Not Your Usual Staycation: Rooming Above A Restaurant In Joo Chiat
STORY: Audrey Phoon
12 November 2020
There’s something about the Joo Chiat area that draws fans from everywhere, as can be seen from the colourful tapestry of businesses here – everything from Peranakan kueh shops and Vietnamese KTV lounges to hip coffee cafes, minimalist Japanese eateries and ang moh-run pubs.
Which is precisely what makes this heritage area so interesting for a staycation. Apart from discovering its nearly 100-year-old history and gathering new fodder for your Instagram feed (FYI this is one of the most richly preserved hoods in Singapore, with over 800 pre-World War II buildings conserved), there’s enough here by way of activity and dining options to keep most travel-starved peeps entertained from day to night. Think everything from crafting your own homewares to watching a magic show over coffee.
Here’s the perfect hit list for your Joo Chiat staycation.
WHERE TO STAY
Considering how busy you’re going to be in the day here, you’ll want comfy digs to chill in at night. And Rabbit Carrot Gun (49 East Coast Rd) has some of the plushest beds in the area. This biz in a 1925 shophouse is better known as a brunch spot and gastropub, but in fact has three funky suites above its dining area (don’t worry, they’re soundproofed).
Pick from the vintage-y Kubric Suite, the mod colonial Rabbit’s Retreat or the spacious Terrace Suite (that comes not just with a private terrace, but an open shower). Rooms start from about $185 a night, with a two-night minimum stay. Some also include a delicious English breakfast at the restaurant and can sleep up to four.
WHAT TO DO
You can’t step into Singapore’s unofficial indie cafe capital without sampling some coffee. And a tasting experience at The Maks Coffee (267 Tembeling Rd) is the most elegant way to do it. This shophouse houses a coffee showroom and workshop space that looks like it came straight out of Kinfolk and can be booked for sipping sessions with your pals.
Coffee-wise, the family-run biz, which has supplied Southeast Asia with coffee for four generations, specialises in Arabica beans, which fourth-gen owner Chris Mak prefers for a smoother, less headachey drinking experience. Love their house-roasted java? You can even buy a customised subscription (choose everything from the coarseness of the grind to tasting notes) for when your staycay is over.
Then go in search of a new stay-home hobby with a class at Craft Atelier (426A Joo Chiat Rd), a maker space run by crafters. Here, you can learn handicrafts ranging from crocheting to paper cutting no matter your skill level – there are “tasting classes” for beginners to masterclasses for the more experienced.
We think the hypnotic Paper Marbling class is a great way to melt away anxiety, plus you get to pick up an art pioneered by the ancient Venetians. Also fascinating: The Upcycling Food Wrappers workshop, where you can learn how to make a pouch out of your fave discarded food wrapper (Pocky purses or Indomie cosmetic cases, anyone?).
Of course, what’s a Singapore staycation without that ultimate Singaporean hobby: Shopping? This hood is packed with stores that aren’t your usual cookie-cutter businesses, such as RetroCrates (448A Joo Chiat Rd), a shop with a mission to keep vinyl alive. Here, you can pick up a turntable or go crate digging for pop, rock and jazz 7” and 12” LPs, both new and second-hand. Then shimmy up to the second floor, where you can chill out in the listening lounge and immerse yourself in the moosic.
Or head to EGG3 (44 Joo Chiat Pl), a concept store filled with avant garde fashion and quirky homeware. This eclectically furnished space reminds us of Bangkok’s Siam Square indie boutiques, and it’s where you can get everything from asymmetrical dresses and chubby cushions printed with fish bones to clothes hangers resembling deer horns that the owner sources from around the globe.
WHERE TO EAT
The biggest issue with staying in this area? Deciding where to makan. Joo Chiat/Katong is arguably Singapore’s yummiest dining enclave and the multitude of food and drink options here can be mindboggling. We recommend taking advantage of being a resident by getting in the line early at Petit Pain (315 Joo Chiat Rd) for some of Singapore’s best bread.
This small-batch, French and Japanese-influenced bakery makes loaves and croissants from scratch, and they’re all worth the wait – especially the pillowy, chewy ciabatta. Note: They open at 10am on weekends and 11am on weekdays, and you’ll need to get there on the dot to buy anything at all. But if they’ve sold out when you arrive, don’t panic – you may be allowed to pre-order for collection later in the day.
If you’d rather have a sit-down bite and beverage, pop into C Cafe. Sure, the name is kinda bland, but the food and sideshow are anything but. What you get here is hearty, well-put-together grub (like crispy fried chicken paired with fluffy waffles, tasty toasties on artisanal sourdough and açai bowls made with tropical fruit) that you can wash down with smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices.
And that sideshow? Slickly executed card tricks by the owners, who are freelance magicians (sit at the high table in the middle of the cafe to catch the show).
We could go on, but stomach space has its limits. If you need more recommendations, check out these suggestions from a food writer and Joo Chiat resident.