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Tiong Bahru
Photograph: fleur kaan on Unsplash

The ultimate guide to Tiong Bahru

The hip enclave is home to charming cafes, heritage eats and colourful murals coexisting alongside Art Deco architecture

Delfina Utomo
Dewi Nurjuwita
Written by
Delfina Utomo
&
Dewi Nurjuwita
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Dig a little deeper into the nostalgic heritage charm of this intimate neighbourhood, the oldest public housing estate in Singapore. This fact is evident in its beautiful pre-war buildings from the 1920s, built in a Streamline Moderne architectural style by Alfred G. Church. Twenty blocks of pre-war flats were gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 2003 – and they now coexist alongside modern restaurants, vibrant murals and independent lifestyle shops. Tiong Bahru is a true paradigm of the beautiful marriage of old and new-world allure, a place where plush condominiums nestle against pre-war shophouses, and where time-honoured food markets sidle up to pristine cafés. 

RECOMMENDED: Ultimate guide to Singapore's neighbourhoods and the ultimate guide to Queenstown

Do

Tiong Bahru Market
Photograph: Dewi Nurjuwita

Tiong Bahru Market

First known as Seng Poh Market, Tiong Bahru Market was a one-storey refuge built by the government to house the street hawkers eking out a living in Singapore’s oldest public housing estate. After several huge makeovers, Tiong Bahru Market is a sprawling two-storey complex that retains much of its timeless appeal. The ground floor is a hubbub of frenetic bargaining activity on most mornings, with market and retail stalls selling everything from dried goods to cheap clothes.

Upstairs, the food haven is a spacious, breezy affair. High ceilings, well-spaced-out tables and an alfresco area spell good news for even the fussiest of hawker centre eaters. From the famous shui kuih to prawn noodles, choice is aplenty so you never have to worry about going hungry.

Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter
Photograph: Google Maps / Odoco Agency Singapore

Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter

Hidden at the back of Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street is the last remaining pre-war civilian air raid shelter still in existence in Singapore today. Spanning 1,500 sqm, the shelter was constructed in 1939 and has been left untouched except for minor touch-ups, maintaining its original architectural integrity. It is also believed to be the site for the Air Raid Precaution Wardens' depot. While the shelter itself is not open to the public currently, stop by to read the information located right outside featuring interesting facts and historical nuggets.

 

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Mural hunting
Photograph: Dewi Nurjuwita

Mural hunting

Amidst Tiong Bahru's hip cafes, heritage food stalls, yoga studios, independent boutiques and bookstores are breathtaking street art. Look out for three adorable goat murals around Tiong Bahru Market by local photographer and visual artist Ernest Goh; and several iconic murals by painter Yip Yew Chong, including Pasar & Fortune Teller, Home, and Bird Corner.

Eat

Bincho
  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Tiong Bahru

This hawker-esque yakitori bar serves up mee pok by heritage hawker Hua Bee by day and dressed up Japanese dishes and tipples at night. As befitting of its hipster modus operandi, evening diners must enter through a metal door in the back. The décor of course ticks all the cool grungy boxes – Hua Bee’s traditional marble and wood kopitiam tables and old utilitarian wall tiles are kept alongside distressed paintwork, intentional rust, unfinished wood and burnished copper.

Bakalaki
  • Restaurants
  • Greek
  • Tiong Bahru

Be transported to the isles of Greece when you step into Bakalaki. Get your fix of Mediterranean cuisine by ordering a platter of dips including tzatziki ($14.90), Greek yoghurt with cucumber, and taramosalata ($15.90), a white cod roe spread that you can slather onto warm slices of pita bread, fresh from the oven. The spacious tavern is perfect for entertaining large groups, so order one of its mixed grilled meat or seafood platters to share. The meat tray (from $97.90) comes with grilled skewers, lamb chops, meatballs and sausages, while the seafood platter (from $118.90) has a mix of squid, octopus and prawns.

