“Hipster” is an oft-used descriptor that seems to cover a whole range of styles but is generally understood to refer to youngsters who live in gentrified neighbourhoods, with a preference for independent and non-mass market products. It originated in the 1940s in the US, and has since spread to many other countries, including Singapore. We explore five local estates where you can get a taste of this hipster culture you’ve probably seen on your social media feed.
by Cheryl Marie Tay
- Tiong Bahru
When the words “hipster” and “Singapore” are uttered in the same sentence, Tiong Bahru immediately comes to mind. Perhaps this is because of its vintage charm: it is, after all, the country’s oldest housing estate. Built in the 1920s, it was the first estate in Singapore to see mass public housing constructed (then under the Singapore Improvement Trust or SIT), and some SIT flats still stand there today.
Tiong Bahru has achieved hipster status in the 21st century, thanks to the influx of cafés serving specialty coffee, as well as independent stores. 40 Hands is a coffee joint on Yong Siak Street that serves coffee made exclusively from fresh beans obtained directly from specialty roasters, Five Senses Coffee Australia.
If coffee isn’t your cup of tea but you would still like a place where you can while away a lazy afternoon, check out Books Actually, also on Yong Siak Street. An indie bookstore that opened in 2005, it stocks a stunning variety of literary materials, from the classics (such as the Brothers Grimm) to obscure works and local publications. You can also find quirky knick-knacks and stationery here.
- Jalan Besar
Once known primarily for being the site of Jalan Besar Stadium and also Lavender Food Square (which, sadly, closed for good last year), Jalan Besar has become more gentrified in recent years.
Like every hipster neighbourhood, Jalan Besar has no lack of cafés, one of which can be found in the Chye Seng Huat Hardware building on Tyrwhitt Road. As its name suggests, it was once home to hardware and metal companies. Today, it houses Papa Palheta, the Roastery, the CSHH Coffee Bar and C-Platform, elements that come together to give visitors a complete coffee experience.
Whether you want to view the production process — from bean to cup — buy equipment and ingredients to make your own coffee, or simply sit down for an espresso and a warm meal, this is the place to go.
Another place of note is the Red Eye Smokehouse. Located on Cavan Road, this eatery is a meat lover’s paradise: everything from ribs and pulled pork to sausages and steaks can be found here, along with sinfully tasty sides like bone marrow mashed potatoes. Of course, you can also choose from a selection of craft beers to wash it all down.
- Kampong Glam
Rich in Malay history and culture, Kampong Glam often a stop for school children on their National Education tours. Its most recognisable landmark is the Masjid Sultan, located on Muscat Street. Prior to the ban on shisha in Singapore, plenty of people flocked to the area for their fix.
Unfortunately for many establishments in the area, the ban has led to far fewer customers, and even left some of them no choice but to sell their businesses. But despite this, Kampong Glam remains a vibrant place teeming with activity, especially on weekends. One of the estate’s more well-known hipster streets is Haji Lane, which is lined with bars and cafés.
If you like a creative twist on your booze, check out Bar Stories. Instead of poring over a menu, you can speak to any of the wait staff and request your favourites, or ask them to whip up something new based on your preferences. The staff are also knowledgeable on the history behind different alcoholic concoctions, hence the name of the bar.
Also on Haji Lane is The Nail Social, a nail salon with a socially conscious mission. Apart from manicures and pedicures, the salon offers desserts and drinks. But beyond that, its Vocational Training and Employment Programme provides professional training and positions to local underprivileged women.
This may surprise you, but despite its reputation as a tourist trap, Chinatown has a hipster streak. It’s not as hyped as that of the aforementioned neighbourhoods, but that’s probably why hipsters weary of the commercialisation of their subculture might prefer to hang out here.
Just head to Keong Saik Road to see what we mean. The Library is a speakeasy you can enter only if you have the password of the week, which you can obtain from the wait staff at the bistro next door, The Study. Its entrance is designed to resemble a wall of books, and beyond its bookish exterior lies an impressive range of cocktails.
If obscure fashion labels are your thing, be sure to visit Willow & Huxley along Amoy Street. A multi-brand boutique specialising in apparel and accessories not found in most other parts of Singapore, its labels include David Aubrey Jewellery, Baum Und Pferdgarten, Varvouzous and Vintage and Pain de Sucre, among many others.
- Everton Park
Another old HDB estate that has seen hipster influences slowly take over, Everton Park has been dubbed the “new Tiong Bahru” by some. Make a trip there and you’ll see why.
If you’re looking to indulge your sweet tooth, Grin Affair at Block 2, Everton Park serves up a variety of sugary concoctions in its signature glass jar packaging. From mousse cake to panna cotta and “ancient grain” (i.e., unprocessed and unsweetened) granola, patrons are bound to be spoilt for choice here.
And if you just want to get away from it all with a staycation, hotels in Singapore don’t get more hipster than the New Majestic Hotel, located on Bukit Pasoh Road. Situated within a conservation shophouse, it features 30 individually designed rooms, so you can pick the one whose aesthetic you find the most appealing.