SINGAPORE: Lou Shang, a new café and bar in Dhoby Ghaut, has recently garnered mixed reaction on social media for its adoption of an HDB estate-inspired decor theme.
Scheduled to open its doors on Tuesday (22 Aug), Lou Shang is the brainchild of the founders behind Mama Diam, a well-known café in the same Dhoby Ghaut vicinity.
The establishment’s concept revolves around a café and bar adorned in the style of an HDB estate, intended as a “tribute to the cherished memories of HDB living” and a heartfelt homage to the notion of home.
Although, despite its novel approach, the theme has sparked some scepticism among online users who question the appropriateness of the chosen concept.
A TikTok video shared by food blogger @TheStormScape offers a glimpse of the café’s interior, which might strike a chord of nostalgia for many.
Lou Shang café is discreetly situated beyond a lift, reminiscent of those found in older estates.
Upon entering the café, visitors are greeted with furniture and decorations that are familiar to Singaporeans who have either resided in or are acquainted with HDB estates.
In general, the design acts as a nostalgic portrayal of the common look exhibited by numerous HDB estates.
Mixed reactions from netizens
However, a wave of opinions surged on Instagram, with several individuals expressing reservations regarding the decor and the use of the term ‘old-school’ to characterize an already established way of life for some Singaporeans.
Nonetheless, not all viewpoints aligned with those raising these concerns.
One individual pointed out that the decor couldn’t be easily labeled as “old school,” highlighting their current residence in an HDB estate with a similar ambience.
Someone replied by saying that “HDB dwellers won’t see value in eating here when they spent their lives going to the Kopitiam below their block for peasant grub.”
Certain users failed to perceive the nostalgic value in the décor.
They raised doubts about why Lou Shang seems to be capitalizing on what they perceive as a “poor person aesthetic.”
However, a contrasting viewpoint promptly countered, contending that labeling the decor as a portrayal of a “poor people’s lifestyle” was just a stereotype.
The comment also questioned how frequently one could encounter a comparable corridor in a more modern BTO housing estate.
Founder’s vision: A tribute to HDB living
The founder of Lou Shang café, in response to an inquiry by MS News, conveyed that their establishment stands as a tribute to the cherished memories associated with HDB living.
According to him, it serves as a way to honor the places that hold the essence of Singaporeans’ homes.
One of the co-founders, Sebastian, used to visit a small convenience store after school and climb the stairs from the ground floor, then go back to his HDB apartment. He said this routine is relatable to many.
He carefully recreated this experience to bring back the feelings of warmth, friendship, and the diverse culture from that time.
Thus, “each corner of Lou Shang tells a story—a story of neighbors sharing stories, children playing, and the tapestry of ethnic diversity that colors our nation,” he said.
He also pointed out that the atmosphere is more than just decorations—it’s like a doorway to a time when communities were formed through simple happiness.
Additionally, he designed the menu with the idea of “home” in mind.
“Committed to create an inclusive and respectful space”
A representative from Lou Shang has acknowledged concerns regarding the potential exploitation of a particular aesthetic, underlining their genuine commitment to cultivating a space that is inclusive and respectful.
The outlet is eager to clarify that its intentions revolve around a sincere appreciation for nostalgia, community bonds, and cultural heritage.
The aim was to recreate the atmosphere of older HDB estates, including the warmth, togetherness, and cultural variety that defined them.
“We believe that these elements hold timeless value and deserve to be celebrated,” the spokeperson said.
“Our intention is to bring people together, to spark conversations, and to foster a sense of belonging, rather than to commercialize or glamorize any particular socio-economic situation”.
Lastly, the company express their dedication to creating an inclusive and respectful environment that respects the past while embracing the present and future.