A majestic revival of Singapore’s clans and clubs
Whether you start the trip from Blair Road in Part 1 or jump straight into Part 2 of the guide, treat yourself to one of the most beautiful walking trails in Singapore. Part 1 takes you through Blair Road and Everton Park, where beautiful pre-war houses are restored to pristine conditions and still lived in today.
SINGAPORE’S BEST HERITAGE WALK
Detailed Walking Guide Part 2
Blair Plain, Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Pasoh Conservation Areas
Part 2 of the Heritage Walk Guide covers The Bukit Pasoh Conservation Area, a neighborhood with architectural finds unique to the region. Bukit Pasoh Road is also known as the Street of Clans for it is home to many prominent clubs, conclaves, and clan associations.
Clan associations were pillars and support networks for many businesses and immigrants from China in the early 1900s, consequently, its influence became the fabric of Singapore’s many successful businesses and political figures.
The Street of Clans
One of the most prominent buildings here is Singapore’s oldest millionaire club called “Ee Hoe Hean Club”. The club was the nerve center of the China Salvation Movement in Southeast Asia. After World War II, the club continued to be active in community services and charity work. It has also been a focal point where Chinese businessmen socialize and forge ties, the club has the fingerprints of Singapore’s upper echelon from founders of banks to real estate moguls, the real crazy rich Asians.
31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road
The swankiest addition on the street is Mandala Club – a private member’s club housed in a majestic heritage building, the hospitality group was behind some of Singapore’s coolest bars before covid – today much of the fanfare is focused on Mandala Masters where they collaborate with world-class chefs on dining residencies, matching their best creations to Singapore’s favourite past time – they opened with Mirazur, flirted with Gaggan and is now closing the year with Peruvian power couple Pía León and Virgilio Martínez, bringing Central (World’s no.2 2022) to Singapore.
SINGAPORE’S MOST PRESTIGIOUS CONSERVATION AWARD
The URA Architectural Heritage Awards recognise well-restored monuments and conserved buildings in Singapore, and the people behind them.
This 1928 three-story Art Deco building is a recipient of the prestigious URA Architectural Heritage Award, flanked by Ee Hoe Hean club and association buildings crucial to Singapore’s founding history. The clans (also known as “Kong Si” or “Hui Guan”) played an important role in Chinese immigrants and their contribution to Singapore’s societal advancements, championing education, infrastructure, and commerce. They were the beacon of support through struggle and war, providing kinship and comfort in a city of immigrants.
Once a prominent red-light district filled with gambling dens, brothels, and opium houses, today, it is the hottest neighborhood with some of Singapore’s liveliest scenes. nestled between high-end cocktail bars, IG-worthy bistros, and Michelin star restaurants are the almost invisible residents of Keong Saik Street, a perfect addition to your afternoon stroll, from leafy back alleys, cute side streets to short cuts that feel like you’ve stepped through a portal.
Keong Saik Road’s strategic location, adjacent to clan houses and “millionaire club” was a convenient stone’s throw for wealthy and powerful businessmen to congregate and enjoy the fun-er things in life. Filled with brothels, many of the girls who were originally called Pei Pa Zai (a colloquial name for the beautiful women who entertained customers through song and dance) were often asked for sexual services and sometimes taken as mistresses or “second wives” – giving the neighborhood the name of “Mistress Avenue” in the 1950s.
Its infamous past, specifically, unit 17A was recently immortalised in a memoir by Charmaine Leung, who recounts growing up on the said street as the daughter of a brothel operator.
One pre-war building that stood out amongst the rest is the triangular building on the corner of Keong Saik and Teck Lim road – the iconic Tong Ah Eating House, the coffee shop was the cornerstone of Singapore’s breakfast scene opened in 1938. Unlike the espressos and cappuccinos we are all too familiar with, locally (in both Singapore and Malaysia) local coffee beans are roasted with butter or a form of lard giving it the unique taste, making it a ‘heaty‘, a perfect remedy to scratchy throats from opium smoking. However, the nostalgic eating house was not spared by growing investments and gentrification.
In 2013, the 75-year-old coffee shop lost its home to foreign investors, replacing it by a high-end cocktail and burger bar – Potato Head Singapore. The humble Tong Ah building today has become Singapore’s accidental poster boy, flanked by skyscrapers, it is a showcase of Keong Saik’s living heritage weaved into Singapore’s modern-day demands.
One of the most prominent landmarks in Tanjong Pagar is the Jinrikisha Station – a former rickshaws headquarters in the early 1900s, rickshaws were a popular mode of transportation and means of living at the time, at its peak, rickshaw pullers represented roughly 6% of the colony’s population.
Following the end of the second world war, rickshaw numbers started to decline with the increasing use of trishaws. Furthermore, there were increasing criticisms that saw rickshaws as a mode of transportation that insulted human dignity and infringed upon human rights. As a result, the colonial government enacted the ban on rickshaws in 1947. Thus, the Jinrikisha Station no longer remained relevant in its original function during the postwar era.
