Saturday, July 05, 2008

Where have all the ‘kopi how’s gone?

My previous post about dating in the old days reminds of a place that I liked to go to. It was a coffee house called The Trishaw. It was located at ground floor of the Hotel Royal Ramada in Newton Road. I doubt it is still there. It had a rather unique ambience. The tables were configured like a trishaw with an artificial canopy. Can’t remember anything about the food though; me being never very particular in that department.

At the time when guys of my generation were leaving school in the late sixties and seventies, coffee houses became very popular for young working adults. Even the ‘bengs’ liked to frequent such places, calling them ‘kopi how’. But of course there were different classes of coffee houses; those in the hotels being more classy than those in the HDB heartlands.

The first coffee house I ever went to was called Silver Spoon (hope I got it right). It was located at the Supreme House in Penang Road. I believe it was also at one of the shops in this shopping centre that I bought my first pair of jeans. I think that too became a rage among youngsters at around the same time, especially the university and poly students. Levis, Lees and Amco were the popular brands. Anyway, a kampong boy like me knew nothing about fashion; just followed my younger brother James who was the trend-setter in our family when it came to such things. You could say he belonged to the “new jeanaration”.

I am afraid, I can’t recall the names of many other coffee houses of that era. But when I started working in Philips in Toa Payoh, my colleagues and I liked to go to a coffee house at Toa Payoh Central for cheap set lunches. I think it cost only a few bucks, complete with soup, coffee and desert. Cheap and fast. It was located near to the bus interchange.

At that time, (late 70’s to early 80’s) Toa Payoh Central was very different from what it is today, as you can see from the map of below. (Wah - the $16 that I paid for that 1981 street directory is really worth it man). Do you notice the huge Toa Payoh Circus? I told you before that it was one of the largest in Singapore; maybe second only to the Queens Circus in Queenstown. Another coffee house in Toa Payoh that we occasionally patronized was located just next to the Kong Chian Theatre next to the library.





When I started working in NPB in the mid-eighties, my work frequently brought me to Jurong. There my regular clients and I often went to the coffee house at Taman Jurong. Taman Jurong was very different from what it is today. I will blog about that place another day. Next to the coffee house which was along Corporation Road was a famous cake shop called B&W. That cake shop is now located at Taman Jurong Point. We still frequent the shop. Everyone in my family like their ‘tau sar piah’.

I can only recall two more. One was at Serangoon Road, near the junction with Boon Keng Road – saw a big cockroach there once. Now I remember why that place stayed in my mind after all these years. I was with my friend Simon, and he got terribly upset by the sight of the cockroach.


The last one was at Changi Village. It was just along the main road where there is now a long row of eateries. Sometimes after our in-camp training at Pulau Tekong, my army friends and I would go that for some ‘real’ food.

I am sure regular readers of my generation can remember many more names of coffee houses of our era which I have forgotten about.

51 comments:

yg said...

i used to frequent one - don't know if it was a 'kofi how' -located between the present tangs and lucky plaza. the building had a balinese style of architecture. went there usually for the set lunch.

silver spoon was at the present park mall. i think they tried reviving it but am not sure if it has been successful.

by the way, since you belong to the 1st batch of njc students, do you happen to know my friends hong hung song and yuen wan kong?

peter said...

The coffee house between CK Tang and the future Lucky Plaza was "Bali Hut". I know one called "Skillets" but forgot the location. There was also one in a garden setting between Penang Road and Orchard Road (now is some coffee house facing the Istana main entrance). Others I think I can remember were Bamboo Inn (present Heeren), Bamboo Grove (Somerset MRT Station public car carpark facing Orchard Road, one coffee house at the corner of Handy Road and Selegie Road (facing Cathay Cinema). Those were the late 1960s and early 1970s. Chatterbox at Mandarin came in the mid-70s.

Anonymous said...

I remember there was Copper Kettle at Shaw House. Didn't patronise it as I was still in school then. The name Skillets come to mind but I can't recall if it was a coffee house or a steakhouse. Maybe someone else can fill in on this.

Victor said...

So we now know where Chun See brought that blind date of his to. Still can say couldn't remember some more.

Anyone remember the name Tivoli? Was it a bar, restaurant or kopi how near where Bali Hut was? I remember the red umbrellas on the walkway with the white words "Campari" printed on them.

