Judging by his thick rimmed spectacles, Mandarin collared shirt peeking out from a relaxed blue jacket and his white soled black high-tops, one would immediately assume Silas Lee to have a background in a creative, hip or trendy industry. Whether his sense of style is a reflection of his new “COO” or the other way around, few would guess that up until about 18 months ago he worked in the corporate world as a highflying banker.
Tired of the rat race, Silas began to think of an alternative way of life, and with his young children in mind, Silas knew that he wanted to stay current and with the times by looking forward rather than back.
Taking an interest in how society is heading and focusing on the use of technology particularly with the millennials, he quickly realised that a real thirst for knowledge and sharing of information was a major driving force behind the extensive use of mobile devices within this group and; like it or not it was here to stay. Fighting it would be a loosing battle – akin to when his own father would tell him to “stop listening to rock and roll” back in his youth.
With this realisation in mind and an interest in the hotel business, the idea of a space for this new generation began to formulate. He wanted to create a different hospitality experience that could utilise this fascination with handheld technology and would allow people to meet, eat, work, have fun and share information.
This is when he enlisted the help of others in the form of Mercury PR and award winning architect and designer Colin Seah and his team at Ministry of Design to help him realise his vision.
With no suitable word out there to encompass Silas’ ideas, its was Tjin of Mercury PR who came up with their own word (and definition) to describe what they saw as their client’s vision:
“Sociatel” – An establishment providing accommodation, meals and other services that focuses on all things social – social media, social spaces and socialising.
Silas himself can be credited with the intriguing name “COO”, explaining that it is not an acronym or a word as such, but instead “it should evoke a feeling, perhaps the sound of a bird calling out, or suggest a (cool) vibe.”
Connecting people is core to the concept of COO – the all too familiar accommodation experience where guests would rarely interact with each other was not going to cut it. This is how the idea of “COO Connect” was born, a first of its kind in Singapore, it is an online portal that connects the hostel guests with each other. All guests are invited to register and select their top 5 interests from a pre-determined list. COO Connect then instantly links up those with the same interests by flagging them up to each other and inviting them to “connect” by giving them the opportunity to chat ahead of their trip or initiating a meet up for example at the breakfast or dinner table during their stay. A simple but hopefully powerful tool, phase 2 of COO Connect will also connect guests with the wider local community.
Situated in Tiong Bahru, the look and feel of COO is wholly inspired by its locality and history. Months of work went into researching the neighbourhood and the things that make this little enclave of Singapore so unique and loved by locals and expats alike. The MOD team then took all of this research and cleverly translated it in different ways before creatively applying it to COO’s interior and food.
Take for example the quirky purple neon Tiong Bahru area map that illuminates the bar, the no expense spared wall paper which is covered in stories, poems, quotes, facts and images from the area and speciality printed in the UK and precise to the millimetre to fit the walls and other architectural features of the space (take note that these are not wall decals but entire rolls of wall paper!). Then there’s the custom made screens and curtains inspired by the familiar decorative security grills that can be found on many of the old “walk up” apartments in Tiong Bahru.
Food wise COO prides themselves on locally sourced produce and making everything from scratch. Catering for varying tastes, there is a “Glocal” menu with the as you might expect western type breakfast, brunch, dinner and sharing plate options (Full English, burgers, pasta – you get the idea) and also the local Tiong Bahru inspired dishes which are affectionately referred to in the menu as “Food from the hood”.
I tried a range of both western and local dishes. I sampled a starter platter of roasted pork belly, chicken satay, salt and pepper barramundi and mackerel keropok, mains of “COO’s Prawn Noodle” (quite spicy!), “COO’s Pressed Sandwich” and pork cheek capellini and finally a dessert of “Tiong Bahru Chwee Kuey”.
My favourite was the “COO Pressed Sandwich” (Sorry I don’t have a pic here because it didn’t particularly photograph very well) which was filled with bresaola, juicy beef hanger steak, a sweet onion chilli jam and gruyere cheese, lettuce and I think a bit of mustard and mayonnaise too, all encased in a perfectly pressed crisp sandwich jacket. Also getting a thumbs up from me was the “COO Chwee Kuey”, the part that is usually the warm steamed rice cake gave way to a cool, smooth and creamy coconut Panna Cotta and instead of the usual pickled radish and chilli sauce, there was candied walnut which was rather yummy with its surprisingly chewy texture and chopped balsamic strawberries which are always a delight to me. Taste wise it was nothing like the original Chwee Kuey, but it did look the part in its little container and presented on a waxed paper sheet.
All of the COO accommodation is housed on the four floors above, and can be accessed via a lift with a bright and funky orange interior. Combinations of four, six or eight beds (bunk beds) and in room or external bathrooms are available. All beds are curtained for privacy and come with individual lockers, reading lamps, pillows, duvet and linen, toiletries and towels, universal charging sockets and free 24 hour unlimited Wi-fi access. Female only rooms are also available as are the use of a washer dryer, pantry, access to the private open-air guest terrace, and free bike hire.
Although I didn’t spend a night at COO, I liked what I saw and can say it is a far cry from the ropey experience that comes to mind whenever the word “hostel” is ever touted to me. Modern, clean and thoughtfully designed COO is a new-gen experience where guests don’t just “get what they pay for” but instead can expect to get more. If only more budget providers would think like this, I’d have covered a lot more of my travel bucket list by now!
Thank you Silas for inviting OrdinaryPeople over last week and taking the time to talk to me and show me around. I will certainly be back soon with Mr Lip to enjoy the “COO Pressed Sandwich” and perhaps a cocktail or three at the bar!
COO, 259 Outram Road, Singapore 169056
Beds at COO start at S$44++ and include a daily breakfast. For accommodation enquiries call: +65 6221 5060 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The bistro is open 11am-10pm daily except Sunday when it is closed at 6pm and Tuesday when it is closed.
For bistro enquiries call: +65 6221 7060 or email: email@example.com
All photographs by Anna Hui except where otherwise credited.