6 Emerging Asian Neighborhoods
Published: December 2009
By Rob McKeown
Before the tourists descend and the big-name retailers pave the streets with gold, <strong>Rob McKeown</strong> checks out six emerging enclaves from Singapore to Shanghai.
A creative hub of café and consumer culture
THE SCENE Neon-lit and dense with high-rises, Causeway Bay fuses the essences
of New York, Hong Kong, and Tokyo into one bubbling urban stew, with teenage punks, media
types, and celebrities all moving to the frenetic pace. Fashion magazines and filmmakers like
Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love) have had offices here for years amid monster malls (see
the skyscraping Times Square complex). But it was the arrival of the hotel JIA (15 Irving St.; 852/3196-9000; www.jiahongkong.com;
doubles from $198)—with its discreet rooms outfitted in spunky white sofas and bright
daffodil detailing by Philippe Starck—that established a permanent beachhead for the
style set in 2004.
THE EPICENTER Get swept into the crowd under the towering SOGO department store sign.
SHOPPING High-end retail centers (including the newly renovated Fashion Walk, where
Vivienne Westwood and Agnès B. have shops) and tucked-away boutiques make conspicuous
consumption here a satisfying adventure. G.O.D. (Leighton Center,
Sharp St. E.; 852/2890-5555) takes iconic Hong Kong scenes and pastes them onto notebooks,
bamboo-trimmed sofas, and an enormous range of home accessories. At Island
Beverley (1 Great George St.; 852/2890-6823), the four floors of boutiques no bigger
than closets are filled with hand-painted and repurposed clothes crafted by young Hong Kongbred
designers. Going for that classic retro-chic fifties look?Browse the vintage-inspired skirts
and blouses of Azalea by I'sis (G/F, Po Foo Building, 35 Foo Ming
RESTAURANTS Eating is serious business in Causeway Bay, where you can sample beef noodles
in Swiss sauce at Tai Ping Koong (6 Pak Sha Rd.; 852/2576-9162;
dinner for two $30) and even taste some great Italian at Da Domenico (1012 G/F Sunning Plaza, 10 Hysan Ave.; 852/2882-8013; dinner for two $148), a miniature
trattoria where every dandelion green, white bean, and branzino is flown in from Italy daily.
Pumpernickel Café (G/F, Shop B, 13 Cleveland St., Fashion
Walk; 852/2576-1668; dinner for two $35), a smoky hideaway for the literary crowd, serves
rocket-fuel espresso and house-baked breads and pulses with great jazz tunes.
NIGHTLIFE At the salon-style café and lounge After School (2/F, 17 Yun Ping Rd.; 852/2983-2130), procrastinating stylists and writers gather
around old grammar-school desks for citron tea and gin-and-tonics. Across the street and 27
floors up, film stars and business tycoons commingle on the gray couches of Shelter (27/F Henry House, 4042 Yun Ping Rd.; 852/2577-1668) to watch the animated short films
projected on the wall and take in the views of Hong Kong.
An artists' colony and collectors' haunt
THE SCENE The enclave ﬁrst began to develop when a handful of
GALLERIES opened in the early nineties along with an oddly placed hat boutique, Lui
Elle (100 Hwa-dong; 82-2/720-0309). In the past two years, a younger generation
has moved into the area's streets—which wend past gable-roofed houses and the east wall
of the magnificent Gyeongbokgung Palace—forcing Samcheong-dong to expand up the hill
to the foot of Mount Bukhansan. Now you'll ﬁnd writers scribbling quietly, Japanese
and Korean tourists, and brooding artists and scholars sitting notepad to laptop in the ramshackle
noodle shops and modern cafés with glassy new façades while sipping green-tea
lattes and Shiraz.
THE EPICENTER The Café at Kukje Gallery (59-1 Sokyuk-dong; 82-2/735-8449;
dinner for two $30) is an oasis of blond wood and lazy afternoon conversations. Regulars
usually include Korean politicians hiding out and conceptual artists planning their next exhibition.
GALLERIES Art is the raison d'être for Samcheong-dong; the neighborhood's Kukje
Gallery and Gallery Hyundai (80 Sagan-dong; 82-2/734-6111) continue to raise
awareness not just of emerging Korean artists but of global ones as well. (Kukje plans to
show the work of installation artist Lee Bul and has also exhibited Bill Viola's videos.)