Today, we still have surviving kopi hows from the 1970s, e.g. Han's (many outlets all over the island) and the Ship Restaurant in Shaw House. The latter used to serve $6.90++ set lunches in the 1970s. Now maybe $10 or more.

Lam Chun See said...

YG. Sorry I don't know those 2 names. But our batch pretty big ... >600 students. Some more divided into Chinese and English streams. The Chinese streams did not sit for HSC like us. They had their own I think.

Anyway, at last gathering they gave up a cd with the pages of the year book scanned. So can check up.

Lam Chun See said...

I new you guys would remember the names. Bali Hut, Skillets and Copper Kettle I have heard of. I don't think Tivoli was a coffee house.

Anyone remember when Jack's came onto the scene?

Anonymous said...

Skillets was in Supreme House at Penang Road. It later changed its name to Silver Spoon. Tivoli was in Miramar Hotel in Outram/Havelock. That was all in the early 70's. Set lunch was only $3.99 at Skillets and lunch time was always packed.

peter said...

Victor - where was this coffee house with the Campari umbrella? I too remember seeing it, Orchard Road area? "The Ship" originally was from KL - cant remember which part but I think was near the Chartered Bank Bdlg area or Jalan Chow Kit area. I was quite impressed that the interior was designed like a ship desk when I went there for my first western steak dish in 1972.

There was another one at the corner of Margaret Drive and Queensway - like a Japanese Garden.

Thanks for "Skillets" flag-off Anonymous. "Silver Spoon" came later because of family squabble between husband and wife I think.

peter said...

jack's first outlet in Singapore was at Yen San Bdlg - m i correct?

Funny thogh, coffee houses became as "fashion" as Orchard Road evolved. I think this was next big thing after discos. So what is the thing about Orchard Road these days? Cannot be Pubs right?

Victor said...

Yes Peter, the Campari umbrellas were in Orchard Road, along the stretch between the present Tangs and Lucky Plaza, as YG has described above. It was on elevated ground. Can't remember if it was Tivoli though.

peter said...

Victor
I cant remember that location. The place you mentioned was a one-storey block with car showroom - there was Champion Motors which distributed the Volkswagon Beetle.

I now recall seeing the Campari unbrella outdoor at a 2-storey building which is now the Paragon (at the corner of Bideford Road and Orchard Road. There was an alresco coffee-house - m i correct?

Lam Chun See said...

Could The Ship be the one at Bt Timah Shopping Centre next to Beauty World Shopping Centre. I recall seeing a restaurant/coffee house at the 4th or 5th floor with some kind of ship's wheel. It was next to the cinema. At one time there was a cinema there.

yg said...

the ship, a hainanese restaurant, has been around for a few decades. it used to be at either robinson road or cecil street. today, it is at shaw centre.
there is also a related restaurant in kuala lumpur, known by the same name, along jalan bukit bintang.

household name said...

On something else you wrote about in this post, don't forget Texwood jeans! :-)

Lam Chun See said...

Oh yeah .. Texwood. Later there was one brand, I think it was local or Asian brand, the name is very easy to remember.

Look Exciting Always. Do you know the brand name I am talking about?

damarkian said...

Tivoli... I remember Tivoli Coffee House was the main coffee house at Amara Hotel in the 80s. Is that the one you're referring to, Victor?

I remember this coffee house at Thomson Plaza, on the 2nd floor. It was near a music school (not yamaha, think it's Elka or something). Ring any bells?

peter said...

Copper Kettle at Shaw Center was famous for its 'Earthquake" ice cream scoops - 8 scoops in total.

The one at Thompson Plaza was "The Kelong" was it

There was one at the old Paya Lebar Aiport- second level on top of the Departure Building? We used to hang-out there in the mid-70s after knocking-off from work at nite.

Victor said...

Chun See - Was the Ship ever at Bt Timah Shopping Centre? Another popular brand name for jeans was Rodeo. How can you forget that one?

Damarkian - Can't remember where Tivoli is located (the name just popped up in my mind). Maybe it should have been Troika. Does this one ring a bell?

Peter - The car showrooms were even older than the coffee house. Yes it was near where Paragon is now. Maybe it was called Troika, not Tivoli, and it was a Russian restaurant?

peter said...

Victor - Troika was at Liat Towers. U remember Donald Moore Gallery?

Yes I do remember there was "The Ship" at Bukit Timah Shopping Center - facing Chun Tin Road - way back in the 80s.

