Pick-up a "Mao's Pad" from the huge range of memorabilia at The Red Book
China Jump Bar and Grill is located at #B1-07/08 Chijmes, 30 Victoria Street., 338-9388 Open Sun 11am-2am, Mon -Tue 5pm-1am, Wed-Fri 5pm-3am, Sat 11am-3am.
House of Mao is located at #03-02 China Square Food Centre, 51 Telok Ayer St., 533-0660. Open daily 11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-10pm. The Red Book is located at #01-09/10 Orchard Hotel Shopping Arcade, 442 Orchard Road., 733-7667. Open daily noon-2:30pm and 6pm-10:30pm.
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G O E A S T !
Orientalism is the theme du jour for restaurants and pubs in the Lion City
It was "Go West" in the 70's, according to the Village People. Now that we have sailed into the 21st century, the opposite is where it's at. East is chic. East is hot. East is now. Singaporeans and expatriates are flocking to a slew of cool, Eastern-themed spots that have sprung up across the island. You don't have to look hard - just go to Mohamed Sultan Road, an entertainment enclave that has become so "happening" it screams.
Prolific architect-designer Ed Poole says the current trend rides on an international wave started four or five years ago. "It became hot around Europe also. It's not a strictly Singaporean thing." The man, who is responsible for the interiors of House of Mao and China Jump - both fine Oriental themed spots - and many of the city's cool restaurants and pubs, can't put a finger on why it happened, but believes fashion plays a part. "Eastern fashion is very big," he reasons. "Look at the Paris catwalk; people are inspired by anything ethnic."
Just what makes a place "East?" Setting up such establishments clearly goes beyond furniture, fixtures and outward appearances. "It takes a lot more than, oh, slapping on a few Chinese posters," says Simon Lim, owner of hot bordello-style pub Wong San's. Poole says a combination of "an Eastern look and Western management styles" does the trick. He considers the Buddah Bar in Paris "Asian eclectic with a French attitude." Says the designer, "It all comes down to the management - the level of service, the food, the types of drinks they serve." It's also about finding creativity in common, everyday items. "Like the lamps at China Jump. They have a little roof that's like a pagoda, a recurring theme within Chinese architecture," says Poole. Or the ceiling lights at House of Mao, whose design features a rice bowl balanced on the tips of a star similar to the ones on the Chinese flag.
Whether it's another fad in fickle fashion trends that has morphed its way into the dining and clubbing scene, or a rekindling of the myth of the mystical Orient, Eastern-themed spots are certainly here to stay. To sample the flavors of the East, start here.
The Hill is Alive
The ever-popular No. 5 Emerald Hill Cocktail Bar is, if not the first, definitely among the earliest of the Eastern-themed lot. Known simply as "No. 5" among regulars, the charming bar, housed in a restored Peranakan (Straits Chinese)-style house, opened in 1991, long before others jumped onto the Oriental bandwagon. "It had never been done in Singapore. The directors....wanted to open something that was institution-like, so that 10, 15 years down the road, it will still stand," says public relations manager Ming Lee. "Emerald Hill has a lot of history behind it. We followed the Peranakan style (but) gave it a Euro-American feel to the service and quality of products that we carry. We don't carry anything cheap, only premium house pours," she says.
Oriental though it may be, the perennially busy bar displays only the slightest hint of a Chinese heritage in its decor. On the first floor, a Chinese wooden carved frame with images of birds and fruits separates the pool section at the back from the main bar, where guests can check out a collection of antique wooden plaques carved with Chinese characters.
Mohamed Sultan Swings
In the same year No. 5 was born, journalist-turned-businessman Peter Wong opened the now-defunct pub The Front Page on the now-thriving Mohamed Sultan Road. Then, it was a narrow and quiet lane - hardly a place you'd consider for a fun night out. More watering holes have since emerged and it is now a night crawler's haven, with 20 pubs - and counting - including those in nearby Robertson Walk and UE Square.
Bordello-style Wong San's opened its doors in 1994 and has remained a firm favorite. The walls boast the definitive Eastern decorative tool - a healthy collection of large and small wooden plaques inscribed with Chinese characters, reminiscent of those in an old hui guan (Chinese clan house). Yet owner Lim insists, "Opening bars is not a formulaic process. "Several factors need to be considered. "Whether it's the place, the staff, the Oriental theme...it has to click," he says.
Opened two years ago, China Jump Bar and Grill was the first visible sign of the trend taking root in the local culinary scene. Created in the style of 1930's Shanghai, an iron dragon woven into the stairway railing beckons as you enter; look hard and you'll find the creature's body snaking past the railings throughout the bar-restaurant, to the beat of retro 80's music and Top 40 hits. But that's about as much Chinese influence as China Jump gets - the rest of the Oriental-themed decor is as subtle as the cleverly concealed dragon and the pavilion-look-alike lamps. The narrow cozy booths, for instance, are an abstract interpretation of an ancient Chinese bed. While waiting for the food - mostly hearty American grub - to arrive, check out the Shanghai posters on the walls. There are around 40 of them, some originals from the old days.
Yes, Long Live Chairman Mao !
It doesn't get much more Chinese than this - a restaurant completely decked out in Mao memorabilia. About 200 pictures of the Father of the Cultural Revolution, in his political and private moments, hang from the walls of the two-year-old House of Mao. Many are originals. "From what I understand, we have so many pictures, even if we open two more House of Mao, we would still have enough to display," says restaurant manager Eddie Kwan. "I think this is our strength. Others only do a general Eastern decor...it's too broad. We focus on Chairman Mao."
And focus, the restaurant does. You'll be Mao-ed over (and perhaps disconcerted) by the extensive collection of memorabilia bearing the chubby features of the former revolutionist. From the souvenir phone cards to the napkins on the tables, everything screams Mao. Even the menu, which naturally, features the familiar face on the cover, has drinks with cheesy names such as Maogarita and a selection of poems written by the late leader. That's not all. Servers dressed like Red Guards salute every diner with a robust "Good day, comrade!"
Also, check out the Red Book, another Mao-inspired eating place run by the same people, where artifacts on display include a wealth of original Mao-era pottery, on loan from a local collector.