We all know how this city works: the second a neighborhood gets called hip or trendy, it’s only a matter of time before a) hipsters make their way there to sell cupcakes and b) investment bankers jack the prices up by moving in. The only way the rest of you can enjoy a hip hood is to get there first. So we decided to do everyone a favor by identifying the next four semi-suburban hoods on the cusp of awesomeness so you can beat the rush. Warning: not all these offer cupcakes. (Yet.)

Park Life: Everton Park

If Tiong Bahru and Jalan Besar are getting too busy for you, Everton Park might just be the place for that quiet cuppa on a Saturday morning—it’s no coincidence that three coffee joints and two bakeries (what did we tell you?) have opened in this quaint neighborhood over the past year. “This is one of the oldest HDB blocks of Singapore and has seen its growth through the decades,” says Casey Loh, co-founder of refurbished antique furnishing store Artsyfact, one of the first few shops to open here last year. “We wanted to have presence in an estate that pays homage to nostalgia but is also surrounded by Singapore’s ever-evolving cityscape.”

Its close proximity to Neil Road and Spottiswoode Park also means that city slickers can either have a meal at one of the old-school kopitiams along the former or check out art gallery Vue Privee at the latter before proceeding here for coffee and desserts. Located on the ground floor of HDB blocks, these establishments are fairly accessible, but be prepared to make a few wrong turns (old designs may be charming, but they’re not always practical).

One-year-old Nylon Coffee Roasters is must for serious coffee lovers. Primarily a coffee roaster, this small joint is best for a quickie takeaway for a cup of espresso ($3) before you proceed to check out the rest of the area. Reminiscent of Papa Palheta and Chye Seng Huat (proprietors Lee Jia Min and Dennis Tang were former partners at the two joints), this is a quaint, scaled-down neighbourhood version specializing in six types of blends using beans from El Salvador and Kenya. Meanwhile, Just Want Coffee is great if it’s variety you’re looking for. Espressos and house blends aside, you can also pick up their caramel ice drip ($7) and Luwak coffee ($35) at this easy-going 25-seater cafe. Twenty-day-old Cozy Corner Coffee (#01-50 Blk. 4 Everton Park)—with its graffiti walls and trendy furniture—is another great new joint to hang out in, serving sandwiches (from $6.50) and pies (from $2.50) on the side.

For desserts, don’t miss Grin Affair for their highly creative “cakes in a jar”. Spanning flavours like strawberry cheesecake and hazelnut, these are a step up from regular cakes found in other bakeries as they are all individually handmade and hand-packed by brother-and-sister team Leslie and Jody Ong.  All cakes are stuffed in recyclable mini jars and make perfect gift ideas (plus, they’re only $5.50 each). Batterworks is another spot load up on a wide range of pastries from just 95 cents each, or $5.50 for six.

Then there is Artsyfact (Call to make an appointment), a small but hip vintage furnishing store founded by Aaron Koh, Casey Loh and Leon Lai (no, not the Canto-pop singer). The trio scour the island’s estates, homes and flea markets for unwanted junk, then repurpose and restore them into unique furniture and furnishings (prices range from $19 for an enamel vase to $2,000 for a sofa). Aspects of the original material, including its history with previous owners, are preserved and there’s always a story to tell.

While it’s still early days to really tell if Everton Park has the potential to become a destination in its own right, its quaint setting and increasingly modern mix of cafes are telling signs that it is not far off. “The potential for Everton Park to grow is there as older shop owners are moving out to make space for newer tenants,” says Artsyfact’s Loh. Though footfall isn't fantastic, we still expect indie-types to come down to this area to hang out.”

Art Beat: Alexandra

Clubbing at the usual shiny mega-institutions these days feels like stepping into a Rich Kids of Instagram diorama (only real!), what with barely-legal young men and misses—each armed with a personal giant bottle of Dom Pérignon—cavorting to Avicii. So it’s no surprise that savvier folk have been sniffing out the Alexandra area for alternative parties. The boys from Sideshow practically hold court here, with their wildly successful garden parties at The Training Shed setting the tone with their free-wheeling Sunday outdoor parties, plus  a recent do inside art gallery Future Perfect. And last month we saw the Super 0 parties take the heat up a notch with cult names like 2562, Delta Funktionen and Dinky gracing the decks of an ingeniously converted space in Gillman Barracks.

Of course, people were already hanging out here before anything ever popped up in Gillman Barracks—this cluster of galleries and eateries has been on everyone’s radar since its massive opening last year. If you plan to visit, look out for upcoming openings. Some galleries synchronize their opening nights, which are great fun for gallery-hopping.

F&B offerings can sometimes be a little lackluster at spots like these that are far from competing dining destinations. Fortunately, there are a couple of gems here that make the grade. We really like The Naked Finn, which has plenty of indie cred, having begun as a little pop-up kitchen at the now-defunct hip local boutique A Curious Teepee. It’s all grown up now and has a place of its own, drawing hungry crowds nightly with grilled seafood and refreshing cocktails (from $16). A more romantic spot is secluded modern Thai joint Tamarind Hill, while crunchy types can get their greens at Onaka, which makes use of wholesome meat analogs in their dishes (tempeh Reuben sandwiches!, $13).