Victor said...

Donald Moore Gallery? A bookstore or publisher? Or an art gallery?

Ahh... looks like a publisher and bookstore, justlike Malayan Publishing House (MPH). I don't remember because it existed around 1965 - I was only 9-year-old then and not into books but kites. :p

Where was it located?

Lam Chun See said...

Oh yes Rodeo. There was one more. Can't recall the name. I think starts with W or P. Anyway, I still think Levis, Lees and Amco were ther earliest names.

Lam Chun See said...

Troika was a restaurant, I'm pretty sure. It was in town, near Spore River, OCBC building area.

Kevin said...

My impression of Troika location is at top of DBS Building in Shenton Way or one of those skyscrapers. It also opened other branches, one of which i think was at Clifford Center.
There was a Tivoli in a converted car showroom building where Paragon is now. The same building had a Soundscene LP shop (rem those?) with those groovy listening booths.
Anyone remember Swan's Steak House? at the corner of Orchard just before Cathay?
Miss those days when Kopi Hous' were 24-hrs and the kopi was free-flow.

Victor said...

Yes, the Tivoli in the converted car showroom building where Paragon is now (Kevin's description above) was the one I saw. Outside it, there were 3 red beach umbrellas with white words "CAMPARI" printed on them.

There were jeans with brand names that starting with both "W" and "J" then:

"W" = Wrangler jeans
"P" = PJ jeans

Lam Chun See said...

Wah Victor, you are good man. I was searching so hard for the name "Wrangler".

peter said...

That converted car show room was selling Vauxhall cars. There was an open-air carpark behind the showroom facing Bideford Road which I think is the present driveway into Paragon.

I now remember that Tong Bdlg was once the Esso petrol station, next to Fitzpatrick Supermarket. The Shell Station was next to the Orchard Road Police Station - now could be the MRT entrance.

Second Class said...

Not sure if you remember Mido Cafe in Outram Park?

damarkian said...

peter - The Kelong @ Thomson plaza was on the 1st floor if I recall. They also served dimsum. There was another one on the 2nd floor. I just cannot remember its name hehheh.

In tune with coffee houses, places like Delights' Corner (used to be opposite Novena square) and Mariner's Corner deserve a bit of a mention ya? There was also Dolphin restaurant near Macpherson.

Victor said...

How can we not mention Jumbo Coffee House in Queensway Shopping Centre? And a little further back in time, there were Magnolia Bars in Capitol Theatre and the former Cold Storage in Orchard Road.

ccpprs said...

Does anyone remember a coffee house in Ngee Ann Bldg called Mont D'or?

danny said...

ccpprs,

Mont D'or was housed in an old building (can't remember the name) that was later torn down to make way for the present Ngee Ann City :)

Zen said...

Have you heard of a nice exclusive looking and fitting jean (of good material) costing only $7.00? This could only happen in the early sixties when the dollar could be stretched a bit further. Among tailored pants (supposed to be at the upper end) around the Tanjong Pagar area jeans were on the cheapest category, as compared to Wool, Dacron and other materials. When I found myself a
bit tight money-wise, I would go for tailor-made jeans.

peter said...

has anybody tried dying one's shirt or soaking one's jeans in the sea to create the fashion effects? I remmebered we used to buy some dye of many colours and tying the shirt in different places and boiling it in a solution of dye. We created many patterns from this. The jeans soaked in the sea left it faded and I am sure faded jeans was a fashion then.

Talking about jeans, I observe that many ladies (teenagers and young adults) actually wear very tight hipster jeans that reveal their butt-line; sometimes you got to wonder whether they are wearing anything inside. I wonder how come the jeans never fall-off.

I guess our generation a bit not so daring like now.

Zen said...

When I looked back to the sixties the time I started work, I really cherished the value for money services which nowadays eateries loudly boast. Even during lunch time in the humble coffee-shops workers can get good services. Just for example, we used to go to one of our favourite coffee-shops, a chubby hainese cook would come out enthusiastically recommending the menu for lunch. On one occasion he brought out a garoupa for us to 'eye examined' its freshness. After the lunch, we would ask us for comments on his dishes, we all unanimously put our thumb-ups particularly for his fried sweet and sour fish. These favourable comments made the day for this chubby guy. The 'damage' - cost of the lunch - pro-rata to each of us paying a couple of dollars only. This was what we meant value-for-money in those daya.

alex said...