Today the V-shaped double-story colonial-style building is a multi-purpose building that could be used for retail, restaurants or offices. FUN FACT: The coveted address is now owned by famed actor Jackie Chan.
The Murray Terrace is made up of 14 vintage shophouses rescued from decades of neglect and modifications in 2010. Originally built in 1929, Murray Terrace has a distinct art deco exterior with unique lion head sprouts and claw-like designs flanking the edges of the roof.
The building features an earlier form of fusion with a blend of Chinese and European colonial architecture. It is believed the building has once served as a military barrack. Today, Murray Terrace has been converted into a luxury hotel, owned by local hotelier and polo veteran Satinder Garcha, who is making waves in the hospitality scenes with a growing portfolio of luxury hotels known for its decadent interiors, brought to life by world-renowned designers – Jacques Garcia and Anouska Hempel.
The former Eng Aun Tong factory
The former Eng Aun Tong factory was home to the famous Tiger Balm, a liniment with over 100 years’ history, a proud Singaporean brand and a testament to the dominance of Chinese businesses in the area. The Aw family, who founded the Tiger Balm expanded into a multi-national conglomerate that boasts a portfolio of real estate, a bank and newspapers.
Restaurants worth their hype
Perfect time to grab a drink and stay for dinner before finishing the walk at Tanjong Pagar MRT Station. Singapore is a beacon for restauranteurs and the city-state is blessed with an abundance of cuisines for all budgets.
Upscale Expect $150+ / person
Modern Indian – 2 Michelin Stars
Penang-born chef Mano Thevar in a courageous attempt to innovate Indian cuisine, drawing on childhood memories and a fresh pair of eyes to the cuisine, Thevar is a modern, experimental take on Indian food. Thevar trail-blazed his way onto his second Michelin star in 2022, this is one of Singapore’s best. The food is good on many levels, while I much preferred its humble beginnings, I’m excited about where Thevar will go. Expect to spend about $300 per person. @thevar.sg
Korean-Japanese-Western Fusion – 1 Michelin Star
Created by seasoned chef Sun Kim – Meta challenges Singapore’s growing Michelin star scene with a menu that marries Korean heritage, Japanese culinary techniques, and western cuisine. Its seasonal menu is a hit with a choice of 5 or 7 courses serves up a Michelin-worthy dining experience, expect to spend about S$150 per person (+S$90-120 for wine pairing) @metasingapore
Mid Range Expect $50+ / person
Helmed by elBulli veteran – multi-award-winning chef Alain Devahive Tolosa ups the ante in Singapore’s Spanish food scene and brings back some of elBulli’s most iconic dishes and philosophy. The food is creative and mostly Catalonian, Olivia is where you’ll find Singapore’s best Spanish dining experience (FOC and Binomio are also very good). Whether you’re solo dining, celebrating a special occasion, or here for the long weekend brunch, Olivia’s warm interiors and high service levels are set to please. Expect S$100 per person. @oliviarestaurant_sg
Japanese Eel Speciality
Tasty and arguably the best unagi don in Singapore (鰻丼 – Grilled Japanese freshwater eel on rice), a wildly popular eatery with long lines to match, queues start before they open and is often a 60-90 mins wait. While portions are reasonable it isn’t generous at S$40-50 per person. The restaurant also suffers from mixed reviews from hangry customers who are understandably easily irritable after the long wait.
Multi-award-winning restaurant, patisserie, and chocolatier – Mad About Sucre is a dining secret that is not talked about enough. Famous for their fine desserts with more awards than I can count with one hand (the other hand is busy with a sugar treat of course), they also put together a respectable dinner menu for higher-end tastebuds, think pasta with foie gras and $35 grilled cauliflower. @madaboutsucre
Local Eats Expect $5+ / person
Tong Ah Eating House
Kaya buttered toast and coffee with a bit of history, previously a 75-year resident anchor on Keong Saik Street. Tong Ah remains busy but has lost some of its glimmers since moving to its new spot. Personally, Tong Ah’s history does add to the experience of otherwise a common breakfast in the region. Tong Ah is also popular for their seafood cook ups, however, poor order management can often be frustrating.
A 3rd generation no-frills Chinese restaurants (locally referred to as “Zhi Char”). Kok Sen is loud, crowded, and hot – cooks up classic Chinese favorites like tri egg spinach soup, curry fish head, and clay pot tofu. Famed for its big prawn noodle and found itself on Michelin’s Bib Gourmand, while it is one of the better ones in Singapore, it isn’t breaking records. Expect to find a queue at any time of day and it is a cash-only. Roughly S$30 per person.
Brought to life by the same people who created the beach club in Bali, Potato Head Singapore is a hit with ex-pats unwinding with Balearic beats and pretty cocktails. Despite Singapore’s unforgiving humidity, rooftop bars are popular and plenty. Cocktails start at S$18 plus tax @potatoheadsg