DUNLOP Street has seen edgy new businesses sprout in phases over the last few years, but the recent wave of new openings hope to add even more variety to the already quite vibrant street.
In fact, four new businesses have popped up in the last few months. such as Flee Away cafe, owned by Fann Hui Ling, 40, and Wendy Cheong, 43. "We think every city dweller has a secret wish, even if it's just for a moment, to 'flee away' from the doldrums of life," says Ms Fann, who officially launched the cafe last Tuesday. For her, the attraction of Dunlop Street was its "old neighbourly charm". "We really love this area. It's so unpretentious, and rich in culture," says Norhafizah Nizammuddin, 28, operations manager of Rouse cafe, which opened on Dunlop in April. "It's close to train stations, but also a quiet escape from the usual overrated and always-so-bustling spots," she adds.
Dunlop might not be known for its style, but that's what month-old fashion boutique ThreeSixFive owner JR Chan, 27, and her parter Jermaine Ng, 43, find so attractive about it. "With its unique location and cultural mix, we hope Singaporeans will come to relish our history and traditions along with homegrown designers like us and other new local business concepts," says the menswear designer.
The rate of gentrification in Dunlop might seem sudden, but it's been in the making for quite some time, considering the success of previous businesses such as Zsofi Tapas bar (a popular favourite with tourists in the area) and pop-up lifestyle shop Temporium. Temporium - which stocked clothes and other lifestyle products from various brands including local designers - put the spotlight on Dunlop Street last year when it chose the street as its home for six months, drawing both locals and tourists.
This does not mean that everything is smooth sailing for the tenants of Dunlop. "Unfortunately, the previously vibrant scene in Little India has dimmed a lot since the riots and tourists and locals are staying away from the area," says Ms Fann. This also presented a challenge for Abhishek Cherian George, 29, who acquired a unit there last year but was not able to go through with his plans of transforming it into a restaurant and bar because of the stricter control on alcohol sales following the riots. So he opened The Tool Room - a co-working space for young entrepreneurs and creative startups. With its new vibrancy, "Dunlop Street is one of the best streets in Little India to help clean up the area and give it an improved image," he says.
70 Dunlop Street Tel 63417-843
Hours: Tues - Thurs: 11am to 9pm; Fri - Sat: 11am to 11pm; Sun: 10am to 5pm
OFFICIALLY launched on Tuesday, Flee Away was created by Fann Hui Ling and Wendy Cheong as a means of escape from city life. This hidden gem takes its design brief from the Singapore of yore: retro furniture pieces such as Singapore sewing machine tables, movie-theatre seats salvaged from old cinemas and vintage tin toys.
The nostalgia theme extends to Flee Away's menu too, which banks on unexpected Western twists to local dishes. Their speciality is Le Char Kuey, a re-imagining of everyone's favourite dough fritter snack. Customise your own by picking either a char kuey "sandwich" or a tortilla wrap, and fillings such as chicken con carne, beef or dry laksa ($15.50).
Another dish to try is the Beef Hash Pie Tee ($12.50), comprising pie tee shells filled with corned beef instead of traditional fried turnip. For dessert, their waffles with Gula Melaka pudding ($8.50) is a sweet way to end your fusion meal.
36 Dunlop Street Tel 6292-2642
Hours: Mon to Thurs: 11am to 9pm; Fri to Sat: 11am to 11pm; Sun: 10am to 7pm; Closed on Tuesdays
Rouse may be just over two months old, but it's already proving to be a bit of superstar in the world of social media with close to 8,000 followers on Instagram.
Says Norhafizah Nizammuddin, 28, of her first-time F&B, run with her husband and relatives: "The amount of challenges we faced were quite immense, everything was pretty much learnt on the spot. You won't find done-to-death cafe fare such as french toast and eggs benedict here. What you get instead are unusual bites such as the Crabby Patty, or fresh crabmeat mixed with spices moulded into patties ($17.90), and the Quinoa Quake, a quinoa patty served with poached egg and smoked salmon ($16.90).
The halal-certified cafe also carries Ramadan special sets with mains such as red snapper on crispy baby potato with creamy mushroom sauce and spicy Asian penne crab pasta, along with any dessert and drink ($39.90 per set menu).
The Tool Room
12 Dunlop Street Tel 8233-9810
Co-working space The Tool Room is a labour of love, at least for the labour part. Founder Abhishek Cherian George, 29, took five months to personally hammer and saw the outfit together. He first acquired the space last year with the intention of opening a sister outlet to The Spiffy Dapper, his cocktail bar on Boat Quay, but ended up reworking his business plans when the Little India riots took place and subsequent alcohol restrictions kicked in.
Now, the 1,600 sq ft area has become a 22-table working space targeting tech entrepreneurs and creative startups looking for a quiet and inexpensive work space in the hustle and bustle of Little India.
Aside from standing-height desks, The Tool Room also has additional facilities such as a photo studio, patio, nap loft and meditation room. Customers are also provided with Equilibras Flips Flops for the benefit of their backs and feet. Rentals range from $650 to $850 per month, depending on amenities. Startups such as Tembusu Terminal, the creators of Singapore's first Bitcoin ATM machine, are among its tenants.