RESTAURANTS have even gotten in on the art scene: Cook 'N' Heim (63-28 Samcheong-dong;
82-2/733-1109), a pocket-sized café and restaurant, has a gallery in the small
rooms surrounding a courtyard, and Gallery Café (110-220 Palpan-dong; 82-2/734-9466;
lunch for two $34), a wine bar lit by hanging paper lanterns, showcases rotating exhibitions
of Korean painters.
RESTAURANTS Bar 0101 (124-2 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/723-1259; dinner for two
$40) keeps its orange bucket seats full by serving simple Italian pastas and foamy cappuccinos.
It's also a great place for people-watching. Quo Lai (110-230 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/720-3368;
dinner for two $32) has Leonardo da Vincistyle frescoes on one wall, dark floors, and
spicy dishes from all over China. Prefer something Korean?Ji Hwa Ja (11-8 Samcheong-dong;
82-2/733-5834; dinner for two $72) presents lengthy multicourse affairs of marinated meats,
bamboo salads, and other Joseon Dynasty food.
SHOPPING Bring home earthenware vases, plates, and urns by celebrated ceramist Yang
Gu from the artist-owned Boinhang (63-47 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/720-4421). First Flag
Shop (28 Samcheong-dong; no phone) lays out its primary-colored, hand-sewn leather pumps,
boots, and sneakers on circular rugs and low-lying shelves. And the pioneering milliners at
Lui Elle are still the reigning retailers, selling out of velour top hats and flowery sun
chapeaus in every size, shape, and color.
A 21st-century take on the old-world trading post
THE SCENE Chinatown was once infamous for Keong Saik Road, a hub of debauchery (there
are still a handful of brothels today). It's better known now as a tangled and narrow collection
of streets lined with Sino-British storefronts, colonial-era apartment buildings, and the
occasional hawker center. The ﬁrst chic property to claim the area: Hotel
1929 (50 Keong Saik Rd.; 65/6347-1929; www.hotel1929.com;
doubles from $85), which opened up in a set of Chinese Art Deco storefronts last year.
Guests staying in the hostelry's tiny rooms (with museum-quality pieces by Charles Eames and
Verner Panton)—as well as local Chinese traders and a newly arrived crowd of artists,
yoga practitioners, and marketing professionals—now have restaurants and boutiques to
THE EPICENTER So trendy it almost hurts, Club Street counts a modern Oriental furniture
outlet, a hipster wine bar, late-night lounges, and dozens of cafés and bistros in
its mix. There's an almost Mediterranean ease in the air, with most visitors strolling from
one destination to another.
RESTAURANTS A labor of love by husband-and-wife team Sebastian and Sabrina Ng, Hotel
1929's Ember (dinner for two $50) has black-stained wooden floors and a tight
reservation book. If you can secure one of the bistro's 45 seats, order the tempura oysters
"six ways" and the banana tart with lavender ice cream. Ambitious Singaporean chef-owner Vincent
Teng crafts modern European dishes with a Japanese twist (try the oven-baked smoked duck with
five spices) at My Dining Room (81B Club St.; 65/6327-4990; dinner for two $90). Steven Hansen's Broth (21 Duxton Hill; 65/ 6323-3353; dinner for two $60) serves
up inventive European dishes with a dash of Australian flair.
NIGHTLIFE Both W Bar (11 Club St.; 65/ 6223-3886), which has low-lying
couches and hazy red light, and the brick-walled Union (81 Club St.; 65/6327-4990) bring in a mélange of corporate executives and fashionistas; they're hip without being
loud or overbearing.
HOTELS Hotel 1929 now has competition: the Scarlet Hotel (33 Erskine Rd.;
65/ 6511-3333; www.thescarlethotel.com;
doubles from $90), a plush boutique retreat that has a teak rooftop bar called Breeze
and a lively restaurant, dipped in red, named Desire (dinner for two $80).
