Haji Lane’s emergence as a cool shopping destination began in 2005, as independent boutiques began to pop up along it. Even the New York Times noticed the phenomenon; it described the Haji Lane district in 2009 as “a meeting place for the city’s anti-mall crowd” – a place where Singaporeans come at night to window-shop and smoke shisha in Middle Eastern joints. The smoking might have stopped (shisha was banned in 2014), but there’s still plenty to do, see, shop, eat and drink. Here’s a little history about the quirky thoroughfare, and some highlights.
Tucked away in the Arab Street district, or Kampong Glam, the atmospheric little lane is lined with pre-war shophouses. The narrowness of their facades is deceptive; the interiors stretch way, way back. Building in this style made sense at a time when the government taxed property owners on the number of windows they had.
Old to new
In the sixties and seventies, we’re told, Haji Lane provided accommodation for poor Malay families. Devout pilgrims doing the annual “haj”, or pilgrimage to Mecca, would also lodge here – hence the name of the lane. In intriguing contrast to that history is its position as an artistic and creative hub for Singapore’s hipster teens and 20-somethings – not to mention bars such as Bar Stories where you pay as much as $25 for a cocktail.
Interestingly, a recent furore over street art in Haji Lane saw the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) back down on its instructions that a vibrantly colourful new mural next to the perennially popular Blu Jaz Café be painted over to restore the traditional pastel tones of period shophouses.
Don’t bother visiting in the morning. The lane only starts to come alive in late afternoon, and dusk – from 5pm to 7pm – is a good time to do some shopping. Browse eclectic clothes and furniture in the quirky indie stores, have drinks or dinner, even get a little tattoo if you’re so inclined; it’s like nowhere else in Singapore.
Some of our favourites along Haji Lane:
For women’s clothes and shoes, try Modparade (68 Haji Lane), which is a haven for all things minimalist and chic. SSFW (75 Haji Lane) has cool accessories, including new items made especially for masks. Meanwhile, Fickle Store (62 Haji Lane) sells funky flip-flops, and Bella Kini (69 Haji Lane) is the spot for beautiful new swimwear.
Find trendy menswear at SUP Clothing (34 Haji Lane), which is incredibly popular with teens and young people the island over. Other options include Goodluck Bunch (26 Bali Lane) and Grammah (66 Haji Lane), which contains amazing vintage pieces for both men and women.
For homeware, Hygge (37 Haji Lane) contains all sorts of adorable knickknacks in a cosy setting. Craft Assembly (61 Haji Lane) is all about handmade Singaporean goods. A Thousand Tales (55-57 Haji Lane) also has a bar and café upstairs; and the vibrant Drunken Balloon (84 Haji Lane) is full of quirky novelty items.
As for food and drink, if you’re peckish or thirsty, Haji has you covered. It’s chock-full of great spots! Piedra Negra (241 Beach Road) is a classic for all things Mexican; and Bergs (10 Haji Lane) serves up some of the best gourmet burgers on the island. For something lighter, try The Singapura Club (26 Haji Lane) for drinks inspired by the Little Red Dot. Or pop into Meomi Cat Café (668 North Bridge Road) for snacks surrounded by furry friends.