ALONG narrow Yong Siak Street in Tiong Bahru, one of Singapore's oldest residential neighborhoods, two stores jammed side by side say it all. One is an old dusty-looking drinks wholesaler that is crammed with crates of soda and beer. The other is Open Door Policy (19 Yong Siak Street; 65-6221-9307; odpsingapore.com), a new bistro that serves up steak tartare with truffle mayonnaise along with peach Bellinis and affogatos.
For decades, Tiong Bahru was a sleepy enclave filled with elderly residents in plain four-story apartment buildings. Clusters of old-school hawker stalls served modest fare like duck rice and won ton noodles.
In recent years, however, the neighborhood -- the first large-scale housing estate that the Singapore government built, from 1936 to the early 1940s -- has undergone a renaissance. Young professionals, attracted by its proximity to the city center, have moved in, and with them the trappings of stylish life.
Just stores away from Open Door Policy is Strangelets (7 Yong Siak Street; 65-6222-1456; strangelets.sg), a boutique that sells bags, bangles and polar-bear-shaped bookshelves with triple-digit price tags. Next to it is Books Actually (9 Yong Siak Street; 65-6222-9195; booksactually.com), a beloved indie bookshop selling Singaporean authors like Dave Chua alongside such writers as Téa Obreht that relocated to Tiong Bahru in early 2011. And since no newly trendy neighborhood is complete without a chic boîte, these stores were joined last December by Social Haus (11 Yong Siak Street; 65-6557-0286), an airy bar that serves up sliders, fish and chips and beer.
Jessica Tan, of Drips Bakery Cafe (82 Tiong Poh Road, No. 01-05; 65-6222-0400; drips.com.sg), said she chose to open in Tiong Bahru last September because of the feel of its streets. "It's very quaint," she said. "You don't really find streets like these in Singapore any more."
Tiong Bahru's charm has largely survived Singapore's sweeping modernization because the country's Urban Redevelopment Authority designated it a conservation area in 2003 and carefully polices any changes to its buildings.
Kelvin Ang, the authority's deputy director for conservation management, noted the neighborhood's colorful history. Because of its 20 Art Deco-style buildings, the area was informally called Hollywood Flats when it was first created. "Hollywood films were quite big in Southeast Asia" at the time of construction, he said, adding that that's what inspired Tiong Bahru's architects.
Although the neighborhood was first populated by bank managers and middle-ranking British civil servants, writers and painters eventually moved in as well. It was also known as "mei ren wo" (Mandarin for "den of beauties") because it was where rich men kept their mistresses.
Some new additions do take the past into account. Last spring the Orange Thimble (Block 56, No. 01-68; Eng Hoon Street; 65-9750-3989; theorangethimble.com), a modern art-themed cafe, had pieces by local artists on its walls. And walking into Flea and Trees (Block 68, No. 01-10; Seng Poh Lane; 65-8139-1133) can feel like a step into the past. On its racks and shelves are dresses, books, jewelry and housewares, some vintage, some new. The unifying quality, which could aptly describe Tiong Bahru as well, is that all of it is refreshingly quirky.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.