The Vagabond is an upmarket boutique hotel in a stylishly renovated art deco building in Little India, Singapore. It opened in January last year then, in November, became part of the Marriott group under its upmarket Tribute Portfolio brand. It has a fun, cheeky vibe summed up in the hotel's catchphrase: "If you must get in trouble, do it at the Vagabond."
French architect and interior designer Jacques Garcia turned what was formerly a brothel into an idiosyncratically stylish hotel with 41 rooms. The ground floor is a modern version of a Parisian salon that looks like the inside of Baz Luhrmann's head when he made Moulin Rouge! – lots of red and gold with whimsical elements at every turn. The reception desk is a solid brass rhinoceros, for example, and there are red curtains, gold ornamental trees, a gold elephant and striking paintings and photographs on the walls. This salon is where the hotel's artists in residence show off their work for guests. During my stay, it was a French costume designer but, other times, writers, photographers and performance artists take up residence for up to three months. The ground floor includes an executive club lounge for business meetings that offers complimentary food during the day and drinks from late afternoon. One of the hotel's fun features is a striking installation, by New York artist Marco Brambilla, that screens scrolling images from famous films in the lift. The friendliness of the staff begins with the "Lady Boss/general manager", Harpreet Bedi, who warmly greets guests at high tea.
While compact – a standard room is 22 to 24 square metres – the room has a light, friendly, elegant feel that continues the hotel's arty theme. There are no less than 10 framed prints and two hanging lamps on the wall behind a comfortable king-sized bed. A red floral screen separates the bedroom from a stylish red bathroom. On a small mahogany writing desk is a smartphone for free local and some international calls. It doubles as a travel guide that you can take into the city. Features of the room include a Nespresso coffee machine, high-speed Wi-Fi and free movies. Club rooms and suites are bigger – up to 34 square metres – and give guests free use of the executive club lounge downstairs. When it came under the Marriot banner, the Vagabond started attracting more business travellers so it turned a shophouse across the road into a gym. While it does not have a pool, there is a community swimming centre five minutes walk away.
The hotel restaurant was temporarily shut during my stay but has since reopened as The Salon, running from 7am to 4pm, with a health-minded Asian fusion menu that includes all-day breakfast plates ("banana compote pancake stack" and "dim sum dolly congees"). For more substantial meals, there's spit roast of kurobuta pork, seared salmon with coconut rice, abalone laksa and a beef rendang burger. The restaurant becomes Bar Vagabond from 4.30pm to midnight, serving cocktails and bar snacks. Within easy walking distance outside are scores of authentic restaurants ranging from hawker food courts upwards. You can get traditional Indian food at Banana Leaf Apolo (54 Race Course Road) and south Indian vegetarian at Komala Vilas (76-78 and 82 Serangoon Road). A little further away in the Kampong Glam district – a 10-minute walk – are a variety of Malay, Middle Eastern and Chinese restaurants.
The joys of Little India are in stark contrast to the modern shopping malls around Orchard Road and the high-rise hotels around Marina Bay – colourful lanes full of odd shops, restaurants and places of worship. The most colourful temple in Little India is Sri Veeramakaliamman (141 Serangoon Road), with the golden-domed Sultan Mosque (3 Muscat Street) well worth a visit in Kampong Glam. The new Indian Heritage Centre (5 Campbell Lane) focuses on the history of Singapore's Indian community. For edgier experiences, the Vagabond has what it calls a "vice map" which takes a fun approach to such local sights as a restaurant called Little Bastard ("Singapore's first adults-only dessert shop",115 King George's Avenue) and a route for a karaoke pub crawl.
For an alternative to a high-rise hotel in Singapore, the Vagabond is a stylish boutique experience – friendly and fascinating for the quirky variety of art on display – in a part of town with plenty of character.
The fun arty atmosphere.
At the time, it was the restaurant being closed and the lack of a gym, but the hotel has since fixed both problems.
A standard room costs from $304 a night. Hotel Vagabond, 39 Syed Alwi Road, Singapore.
The writer was a guest of Singapore Tourism.
Our rating: ★★★★
TripAdvisor rating: ★★★★½