Peter,

Bali Hut is the coffee house of Seaview Hotel Amber Close. I worked there in late 60's during school holiday, therefore I can remeber the name very well.

The one along Orcgard Road must be having another name close or related to Bali. There was on called Cozy Corner? Ring a bell?

alex

Lam Chun See said...

Those days we try to give our new jeans a faded look by soaking it in strong detergent or chlorine.

alex said...

You are rigt, the faded look was in. For us who lived along East Coast, we soaked them in the sea and left it under the sun to achieve the look. I was told some even went as far as letting the jeans ran over by cars to get the look.

Those were the days before stone wash and acid wash.

peter said...

I think if I am not wrong in the 1990s the jeans look was to cut holes at the knee. Then someone said the right way to wear jeans was to cut-off the ends and let the threat run loose. So I asked : why pay so much to get this kind of look?

Now days I also give myself the new look. When someone show their butt-line, I asked myself why not i wear my shorts below my "pouch" to show my fats?

Alex - what was the name of the lounge at the Seaview Hotel? There was a live band there? i forgot the name.

alex said...

Peter,

Too many years already, but a name came across as possible, Coral Bar. The logo was a bunch of coral, with the name below. Any possibility?

peter said...

the name "Sorrento Coffee House" I cant seem to place its location. I think somewhere in orchard area. do help!

peter said...

I apologise for my error. Thanks to Wee Kiat who jolt my static memory bank, the coffee house/restaurant between CK Tang and the future Lucky Plaza was called Batik Inn, not Bali Hut. Bali Hut was at Seaview Hotel.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is doing her school project on retail scene in the 70s... that's how I stumble upon your interesting blog. Yes, Tivoli (OR Trivoli) coffee house is like a Alfresco dining experience in the 70s.. resemble the current Starbucks. Tivoli is located outside Fitzpatrick supermarket where expats go for their groceries. My brother loves their cheese tube that squeezes out like a toothpaste. That was our childhood luxury then.
Thanks for the memories..

Melvyn Lim said...

The coffee house beside B&W in Jurong is simply called Jurong Coffee House & Bar. I'd know, it was my dad's! :)

Lam Chun See said...

Wow Melvyn. That's neat. Maybe you should share your memories with the Spore Memory Portal. Share they would love you have your stories of this place.

stngiam said...

The Trishaw still exists, at Hotel Royal, same location, along Newton Road. They still have one table with a trishaw canopy. Don't know whether it is the same canopy from the 70s !

Lam Chun See said...

"Trishaw still exists" ... Really? Maybe I'll visit one of these days just for the memories.

artykooliwu said...

Tivoli was located at the present Paragon shopping centre. There was a shooting incident back then involving a local cop and some kiwis, i think. It was a favourite with the kiwis back then. Some nights you see white uniformed SPs patrols. Going down from Tivoli towards centrepoint, you would go pass Fritzpatrick Supermarket that caters for the then expat community. Remember Pavilion Steak house beside the then specialist shopping centre opp the present centrepoint? Jack's first restaurant was not Yen San but killiney or Cola at sembawang's. The ship was indeed at Shaw Centre as well as Copper Kettle. Skillets was before Silver Spoon at the same location. Magnolia Snack Bar, anyone?? Dong Loke Wee Cake house...the present Post office site on Killiney..Salad Bowl at the present centrepoint...remember?? There was one that was on the ground floor of Capitol Theatre..like a snack house and Kofi how that elludes my memory but it was there.......I miss those hungry years...sedaka.

wf said...

The two coffee houses at Toa Payoh, one at Kong Chian theatre is "Rose coffee house" at the basement, the other near Toa Payoh theatre is "Toa Payoh Coffee house. Yes the Trishaw at Ramada still there, they serve Bak Kut Teh, was there a few months ago.

wf said...

I remember "Cosy Corner", it was located at the shophouses near the old CK Tangs.

JJ said...

wf, the kong chian coffee house...did it close down and wimpy fast food opened in it's location? I remembered in the early 80s when wimpy's 1st opened...wow...its was great fun to finally have a western fast food opened at toa payoh back then! i remembered the fish burger or fillet had bones in it...but we din mind at all :)

Anonymous said...

When we were old enough to eat at restaurants, my father brought us to The Ship and it was located at Coronation Plaza.