There’s something strange happening over in Macau. Sure, there are always strange goings on in what is effectively China’s state-sanctioned den of vice, but we’re talking beyond the seedy stuff. Our sister SAR is becoming legitimately cool. Prepare your patacas, boys and girls — here’s how to hit the jackpot without ever hitting the slots.
Out of seemingly nowhere, Macau has some pretty awesome little coffee houses that could compete with some of Hong Kong’s best. We love the backstreet, hole-in-the-wall charm of Single Origin (Rua de Abreu Nunes 19, Macau) — try the iced Americano: it’s one of the best we’ve had in life, not just in Asia.
For something a little different, the recently opened Quarter Square (Largo Maia de Magalhães 89, Taipa Village) is one of the coolest little spots in town — a coffee bar inside a gallery slash showroom featuring an expertly curated selection of contemporary home décor, tucked in a quiet corner of Old Taipa. Think of it as Macau’s answer to Gough Street’s Elephant Grounds.
Macau’s ever-pervasive Portuguese influence is not only part of the city’s charm, but also essential to understanding the place. And, let’s be real, a pretty intimate way of getting to know a city or its culture is through its booze. Taking up a quiet corner behind the Ruins of St Paul, MacauSoul (Rua de São Paolo 31, Macau) is one of the city’s best kept secrets. It’s a chill, unpretentious lounge that’s full of old-world charm and which also happens to stock the 853’s most extensive list of Portuguese wine — the kind of place you could easily while away a lazy evening (or a cheeky afternoon, for that matter) without even realizing where the time has gone.
It should come as no surprise that Hong Kong’s obsession with all things sweet also extends to our sister SAR. The recently opened Chop Chop (Rua da Madre Terezina 9, Macau) does very tasty and picture-perfect renditions of Hong Kong’s latest obsession — the éclair — while Vanille (Rua de Luis Joao Baptista 2, Macau) scoops out Insta-friendly ice cream from inside a jewelry store. We also can’t get enough of the flaky, doughy pastries at La Magie (Rua do Seminario, Edifico Ieng Choi), which prove there’s more to Macau dessert scene than serradura.
Macau’s men about town are looking as fly as ever thanks to an influx of old-school barbershops and tattoo parlors. Leading the charge in the grooming game is 2Legit (Rua de S Miguel 1, Macau), which actually provided some fresh backstage cuts for Madonna’s back-up dancers on her Rebel Heart tour. Head stylist Rocklee has also been making a name for himself outside Macau, too, popping up last year in Graham Street spot Fox & The Barber. For a more permanent image update, Doll’s Tattoo (6 Beco de Caracol, Macau) does some of the best ink art in either SAR.
While Macau might get the big ticket musical acts that don’t always come to Hong Kong (Mariah, Katy, we’re looking at you), there’s also a buzzing underground scene bubbling under the surface — but as with all the coolest spots, you just have to know where to go. The appropriately titled Live Music Association (11B, 50 Avenida do Coronel Mesquita Freguesia de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, Macau), located smack in the middle of northern Macau’s cultural hub, is the place to get your music fix, with a packed roster that includes everything from up-and-coming local acts to an upcoming Nordic music showcase in May.
There’s a thriving local design scene in Macau, and it’s found a home at the five-story Macau Design Centre (Travessa da Fabrica 5, Macau). Like PMQ with soul, the former industrial space prides itself as being the city’s first and most innovative “multi-functional design center.” This isn’t just hyperbole: look for a 26,000-square-foot area (plus a rooftop garden) that includes retail spaces for local designers, a café, bookstore and reading space, and performance area. The space itself is something of a haven, too, with a minimalist design and vintage touches that provide the perfect foil to the brash glitz of the gaudy casinos.
Yes, you could stay at a cookie-cutter hotel — Macau is full of them — but it’s hard to resist the lure of a more cultural approach to the digs. The Pousada de Mong-Há (rooms from HK$700-1,800. Parque Municipal da Colina de Mong Há, Macau) is a former military barracks set on the grounds of an ancient fortress in one of the quietest pockets of the city. Old-world charm meets new-world comfort at this training hotel, which, naturally, has a focus on personalized, attentive service.