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Flock Café
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Tiong Bahru

Just when you thought Tiong Bahru couldn’t possibly fit in another indie café, along comes Flock Café – a family-run affair with more of the minimalist, industrial-like décor du jour. It offers up an all-day breakfast menu that’s a nice balance of sweet and the savoury – there’s the braised pork cheek with gruyère cheese ($11.90) and prawn avocado ($12.90), as well as a variety of salads (all $8.90). Then round off your meal with the orange bundt cake ($5) or the chocolate cake ($6), accompanied by the quintessential cuppa: espressos for $3.50, plus lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites for $4.80.

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Tiong Bahru

Further away from Tiong Bahru's main cafe district, Starter Lab at Havelock Road is one of the Tiong Bahru's coolest new kids on the block. If an American-style sourdough is what you're looking for, you're in luck. Founder Emerson Manibo hand-carried his wholewheat starter and rye starter from his OG cafe of the same name in Canggu, with it quickly evolving into something uniquely Singaporean Starter Lab is now known for. 

Besides its loaves of freshly baked sourdough, its sandwiches here is the main draw – with favourites such as Meaty Mushroom ($16), a sandwich served with spinach and ricotta on country wholewheat and the Roasted Cauliflower ($15). 

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Plain Vanilla Bakery
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Tiong Bahru

Platters of pastries and cakes tempt your taste buds as you enter Plain Vanilla Bakery, but resist that because you’re here for one purpose: to capture those cupcakes, squash them between your teeth, reduce them to a sticky, gooey clump. Choose from a dozen flavours ($3.90 each): chocolate hazelnut is a bold Nutella-fuelled prize crowned with more nuts, red velvet is made with Valrhona chocolate and capped with a thick cream cheese frosting, and the cookies and cream are a chocolatey affair with smashed Oreos weaved into its frosting. You’ll want to collect ’em all, we promise.

Tiong Bahru Bakery
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Tiong Bahru

This boulangerie – which first opened its flagship store at it's eponymous neighbourhood serves french artisanal breads, tarts and coffee at three locations around town. Savoury options like the Squid Ink Sandwich ($8.50) and Ham and Melted Cheese on Focaccia ($8) are great for satisfying the peckish while sweet options like the ever-popular Almond Croissant ($3.20) and the sinful Kouign-Amann ($3.50) are not-to-be-missed especially when bought fresh off the oven.

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Tiann's Bakery
  • Restaurants
  • Tiong Bahru

Tiann's tries its best to be that gluten-free, paleo-friendly and organic (as much as possible) bakery. They stick to good old fashioned bakes like banana bread ($4.50/per slice, $43/whole loaf) that also comes vegan if you preorder two days in advance ($53/whole loaf). Also on the menu are chocolate hazelnut cake ($8.80/per slice, $68/whole cake) and ice cream made in-house with raw ingredients ($4.80/per cup, $23/whole tub). They do savoury and hot food too, like pies, toasties and waffles ($9.80-$16) and have reasonably priced coffee ($3.50-$6).

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Tiong Bahru

Go crazy with the selection of old-school nyonya kueh and traditional treats at Tiong Bahru Gallicier. From ondeh-ondeh (glutinous rice balls with gula melaka filling) to Lemper Udang (a savoury sticky rice roll filled with spicy dried shrimp), you can also add on to the basket with classic pandan cake, assorted chiffon cakes, tarts, cookies and pastries.

Drink

  • Bars and pubs
  • Craft beer pubs
  • Tiong Bahru

Located in a quiet corner of the hip Tiong Bahru precinct (in a row of shops at Link Hotel) is Canjob Taproom store. The snack bar and liquor store offers rotating craft beers on tap that you're able to can up for takeaway at affordable prices. Draft craft beers start from $9 for a Lager-Pale from Garage Project to $15 for Strawberry Gum Stout from Beerfarm and if you're feeling peckish, tuck into their delicious bratwurst hotdogs ($8), meat pies ($7), or spam fries ($8).

 

  • Restaurants
  • Tiong Bahru

This cheekily-named chill-out spot was founded by ex-bankers Goh Zhiwei and Sean Lawlor who joined forces with metal rocker Michael Leong to set up a Melbourne-inspired, minimalist bar space that plays a diverse selection of music (put together by Leong).