SHOPPING The shelves of Eggthree (33 Erskine Rd.; 65/6536-6977) are heavy
with linen pillowcases, glassware, and lacquer in contemporary Chinese styles. If you're looking
to pick up some well-priced woks, steamers, and other Asian cookware, save time for Sia
Huat (711 Temple St.; 65/6223-1732). You can secure some limited-edition sneakers,
bags, and even toys at Asylum (22 Ann Siang Rd.; 65/6324-8264); the concept
store also sells contemporary art, books, and experimental music in addition to hosting workshops
and discussions with local and international artists.
The definition of Thai Modern (known here as 'dern)
THE SCENE Humid sidewalks heaving with satay hawkers quickly give way to steel-and-glass
shopping developments teeming with music executives, models both foreign and Thai, and body-conscious
youth. As recently as 2003, this corner of Bangkok was mostly residential; a couple of decades
ago, there were rice paddies steps away. But the opening of H1 (998
Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/714-9578), a striking Modernist reimagining of the mini-mall designed
by starchitect Duangrit Bunnag two years back, ushered in a quirky collection of locally owned
boutiques that are now drawing a steady stream of customers, who arrive via the newly extended
THE EPICENTER In the skylit central hall of Playground! (818
Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/714-7888), shoppers lie for hours on yellow, green, and blue beanbags
beneath a giant hot-pink dinosaur as DJ's spin lounge and ambient music. The open-plan space
has racks of small-run, cultish Thai labels like the unisex clothing line Sunshine Headquarter,
the bohemian Rabbit Habit, and ethnic Kit-Ti jewelry. On the top ﬂoor, there's even
Planet 2001—a shop that sells contemporary furniture made from water hyacinths. You
could spend days in this place, and many people do.
SHOPPING H1's shops and restaurants are best visited at night, when the buildings are
illuminated. Eclectic outlets run the gamut: GEO (66-2/381-4324) displays house and garden gadgets, handmade picture frames, and leather binders—most
of them chosen by celebrated editor Sakchai Guy; Basheer Graphic Books (66-2/391-9815) is a top-shelf design bookstore; To Die For (66-2/381-4714; dinner for two $49), owned by fashion designer Bhanu Inkawat, has become
the city's hottest table. Late-night (and daylight) browsing is also possible at the recently
opened shopping center J Avenue (323/1 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/381-3218),
which has every kind of boutique—along with a handful of see-and-be-seen cafés.
NIGHTLIFE Face (29 Sukhumvit Soi 38; 66-2/713-6048) is
the only address you need to know for a night out. Strewn with opium beds and veiled in dusky,
sensual light, the bar is an ideal prelude to the northern-Indian restaurant within, Hazara (dinner for two $35). If you have the energy after one of Hazara's ﬁlling dishes
of pomfret curry, hit the dance floor of the hip-hop club Escudo (289/1
Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/712-5335) after midnight. For a sweeter nightcap, head to Buono
Gelato Italian (5 Sukhumvit Soi 63; 66-2/662-0415) to sample tropical sorbets,
or stop by J Avenue's Greyhound Café (66-2/712-6547; dinner
for two $15), where high-society wives and film stars gossip over spaghetti stir-fried
with Thai anchovies, chiles, and holy basil.
Taiwan's designer enclave
THE SCENE The narrow lanes shooting off of Da-An Road every 20 yards or so are dotted
with dilapidated buildings from the 18th century and the 18951945 Japanese occupation. This
is where a fashion-forward crowd (clad in imported name-brand jeans), television stars, and
young Taiwanese on shopping tears all take a break from the motorcycle-clogged streets of
THE EPICENTER The tiny, weekends-only lounge Eden (11th Floor,
98 Zhong Xiao E. Rd., Section 4; 886-2/6638-9988) is stashed inside Bistro 98, a steel-clad
building and nightlife hub. On the first Saturday of every month, the club hosts one of Taipei's
best parties, called Deep Inside.
SHOPPING Jamei Chen (132 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2776-4235), who crafts ﬂowing ready-to-wear pieces, moved her studio and store here 10 years ago
amid the noodle shops and run-down flats. Now her neighbors include Isabelle
Wen (118 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2771-9021), the Betsey Johnson of Taipei,
and Shiatzy Chen (140 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/ 8773-1729),
who makes delicate, feminine women's wear. Newcomer Gray Area (3 Lane 116, Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2711-8891) sells furniture and colorful silk-sheathed
pillows. At Gallery Su (1921 Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/8773-1108),
the glass shelves are chockablock with elegant, hand-painted ceramics from Europe and the
Americas, much favored by the local style set. There's also Bella (85 Da-An Rd.,
Section 1; 886-2/2751-0117), one of a handful of tiny specialty shops that carry hard-to-find
labels such as Nude and Barbara Bui.
