The New Look Boat Quay

Few cities have pulled off a river clean up quite as successfully as Singapore did almost three decades ago. But even today, few of us think of it as a destination of its own, the way we might about Sydney harbor or the San Fran waterfront. Despite endless “overhauls” (yawn) and “relaunches” over the years there’s still too many crappy venues, too much wasted space, and, frankly, it remains too much of a pain to get from one end to the other. That, though, looks like it’s all about to change.Tyrone Tabing, Executive Director of the Singapore River One (SRO) organization (a recent ‘outgrowth’ of an Urban Redevelopment Authority consulting process) thinks there’s a “really exciting opportunity” at hand. The SRO’s plan, he explains, is to have “one voice for the precinct, to unify the three Quays while embracing the uniqueness of each.” And, sure enough, while his team busy themselves with clean-up operations of a different kind (together with the police force and various stakeholders they were behind the Better Singapore River Campaign, which has already scored some quick wins in cracking down on touting at Boat Quay), even bigger changes are afoot. In January, river taxis will begin offering a true ferry service between the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel and the Marina Barrage, making a $3 commute to the CBD, or even an after-hours, boat-based bar hop, a real option. (Details are still hazy, but it looks like the enviro-friendly boats will run every 10-15 minutes from 7am-10pm, with more than a dozen landing points and regular, express and even bookable “taxi” services.) Looking even further ahead, when the dust settles at the construction site next to Brewerkz in 2017 there’ll be the shiny new Fort Canning MRT station (on the Downtown line) meaning you won’t have to trudge all the way from Central to get to Robertson Quay.Small wonder there’s already an SG River app in the works.In advance of all that, there’s been a flurry of activity along the Robertson Blue stretch (essentially Kith Café all the way to Limoncello) over the last year, and it now gives even Tiong Bahru a run for its money in the laidback charm stakes. A $15.6 million facelift of Clarke Quay is currently underway, complete with a new heritage-inspired frontage and some 15 new F&B outlets by year-end, including sexy new St. Tropez-inspired bar Cassis, opening in November. Right next door, the space occupied by the old River Valley Swimming Pool reopened earlier this year as The Foothills Fort Canning, home to hip art space Galerie Utama and host, last month, of the über-cool Sub-Sonic Live party (From October 6-13, it’ll also be home to a pop-up pavilion as part of Archifest 2012).Elsewhere, the tenant mix is starting to change. Central, long known principally for its Japanese food joints (including newbie Zero.Zero and Osaka’s Chíso Zanmai), saw funky HK lifestyle store Goods of Desire (G.O.D) move in in July. Chan Iz-Lynn, Vice President of Far East Retail Consultancy which brought them in, describes the location along the river, with its “history as ethnic melting pot that is both tradition and innovation, as “the perfect complement to the brand’s celebration of authentic Asian culture through humor and creativity, all packaged in modern design.” Meanwhile, Ty Tabing is frank about the fact that neighboring Boat Quay has for too long been home to too many seafood operators. “It was a vicious cycle downward for them,” he says, “but that’s begun to change.” Indeed, it’s at the new look Boat Quay (see our hot dining, nightlife and even beauty recommendations at Boat Quay) that you can most readily get a sense of the precinct’s rapidly evolving identity. Gone (mostly) are the touts and the whole ‘bait-and-switch’ routine, in their place are an increasing number of upscale restaurants and other lifestyle offerings—read on for more!You heard it here first folks: The Singapore River—hottest lifestyle destination in town by 2020.It’s almost Craft Beer Week in Singapore!Find out where to get craft beer at the Singapore River.