For post-dinner drinks, there’s Room Coffee Bar, a dinky little cafe which used to be tucked away in a shophouse on Carpenter Street. But unless there’s a party going on, nights here tend to be on the low-key side, so if you’re in the mood for beer and music, Timbre @ Gillman is probably your best bet for kicking back until late.

Although there’s art and music aplenty in this part of the island if (and only if) you know when exactly to swing by, there just aren’t enough choices around to make this a 24/7 hangout yet. On our wishlist? Casual cafes could turn this into the ultimate brunch spot, and it would be ear-splittingly amazing if forward-thinking nightspots (think the old La Maison on Fairways Drive) could capitalize on the low residential density here.

Food for Thought: Jalan Riang

This tight alley may have just five hip dining establishments, but that’s quite enough to rival other hip hoods in terms of crowd density. Anyone who’s walked the street will know that well—even the quietest weekday spot here is almost full house on a weekend. That, despite the estate being far from the city (located off Upper Serangoon Road) and at least 15 minutes on foot from the Lorong Chuan MRT Station. Driving? Word of warning: parking is limited and can be a nightmare. But if lack of access hasn’t affected businesses, it can only mean one thing: Jalan Riang is doing something right.

The first to take up residency here was three-year-old The Fat Cat, a casual, non-airconditioned bistro with a serviced food court concept. There are three stalls serving Thai, North Indian and French cuisine, plus the eatery’s own bar offering a selection of beers (from $8), wines (from $11 per glass), cocktails (from $10), coffee (from $4), juices (from $3) and desserts (from $1). With each stall offering its own distinct flavor and menu—we’re talking about over 100 food items—it won’t be easy making decisions, but the wide variety of dishes are hard to fault.

Next door, seafood restaurant The Cajun Kings, replacing the former Jules Cafe Bar, bustles with a swinging, convivial ambiance. This is the kind of place to forget all table manners—eat with your hands, laugh out loud, slurp and burp if you like—while you feast on its hearty Cajun-boiled shellfish like crabs, mussels and prawns served in plastic bags (from $8 per 100g). For dessert, try the quaint neighboring chocolate cafe Wimbly Lu if you’re in the mood for sophisticated sweets like chocolate crème brulee ($5) and the Blackout Cake ($6). Plus, its whimsical décor complete with fairy-lighted glass roof and cozy vibe might be just what you need for a quiet evening.

For affordable, true-to-form Italian fare, La Pizzaiola ticks all the right boxes. This second outlet, with its unfussy, modern interiors of wood-paneled walls, dark-colored furnishings and concrete floors, offers a concise menu of Italian standards: antipasti (from $6.90), pasta (from $12.90) and pizza (baked in a wood-fired oven, from $13.90).

Finally, at the end of the street is the latest addition to the scene: coffee spot Rokeby (pronounced roc-ker-bee), named after a street in Western Australia. The three-month-old establishment serves artisanal coffee (from $3.50) complete with latte art, as well as a decent selection of starters (from $6.90), Western mains such as prawn risotto ($18.90) and kurobuta pork collar ($23.90).

More venues might help to stretch the crowd thinner, but Jalan Riang is a small lane and there are not nearly enough of the charming 1980s shophouses to go around (maybe just two or three more and the area will be full). Nonetheless, what the street lacks in quantity it makes up with quality.

Eastern Promises: Katong/Joo Chiat

Although there never was any shortage of good food around here, Katong somehow never got around to becoming truly hip. These days, however, it looks as though the profile of this area is finally about to rise above its laksa-and-Peranakan-kueh doldrums. What with the iconic Red House Bakery currently being renovated into a set of slick apartments, the whiff of imminent gentrification is pretty strong.

Another old-school institution that’s recently undergone a makeover is AlibabaR the Hawker Bar, a kopitiam that’s somewhat catapulted to fame following the success of French food stall Saveur, which now has its own digs at Purvis Street. It’s now more of an open-air bistro where you can sip on upmarket brews like Belgian Trappistes Rochefort beers (from $12.90). There isn’t a mixologist on the premises, but we wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see one. It certainly seems like East Coasters have an unquenchable thirst for booze, and aren’t shy about flocking to new bars either. We visited some newer kids on the block Immigrants and sister establishments Rabbit Carrot Gun and The Trenchard Arms right after they opened, and found that they were already packed with crowds of rowdy (in the first case) and grizzled (in the latter) regulars.

A notable alternative is Penny University , a lively cafe that’s packed to the gills on weekends despite not serving alcohol (nor pork; it’s halal). With a streamlined menu of coffee, tea, breakfast bites and Windowsill pies, it’s sort of the grown-up, cooler older sibling of run-of-the-mill coffee chains hawking sugary ice-blended drinks. Instead of pimply study groups, you’ll find mostly young adults on platonic coffee dates and folks doing their own thing, accompanied by cups of their signature muddy espresso ($5.50). As the cafe looks to expand its menu with classic fry-ups, we think this could easily become Katong’s answer to Loysel’s Toy or Kith Cafe.

Katong has plenty going for it, being a bit of a favorite with design collectives like Kinetic and PHUNK Studio. There’s even a gallery of sorts along the main foodie strip, in the form of Mad Nest. But nearby hawker food offerings and shopping malls make this a truly egalitarian hangout, and not just a hip destination for those—like you, now—in the know.


Leave a Comment