RESTAURANTS Isabelle Wen has taken the same playful sensibility she uses in her store
and applied it to her Old Shanghaiinspired restaurant and lounge, Fifi (Second Floor, 15 Ren-Ai Rd., Section 4; 886-2/2721-1970; dinner for two $40). The
glamorous crowds that alight from the bistro's green-neon escalator often come straight from
their studios, launch parties, and runway shows to pair earthy Taiwanese braises with Veuve
before heading to the bar.
NIGHTLIFE Coffee is a newfound passion on the island, and Chicco
D'Oro (135 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2777-2366) serves lattes to the Mac-toting
graphic artists who sit beneath the aluminum pendulum lamps. Health-conscious ladies who lunch
head to Acqua (4 Lane 238, Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/8771-8069),
a water bar with a list sourced from across the globe.
GALLERIES The Side Flower (First Floor, 38 Tun-Hua South
Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2773-2733) artists' studio is housed in a semi-derelict storefront
with a teak terrace where lovably iconoclastic Ming-Hsing Wu paints his Lucian Freudlike
portraits. Though it's technically private, visitors (and potential collectors) are welcome.
A new-world spin on Old Shanghai
THE SCENE In the twenties and thirties, before the rise of Communism, Julu Road was
known as Rue Bâtard—an address highly sought after for its stone row houses and
its gardens, which you can still glimpse near the corner of Hanshan Road. The strip fell into
disrepair as Shanghai slumped through the eighties; until just a year ago, it was best known
for the beer-soaked girlie bars—which are finally being pushed out, one by one. Restaurateurs,
besotted with the magnificent buildings, are now luring architects, creative media types,
and an increasingly diverse group of foreigners to this burgeoning restaurant row, which has
helped spark Julu's second golden age.
THE EPICENTER Weekend brunches at Mesa (748 Julu Rd.; 86-21/6289-9108;
brunch for two $36) have become an institution, thanks to the terraced outdoor seating
(reserve a week in advance). Black-clad Chinese women and expats crowd the former bank cafeteria
for Steve Baker's daily-made sausages and eggs Benedict. After hours, the adjoining Manifesto
Bar (748 Julu Rd.; 86-21/ 6289-9108) pours Shanghai's best caipirinhas in a warm
space with lipstick-red walls and banquettes.
RESTAURANTS Julu Road's ethnic diversity is best experienced through its food. Rich
clove-infused curries, a Himalayan answer to gougères (Burgundian cheese puffs),
and a mutton-and-chile stir-fry are the signature dishes at Nepali Kitchen (819 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-6281; dinner for two $40). Spicy noodles and galangal-scented
Thai curries are presented in a leafy garden at Coconut Paradise (38
Fumin Rd.; 86-21/6248-1998; dinner for two $45), and fiery Hunan cuisine draws an A-list
crowd to Guyi (87 Fumin Rd.; 86-21/6249-5628; dinner for two $20).
Perhaps the most memorable spaces in the area are Shintori Null 2 (803
Julu Rd.; 86-21/ 5404-5252; dinner for two $65), a Japanese food palace with soaring ceilings,
and People's 7 (805 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-0707), the glass-encased
bar next door that looks out on an enclosed bamboo garden.
SHOPPING Spin (758 Julu Rd., Bldg. 3, first floor; 86-21/6279-2545) sells the same Japanese-inspired earthenware that gives Shintori Null 2's table settings such
a distinctive minimalist style. The well-edited textiles at Brocade Country (616 Julu Rd.; 86-21/6279-2677) are dyed with indigo and have simple graphic patterns;
they're made by the Miao people in Guizhou province.
PAMPERING Hidden among nameless boutiques peddling vintage silk qipao you'll find Magpie (685 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-3867). Try to time your aromatherapy massage or Chinese pedicure
so that you emerge from the salon at sunset, when the street lanterns shine on the Parisian-style
plane trees and dim yellow lights ﬂicker in the pre-war brick apartment buildings.