 6224 3933; Monday, 6 p.m.-late, Tuesday-Saturday, 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m., 6 p.m.-late, closed Sunday
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 they're waiting for something from you: a password.
The Library is actually a not-so-secret speakeasy that serves fantastic cocktails.
After you give the correct 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 The Study -- the restaurant next door – or follow The Study Facebook page.
The Library, 47 Keong Saik Road, Singapore
More on CNN: Singapore's best cocktail bars
This city can't seem to get enough of Jason Atherton and Andrew Walsh.
The third Singapore venture from the celeb chefs, The Study (formerly Keong Saik Snacks) is a chic restaurant serving polished contemporary British cuisine with a lower price tag than the chefs’ other outlets.
The unpretentious atmosphere is perfect for a friendly small group gathering and the Iberico pork and foie gras scotch egg starter will brighten any rainy day.
If it’s a hangover cure you’re seeking, the big breakfast is guaranteed to provide relief.
The Study, 49 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6221 8338; Tuesday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m., 6-10:30 p.m.
Bread and Hearth Artisanal Bakery and Cafe
With a unique offering on Keong Saik Road, the newly opened Bread and Heath is a good pitstop for a strong latte and a croque monsieur.
Everything here is baked on site and the loaves of bread are so good that people travel from all over the city to buy them.
The croissants, lemon meringue and chocolate tarts are favorites.
Bread and Hearth Artisanal Bakery and Cafe, 18 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 6534 7800; daily 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Tong Ah Eating House
Once set in the iconic triangular corner house on Keong Saik Road, this fourth generation kopitiam (coffee house) moved out of its 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; daily, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m. (to 11 p.m. on weekends), closed alternate Wednesdays
More on CNN: Singapore dining: Best of the old and new
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 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; Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Women’s boutiques across many cities are a dime a dozen but finding the perfect suit for a man can prove more of a challenge.
That's where 30-year-old Jonathan Chiang comes in with his contemporary take on his grand-uncle’s Raffles Place tailor shop Leong Tailors, an institution in the city from the 1970s until it closed last year.
"I wanted to give my grand-uncle’s business a second life and cater to the younger generation,” he says.
“I credit my fashion eye to the numerous shopping trips I was dragged along on by my mum and aunties from a young age.”
Chiang is the front end of the business, taking clients’ measurements and doing fittings, while behind the scenes the suits are hand-stitched using high-end, premium European fabrics.
Leong Tailors, 47 Keong Saik Road, Singapore; +65 8353 6999; contact at firstname.lastname@example.org; open by appointment only, noon-8 p.m. (Monday-Friday), noon–6 p.m. (Saturday)
Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple
This colorful Hindu temple dating 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; daily 7:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Originally published September, 2013. Updated March 26, 2015.