Discovering Jalan Dhoby

The Jalan Dhoby of today, bears no resemblance to what it was originally named for.

A section of Jalan Dhoby as it looks now, with a
refreshed new look in chic cafes and ice-cream parlours
Dhoby, a Hindi word which means laundryman, was once the main occupation of residents on this road.  Just try to imagine Jalan Dhoby in old Johor Baru which was once the domain of professional laundry services.  Picture how washed laundry was hung out to dry in their building air-wells and the hillock behind Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Trus.  This dhoby business here, however, gradually ceased as the business was shared with Shanghai laundry shops that were opened in various parts of town.

Since some 20 years ago, most of the businesses along Jalan Dhoby were no longer laundry related.  This area inadvertently earned a sad reputation for illicit activities because by night, it was the main hangout for transgender people.  Any mention of this road was linked to a nasty connotation of a notorious red light district for drugs, prostitutes and perverts.

Facade of the popular It Roo Cafe 
Thankfully, this ugly era is over.  Now a Google search will turn up lists of cool cafes and boutiques in the hip and happening Jalan Dhoby.  A social media check will also confirm that the new enterprises here are among the most photographed and discussed destinations among both local and foreign hipster travellers.  But this transformation of pre-war shops into a hip destination did not happen overnight.

The reputation of tihe landmark Hua Mui restaurant at the corner of Jalan Trus and Jalan Dhoby for its traditional kopitiam fare, was drawing regulars as well as diners in search of a taste of nostalgia.  It Roo Café, opened in 1961 at the corner of Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Pahang, earned the enviable reputation for the Best Chicken Chop in Town in 2003 and inevitably became a “must-go” dining destination here.

Opposite It Roo Café, the generations of bakers at Salahuddin Bakery who have been baking their breads, cakes and pastries using a traditional charcoal oven, was an interesting attraction to visitors who have never seen such a unique oven.  Visitors hardly leave this bakery without buying freshly baked curry-filled giant samosa, loaves and buns.  And many cannot resist the temptation to start eating the piping hot items – even while standing at their doorstep!

Customers at Salahuddin Bakery
In 2005, a young Johor entrepreneur took the brave step to make his dream of opening a retro-themed café into reality.  For a long time, Wong Hong Hai, better known as Sea Wong, had dreams about turning his combined passion for furniture, food and beverage, gardening, art and music, into a business.

Looking back now, it appears that Wong’s Roost Juice Bar kicked off the transformation process of Jalan Dhoby and nearby streets as more young entrepreneurs followed in his footsteps to start interesting new businesses in repurposed old buildings.

Facade of the first Roost Juice Bar
Wong designed a café menu with light meals, cold-pressed juices and signature chilled fruity yogurt drinks.  The décor in Roost can simply be described as eclectic.  Wong used his collection of old furniture and creatively combined mismatched pieces into comfortable sitting room clusters.  His mother's recipe of Hainanese beef noodles and chicken chop were popular menu choices while refreshing yogurt drinks were served in pretty plastic pails!

Wong offered a talented young lady an upstairs section of Roost to start a tiny boutique named, “The Girl Next Door” (TGND).  She was none other than fashionista, Beverly Bee Ang, and this was the humble beginning of her highly successful Bev C clothing line. Later she set up her own Bev C clothing store and café at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee.

Then, Wong recreated Roost’s laidback attitude in his next outlet opened at the corner of Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Trus in Roost Repurposed & Recycled Salad Bar.  

The door at Right opens to "The Girl Next Door" on the
upper level of the original Roost Juice Bar
As its name described, the furnishing in this double-storey café was handmade by Wong from recycled materials.  From lampshades, shelves, tables, chairs to benches, each item was creatively repurposed into attractive and useful furnishings here.

Roost Salad Bar became a popular chill-out destination where art & craft events were often held but space was limited.  Wong’s search for a building with a garden to showcase his interesting furniture and host bigger art events ended in finding a sprawling old bungalow at Jalan Skudai.  

When his vision in creating “Sea & Saw” within a beautiful garden became a reality, Wong brought the garden concept into Roost Juice Bar.  It has since been rebranded as “Flowers in the Window,” adding yet another cool destination to the exciting range of happening places at the all new Jalan Dhoby!

A version of this was published in on 20 April 2016

Next exciting episode: Transforming Jalan Tan Hiok Nee


  1. Anonymous4/20/2016

    My friend's father has a Chinese coffin shop in Jln Dhoby. Is it still there?

  2. Yes, Teck Seng Undertakers are still at No.23 Jalan Dhoby!