Hipster Cafes And Tiong Bahru: A Symbiotic Relationship

Nowhere in Singapore does the adage “pitting the old versus the new” fit more than in Tiong Bahru, land of the trendy, hip and cultural.

Recent developments to the area has turned Tiong Bahru into Singapore’s undisputed Hipster Avenue — only Haji Lane and Jalan Besar can contest this title.

A side effect of Tiong Bahru’s newly-found hipsterism in 2011, beginning with Books Actually’s move from Chinatown, is the sprouting of hipster cafes, attracted to the neighbourhood’s oldness (for lack of a better term).

In a manner akin to rabbits mating, these cafes burst in popularity and spawned even more cafes. As a result of this sudden popularity, property prices in Tiong Bahru have shot up like crazy, with more expats as well as younger folk are moving into the historic area thanks to its hipster reputation.

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Hipsters and foodies have their new weekend hangout, owners looking to sell or rent out their property are also happy — but residents who’ve stayed there since the 60’s aren’t so happy. Coffee that costs $6.50? Siao ah?

Several old businesses have moved out and new hipster cafes have (thankfully) eased their advent due to the now-steep rent costs. In 2013, only two new cafes set up shop.

Gentrification a threat?

Prior to 2011, Tiong Bahru was a sleepy estate with mostly older residents.

The process of “gentrification” — “displacement of a lower-income population from a neighbourhood by new groups of middle and upper class residents” — may end up being a threat to Tiong Bahru’s old charm, due to the invasion of new, pricy elements in the neighbourhood.

Efforts by owners of these new cafes in interacting with residents may result in a marrying of the old and the new after all, through assimilation and just good ol’ getting along with each other.

Whether gentrification in Tiong Bahru will truly occur is anyone’s guess, although if property prices continue to rise, the exits may come sooner rather than later.

Hipster cafes in Tiong Bahru — yay or nay?

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Hipster cafes are equally loved and hated by the masses. Frequent cafe-hoppers point to the non-traditional decor, atmosphere and uncommon food not easily found in malls; traits which are ironically now found in nearly every nook and cranny of the island due to the cafe “virus” over the past few years.

Detractors do not see the point in paying upwards of $30 for a simple meal, or in the 45-minute-plus queues which often crop up on weekends. Several (ex-)cafe owners have also found out the hard way that running a cafe is no joke financially.

Whichever camp you are on, the influx of hipster culture appears to be firmly rooted in the former sleeping town, high rentals notwithstanding. As long as there’s demand from the hipsters, there will be hipster cafes in Tiong Bahru.

We doubt the atmosphere at Tiong Bahru will change considerably too; in fact, the cafes may have made the estate more worthwhile to visit instead, despite its “newness”.


Featured image via Peiying L.
With references from Yahoo News, The Straits Times, The Straits Times, Wikipedia