Without the al fresco, it's a totally different place.
The pavements along Circular Road are often packed late into the night with supper hunters and those out for a few drinks and a good time.
But this buzz may soon be gone, as the authorities clamp down on shops obstructing pedestrians with tables and chairs.
About a week ago, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) issued warning notices to businesses there.
In its notice, a copy of which was seen by The Sunday Times, the LTA said that it spotted during a recent routine inspection "goods, tables and other materials" placed "untidily" along public streets, five- foot-ways and back lanes.
This would force pedestrians to walk on roads, subjecting them to "inconvenience and danger".
LTA promised to inspect the area and take action against errant businesses, which can be fined up to $2,000 each under the Street Works Act.
Continuing offences carry a fine of up to $100 a day.
While the rules are clear, business operators there, many of whom have relied heavily on their al fresco additions for years, are in a huff.
"Usually the authorities close one eye, so why now?" asked 24- year-old Eugene Yeo, whose father owns the popular coffee shop BK Eating House.
"We are already very packed during peak hours, there won't be enough space if we have to put these away," said Mr Yeo, pointing to the tables and chairs on the pavement which make up more than half of his seating.
Mr Alvin Phua, managing director of The Public House restaurant bar, is convinced that businesses like his will take a huge hit. "Seventy per cent of my business is outside. People come for the atmosphere," said the 41-year-old.
"Without the al fresco, it's a totally different place.
"We're just running a decent business. As long as there's no incident, why penalise us?"
Operators of other outlets, such as pizza restaurant Osteria L'Operetta, are less bothered.
Said its food and beverage consultant, Mr Salvatore Catalano, 50: "Most of my business is inside.
"Before I had only three tables out on the pavement. But now I just keep them.
"I don't want to get fined."
In response to queries from The Sunday Times, an LTA spokesman said it supports the setting up of outdoor refreshment areas. But he added: "Operators have the responsibility to place their tables and chairs in a manner that does not obstruct pedestrian movements."
Such rules also apply between 6pm and 1am on Fridays and Saturdays, when a stretch of Circular Road becomes a car-free zone.
While tables and chairs can be placed on the road during this time, they must be in clearly demarcated zones and cause no obstruction, said the spokesman.
He added that the LTA "has been taking prompt enforcement actions" against F&B operators who obstruct streets, footways and side roads with outdoor furniture.
Still, Circular Road businesses are hoping for a compromise.
Ms Michelle Koh, executive director of Singapore River One, which represents the business interests of stakeholders in the Singapore River precinct, said: "We empathise with (the businesses) and we are doing everything we can to engage the relevant authorities for greater clarification on this matter."
Lifestyle and entertainment group Limited Edition Concepts (LEC), which is master tenant of 28 shophouse units on the road, is also gunning for a positive outcome for both operators and the authorities.
LEC's director and co-founder Godwin Pereira, 41, said of the LTA's notice: "It's going against the spirit of pedestrianising the street. "Everywhere (in Singapore), shops put their chairs and tables out. If they really clamp down, it will damage a lot of F&B operators around the island, and not just Circular Road."
Bank manager Sheryl Tan, 27, who works in the vicinity and goes to Circular Road regularly, does not feel unsafe as a pedestrian. "The walkways are cramped as it is, with or without the tables.
"It's a small road and cars are going slowly.
"It's just easier to walk on the road, especially in big groups."
But this also depends on the weather, she said.
"If it rains, we would want to walk inside. Then tables and chairs would be an issue."
Mr Simon Morton, a general manager in the oil and gas sector, visits the street once a week.
Said the 30-year-old expatriate from the United Kingdom: "The Circular Road experience is the al fresco experience.
"It won't be the same without it."
This article was first published on July 5, 2015.
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