It’s mid-week in Holland Village. Snatches of laughter steal out the door of Fosters Steakhouse, a nondescript tavern at the end of Lorong Liput, and dissolve into the sleepy night. Save for a few people drinking further down on the main drag of Lorong Mambong, there is little going on.

As far as eateries go, 62-year-old Fosters, which has been around longer than Singapore has been independent, may as well be a members-only club. Foodies wouldn’t be satisfied here. Nor would wine lovers. There’s no craft beer on tap. The coffee’s nothing special. Their best deal, two cocktails for S$15 (adjusted to S$16.80 for post-COVID inflation), isn’t well-advertised. By all accounts, Fosters is unremarkable, perhaps even subpar.

Nevertheless, there’s a homely appeal to the tavern. The yellow paint has been peeling off the walls since I first patronised it over a decade ago. Upon entering, one’s eyes are drawn to a sizable blown-up stock image of the inside of a rose.

Fosters was never meant to steal the spotlight. “I always wanted it to be like a secret greenhouse,” TH Chua, the owner, recalls of the design process, which included a balcony that hung over a drain and extended into a small garden. The effect is calming: it feels like a private oasis, natural, as though it has grown from the soil like the greenery that ensconces it. “When you enter the restaurant and you see the foliage I built, you feel this quaint charm,” he says.

“If only it were like this all the time,” Chua adds, gesturing to the packed room. And with that, he makes the last call—ever—for drinks at Fosters.

I grew up in Fosters. As a child in the early 2000s, I went for afternoon tea with my mother. I remember savouring the heavy, sweet clotted cream while she gossiped to her friends on a hot pink Motorola. Later, in my teens, I drank there with my friends. It was a safe space to indulge. We laughed, argued, cried, and made up in the soft, yellow glow of the citronella candles.

“Are you sure? Some water first?” Michelle, the waitress I grew to love, would ask when I ordered another margarita. She always greeted me with a smile. In the later years, we hugged. I haven’t always felt like I ‘belonged’ in Singapore—though I was born here, I grew up squarely in an expat bubble. At Fosters, I was part of the furniture. Sure and steady like the old wooden bar.

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