Name aside, this joint is dead serious about its alcohol: a vast offering of more than 30 craft beers and cider ($10.50-$18), plus show-stoppers like the Chuck Norris ($30), in which three sets of absinthe are set on fire. There’s food as well, mainly focused on pub grub such as the angus cheeseburger ($19.90) and chicken quesadillas ($15.90).

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  • Restaurants
  • Tiong Bahru
  • price 1 of 4

Temporarily closed

Nestled on the rooftop of Link Hotel is this hugely underrated rooftop bar, boasting Chinese-inspired decor and views to match. Have a beer or house pour under the stars at the bar's Al Fresco deck, which allows you to soak in the full city atmosphere.

Shop

  • Shopping
  • Home decor
  • Tiong Bahru

Tan Boon Liat might look like an old decrepit building, but it is actually a home decorator's mecca. There are over 33 shops selling furniture, home decor, and everything else you need to create the perfect home. All-time favourite stores are The Past Perfect Collection (#11-05), Singapore Trading Post (#07-01), Deer Industries (#07-05), and Soul & Tables (#02-01/03)

Be prepared to spend a whole day exploring all the shops in this building... and ending up buying a sofa, dining table or at least a rug from the experience.

Nimble/Knead
  • Things to do
  • Tiong Bahru

This cosy spa is housed in shipping containers, making the latest addition to Tiong Bahru. While exteriors scream "industrial chic", step inside and you'll find a comforting palette of browns and burgundies offset by Thai silk pillows and wall decals of flowers and birds.

Two out of four treatment rooms, plus the hot tub in the back for bath therapies like The Milky Way ($55 for 30min) and Heaven and Herb ($55 for 30 min), are for duos. Massage styles range from a classic Thai or Balinese to the Tuina and modern Japanese Shiatsu.

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Woods in the Books
  • Shopping
  • Bookshops
  • Tiong Bahru

If pages full of words bore you, check out this addition to the local literary scene that specialises in picture books. Woods in the Books offers a feast of pictorial treasures, including works by award-winning French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé – known simply as Sempé – plus quirky graphic novels, the popular 1980s Malaysian series Lat, pop-up versions of The Little Prince, and of course, classic children’s books like Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Tiong Bahru

Contemporary art gallery Hatch Art Project, which opened in 2018 on the first floor of Asia Square Tower 1 has injected some life (and colour) in the CBD since its inception. Now, it's moved into the hip hood of Tiong Bahru, perfect for art collectors hoping to snatch the latest art pieces. 

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  • Shopping
  • Tiong Bahru

Don't judge this tiny shop space by its cover – Curated Record is full of over a thousand records and vinyls covering all genres. The hole-in-the-wall independent record store is right smack in the middle of Tiong Bahru, so expect to find all kinds of Hipster 101 albums. Still, you’ll be able to pick out a few good finds – albeit at ludicrously high prices – like a rare first-press of Nirvana’s In Utero.

We Need a Hero
  • Things to do
  • Tiong Bahru

The Spa Esprit Group's male counterpart to the brand's popular Strip and Browhaus concepts is an all-in-one space for men to get their head-to-toe treatments in a space that feels less princess palace and more superhero hideout.

A small retail area is stocked with goods by Malin+Goetz, label.m, Geo F Trumper and a We Need a Hero house brand – so dudes don't have to wait until the next tune-up to hit up this Tiong Bahru joint.

Services-wise, haircuts ($60-100) are administered by veteran scissorhands Janice, while an in-house team is responsible for colour work (from $105), treatments (From $120), shaves and trims ($15-$65) for wild moustaches and beards. We Need a Hero also provides proprietary techniques to remove all that fur from the ears ($14) and nostrils ($20) – and plans are underway to launch facials for men.

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  • Shopping
  • Delis
  • Raffles Place

For all your gourmet needs at affordable prices, Foodie Market Place is your destination. Its shelves are stocked with air-flown chilli beef & lamb, frozen meats and seafood, cheeses, canned products, ice creams and frozen desserts. Whether you're shopping for your next barbecue party or doing your grocery run for the week, take a stroll to the edge of Tiong Bahru.

More 'hoods here

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