IT ALL seems so obvious: trendy apartment by the river, pretty views over the water and cool bars and cafes below to hang out in. It's been tried before but until recently, no single development seems to have gotten it right.
Its early days yet, but The Pier at Robertson Quay appears to be on the right track with a well-defined lifestyle approach and a food and beverage tenant mix that is attracting a neighbourhood crowd as well as destination diners.
When the latest branch of Harry's Bar opens there on Monday, The Pier's F&B mix will be complete - nine outlets in all representing a segment of a fast-growing market (casual chic, or - to coin a phrase that has since gone the way of the Dodo bird - the yuppie crowd).
Several of the existing outlets opened when the area was seriously people-challenged. The first started business in mid-2006, before apartment owners or tenants had moved in.
Recently, though, there have been signs that something interesting is happening at The Pier. An early evening walk along the Singapore River at Robertson Quay will reveal that, unlike the commercial scene at Clarke Quay and Boat Quay further down, people around here tend to be casually dressed residents and their families from nearby condominiums. After hours, if the weather permits, there is an influx of youngish office workers with a preference for sitting outdoors.
According to Kwek Leng Peck of the Hong Leong Group and City Developments, which developed The Pier, the building's location presented an ideal opportunity to create the model for a modern Singaporean lifestyle.
'The URA wanted to promote F&B on developments facing the water,' he says, adding that The Pier is the first to succeed in attracting an extensive and seamlessly complementary tenant mix, where patrons at one outlet would feel right at home at any of the other outlets.
'So far, this is the only development like that,' says Mr Kwek. 'In previous projects, there was no right tenant mix. In future, a lot of people will do their developments up this way. We brought in the right mix - simple decor, casual atmosphere, good food - and we are very happy with the result.'
The outlets at The Pier comprise a blend of tried-and-tested restaurant and bar operators and some newer names with concepts that caught the eye of the landlord. Among the first group are Brasserie Wolf, a traditional French bistro operated by Wolfgang Lapper of the Esmirada Group; Brussels Sprouts, a Belgian beer and mussels joint newly opened by Emmanuel Stroobant of the Saint Pierre group; The Coffee Connoisseur (TCC) and of course the soon-to-open Harry's Bar.
In the second category are Robataya Yoyogi, a Japanese specialty grill restaurant whose owner Edwin Tan has another Japanese restaurant just across the street from The Pier; The Chocolate Factory, a gourmet chocolate shop and cafe and; Tasting Notes, a wine bar that was the first to open in June last year. Finally, there is La Maison du Whisky, a retail store and Reif + James, a recently opened restaurant (see box story).
All the outlets have at least a couple of things in common: they all encourage their patrons to sit outdoors. As a result, there is a friendly, vibrant atmosphere outside The Pier and along the pedestrian-only walkways that surround the development. In addition, each outlet was vetted by Mr Kwek, who believed strongly in the concept and who took particular care in selecting the various tenants. On many evenings, he can be spotted chatting with owners or entertaining guests.
'It was a no-brainer about having a wine bar here,' says Jimmy Yap, a co-owner of Tasting Notes. 'There is a huge residential community and a large percentage of expats and 40 per cent of those expats are our regulars.'
He adds: 'Many love the al fresco portion and unlike Singaporeans who doggedly stick to reds, they go with white wines, champagnes and rose wines.'
Mr Yap, a former banker who also owns an apartment at The Pier, says that the difference between Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay and Boat Quay is that this place is more relaxed and not intense. 'You don't have people trying to drag you into their bars and restaurants. As a result, people bring their families here and if they want food, we have reciprocal arrangements with some of the restaurants in the area.'
Brussels Sprouts has a funky ambiance, an irregular-shaped space with huge frontage that opens up to bring the indoors out, a tapas-style menu offering items like marinated herring, meat loaf or crab salad on toast, and 70 different Belgian beers to choose from.
'We haven't done a full launch yet but it seems to be doing fine,' says Edina Hong of the Saint Pierre Group. 'We wanted a fresh, zen look - it's a bar but not a typical Singapore bar that's dark and old-world style. We kept it simple and we offer people the kind of comfort food that reminds them of home.'
Laurent Bernard, owner of The Chocolate Factory, which has enjoyed success since it opened six months ago, says: 'The location is great - it's not like being in Singapore, almost like being in a small corner of Saint Germain in Paris. We offer a kind of lifestyle, and there is harmony between people here.'
For some reason, The Pier is unique because even other developments just a stone's throw away don't generate the exact vibe. Mr Bernard expects the entire neighbourhood to benefit from the growing popularity of what he refers to as the Robertson Quay village. 'Everybody is doing well, and things will be even better when more apartments are built nearby - we are just at the beginning,' he says.
The Pier at Robertson Quay is located at 80 Mohamed Sultan Road