Bringing ritzy into the sleazy
Hip yuppies sit at fashionable tables, tapping on their iPads while sipping artisanal coffee.
They are in a designer interior that is minimal and uncluttered.
The atmosphere at seven-month-old Brawn & Brains, a quaint cafe tucked in a corner of the Old Singapore Badminton Hall at Guillemard Road, is definitely a world away from the streetwalkers plying their trade at the opposite side of the road at Geylang Lorong 20.
Also operating along the Guillemard stretch are two-month-old Char, a casual Chinese zi char restaurant specialising in roast meats, and The Tuckshop, a watering hole increasingly famous for its wide range of craft beers.
Already, all three establishments are becoming a hit with those craving for something different in an area known for its after-dark pursuits.
Ms Gwen Peh, 31, who runs Brawn & Brains with her husband Xavier Teo, 37, tells The New Paper on Sunday they were attracted to the Old Singapore Badminton Hall because it was away from the hustle and bustle of town.
"We are also attracted to the fact that the building has been able to retain the original old, classic structure and character," she says.
Mr Bu Shukun, co-owner of The Tuckshop, says he and his partners saw a viable demand for a food and beverage establishment that sits at this "unique Geylang fringe location".
"This Geylang location sits precisely on a precarious zone where the red-light district ends and the expatriate residential community starts," says the 33-year-old, a designer and founder of interior design firm Architology.
Cheaper rent is also another attraction. With rental of up to $15,000 for a 1,600 sq ft space, rent here is less costly compared to shopping malls.
The lower rent in turn allows owners to offer more attractive prices. At Brawn & Brains, for example, an iced latte costs $3.80 and an iced mocha, $4.
Char offers shredded duck noodle soup for $10, chicken and salt and chilli pepper spare ribs for $16, with a range of craft beers, ciders and ales from Britain.
But do they have problems attracting customers to the area because of the seedy reputation?
British expatriate Anthony Ung says: "As more businesses come into the area, a new atmosphere is emerging. I believe the area is on the cusp of change, with new residential projects coming up which would attract young families and professionals."
Two months ago, the 41-year-old - formerly the country manager for JobStreet Singapore - roped in his elder brother Alvin, 51, previously a chef in Britain, to run Char's kitchen. Mr Ung says they spent "roughly $200,000".
"I would like to think we are bringing something more laid-back and casual that the local residents have been missing for a long time, run by people who are passionate about their products and who care about what they do."
Marketing manager Kelvin Liu, 30, who lives in nearby Cassia Crescent, says he is excited by the foodie enclave sprouting in the Guillemard area.
"Not only is it exciting, but it's about time this place is known for more than just the sleaze."
Affordable central location for buyers
The property in Geylang offers some of the most value-for-money buys in Singapore, say analysts.
Never mind its proximity to the red-light district, sleazy hotels and registered brothels, the area is becoming a popular spot for homeowners looking for a home in a central location - without the sky-high prices.
Ms Christine Li, head of research and consultancy at property consultancy firm Orange Tee, says the attraction of these private properties located in District 14 - which covers Geylang, Eunos, Kembangan and Paya Lebar - lies in how they are a mix of 99-year leasehold and freehold projects.
Geylang - which is home to shophouses and low-rise condominiums - is also within reach of train stations on the East-West and Circle lines, say analysts.
The small size and lower entry prices - with prices going from $1,500 per sq ft (psf) - make units in the area investor-friendly, adds PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail Gafoor.
Rental yields are also high - between 3.6 per cent to 4.9 per cent - because there is a healthy demand for these units, especially from foreigners working in the area.
Agreeing, Mr Donald Han, managing director of property consultancy firm Chesterton Singapore, adds: "There has been interest in property located in the city fringes like Geylang, because the rental value of homes there is also strong compared to condominiums located in Sengkang, for example," says Mr Han.
Ms Li notes that interest in the area is growing partly because of the slew of new launches in the district.
But she says "Geylang units are not usually for owner occupation, but for investment and renting out".
"It is harder to attract families because of the area's proximity to the red-light district," says Ms Li.
But development in Geylang continues, perhaps driven by investment demand.
According to a 2012 Straits Times report, there are at least 40 projects, comprising 2,190 units, that will be launched or completed in the next three years or so.
Demand for apartments in Geylang began around 2009.
Then, a 300 sq ft unit would cost about $1,200 per sq ft, says Ms Li.
Prices for such units have since rocketed, but they remain affordable to investors and homeowners concerned over the price quantum of landed properties.
For example, a 1,227 sq ft three-bedroom apartment at The Waterina - located at Lorong 40 Geylang - goes for about $1.6 million.
At The Waterina, an apartment of the same size cost $3,700 a month to rent.
In comparison, a 1,722 sq ft three-bedroom apartment at Boon Teck Towers - located near Balestier, another district on the city fringes - goes for $1.9 million.
At Boon Teck Towers, an apartment of the same size cost $4,100 a month to rent.
It is this low entry price that prompted Mr James Lim, 42, to buy a 500 sq ft two-bedroom apartment at Lorong 26 Geylang for about $500,000 last year.
"I bought it because the price is affordable and it is close to the city," said the bachelor.
"I wouldn't buy this place if I was married, but I don't mind the red-light district. The people there don't bother you if you don't bother them."