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, describing the Haji Lane district in 2009 as “a meeting place for the city’s anti-mall crowd”, and a place where trendy Singaporeans come at night to window-shop and smoke shisha in Middle Eastern joints like Café Le Caire.
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.
In the sixties and seventies, we’re told, Haji Lane provided accommodation for poor Malay families, and lodging for devout pilgrims doing the annual “haj”, or pilgrimage to Mecca – hence the name of the lane. In intriguing contrast to that history is its new 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 (pictured) 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 shoes and clothing, try The Blog Shop (no. 35 Haji Lane), Threadbare and Squirrel (660 North Bridge Road, Bali Lane), Soon Lee (73 Haji), Wicked Laundry (76, opposite Soon Lee) and Victoria Jomo (9 and 47). Find more quirky fashion boutiques along Haji Lane here.
* Find edgy menswear at Know it Nothing (51), SUP Clothing (34) and the celebrated Maison Ikkoku (20 Kandahar Street), which has a café on Level One, trendy menswear on Level Two and a cool bar on Level Three.
* For homeware, A Thousand Tales (55-57) also has a bar and café upstairs; Pluck (31) offers witty fashion and furnishings, plus an in-store ice-cream parlour; the Salad Shop does colourful homeware; and new kid on the block Chillal (9; see next page) stocks an eclectic selection of furnishings and knickknacks. Check out our colourful shopping guide to Haji Lane here.
* For food and drink, enjoy the casual buzz at Blu Jaz Café, bespoke cocktails at Bar Stories (57A), or the excellent Mexican Piedra Negra (corner Haji and Beach Road) for a killer shaken margarita and guacamole made freshly for you at your table. See our reviews of all the above here.
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