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Bar review: Chit’s Bar at Tanah Merah in Singapore

"Either you like the location, or you don’t. In fact, for some people the planes are the main attraction; they come here especially to see them.” 

Chit’s Bar

11 Changi Coast Walk

6325 9168 | www.chits.com.sg

Not only does the East Coast have its own character, it also has its own characters. One windy evening at Chit’s Bar, VERNE MAREE shoots the breeze with Chit Foo himself – the ex-lifeguard, windsurfer and laid-back F&B entrepreneur who is just as much a part of this stretch of coast as the palm trees are.

I never knew that it got this exhilaratingly breezy anywhere on the island, and … am I actually chilly? Chit assures me that it’s been like this every night for the past couple of weeks. It’s the June monsoon, or something. Highly efficient general manager Denise kindly brings me an elastic band to keep my hair out of my margarita, which by the way is excellent – frozen, slightly salty and not too sweet.

I wasn’t prepared for how big this place is. Apart from the bar and plenty of undercover area, there’s a huge stretch of decking and landscaping, providing seating for a total of up to 400 people. As twilight fades, we’re sitting at the deck’s edge just metres from the water. For location and ambience, this can’t be beat.

That said, Chit’s Bar is directly in the flight path of every plane taking off at Changi, and this Thursday seems to be a busy night for the control tower. It’s noisy, but you get used to it, says Chit: “It’s part and parcel of this place. Either you like it, or you don’t. In fact, for some people the planes are the main attraction; they come here especially to see them.”

Denise adds that the beachside complex was originally named Belly View, after the undersides of the stream of departing planes. She’s becoming something of a plane-spotter herself, she jokes: “Just from the engine sound, I can tell whether it’s a Qantas or an SIA flight.” Qantas is the one with the sputtering engine, right?

Chit’s Other Bar

A bit confusingly, Chit’s Bar is actually owned by an old friend of his, Mervyn Boon. Chit is a director of the company, but also owns The Beach Hut, a friendly bar and eatery in that popular East Coast haunt known as Marine Cove, where you’ll also find Scruffy Murphy’s and a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. You know where I mean; it’s perfect for Sunday mornings, especially after a bike ride. It’s just 12 minutes from here, says Chit.

Denise has been working with him since she was a 14-year-old slip of a waitress in the early 90s. Describing herself as a mother of two, she quips: “I live in Sembawang and swim back and forth to work every day.” She also offers to let us summarily cast her off the deck into the waves below if the fried chicken wings aren’t up to scratch. Fortunately, I’m spared that duty, as the wings are very good.

Apart from lovers of aeroplanes, who is this place aimed at? “We want customers to come here for the amazing ambience – it’s like nowhere else in Singapore – and we want them to have time to sit and relax and soak up the view. Please don’t march in impatiently and demand fast-food service; we’re not that kind of place.

“Expats love this spot, and we find that more and more of them are moving into the East Coast, especially to Bayshore and Amber; quite a few pilots, too. On the weekends, they like to hang out here, soaking up the sun and letting the kids run around. We get plenty of joggers stopping in, and bikers, too. You can park your bikes right next to your table if you like.

“Some people pop in after work for a drink or a meal” – he indicates a table of six thirsty office types – “but generally we want you to dress down. Shorts and flip flops are the order of the day.”

The menu is a family-friendly combination of Western and Asian items: the usual snacky bites, soups and salads, burgers, pizzas, local favourites, main courses such as fish & chips and oxtail, desserts and a kids’ menu.

“This is what I’m good at,” Chit says firmly. “Casual bar food.”

Nostalgia

As the sky deepens to black velvet, the conversation becomes philosophical and the tone nostalgic. Having suffered a health scare recently, Chit questions the “I want” mentality that he feels underlies Singaporean attitudes.

“When I wake up every morning, what I want is my coffee; and I want this day to be a good one.”

He fondly recalls the old days, back in the 80s, when he worked at the first East Coast Sailing Centre; later it was a Pasta Fresca restaurant, and now it’s Mana Mana Beach Club.

“I still have strong attachments to the place and the people; and that’s where Denise started working with me. It was a great time: the guys would work in board shorts and no shirts, and when the wind was up, the whole club would be out on the water. The rest of the time, we were waiting for the wind.

“Catering facilities were rudimentary: there was just one coffee percolator; I had a cooler that held exactly 562 beers; and we’d barbecue 25 portions of chicken for our regulars.

“The parties were always good: I remember one New Year’s Eve bash for 400 people. It didn’t matter that our band could never remember the words to the songs – everyone we had so much fun.”

I reckon Chit Foo still has a lot of fun left in him, and what’s more, he’s in the right place to enjoy it.

To get there, take Exit 2A off the East Coast Parkway after the Xilin Avenue exit, go a short way along Changi Coast Road and turn right into Changi Coast Walk. Parking is free.

 

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