If you like art on walls and tight spaces – which, don’t lie, we know you do.
There may be many a coffeehouse in George Town to cater to the burgeoning coffee culture as well as the relentless tourists, but few make a name for themselves all the way to the south side of the peninsular like this one has. Popular for its lack of space, Narrow Marrow is an alley-turned-Chinese medicine shop-turned-café a la mode in George Town. But in between it was also simply home sweet home for the proprietors, Alvin Neoh and Jamie Oon.
“We were originally looking for a place to stay in town, close to our friends. We came across this building when we saw some contractors working in here and we thought it was very strange. The front was so narrow but as we walked in we realised that it was deeper than we thought. It may only be 10-ft wide but the length makes it very versatile,” clarifies Alvin, who also works as an architect.
If people have something similar to talk about, you’ll have a community. And with great community people start to make friends. Trust each other. Honestly, that’s why we started Narrow Marrow.
The idea of turning the ground floor of their two-storey rehabilitated abode, however, only materialised organically a year after the couple moved in.
“We moved to George Town mainly for work and also our friends, as most of them are here. After that, we hung out here with them quite often, having get-togethers and parties. That’s when we decided to officially open a café, to make everything easier,” continues Alvin.
Opening a café as a passion project also allows the duo to be more in control of their business, by opening only Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a week. The three-day schedule allows them to concentrate on other businesses during non-opening days.
“From Monday to Thursday I’d usually be busy with my design projects while Jamie works on her art and macramé. I also rehearse with my band, Coma. It’s just too difficult at this point for us to keep the place open for more than three days,” says Alvin.
Albeit opening for only three days a week, the café has become a place Penangites and tourists alike look forward to visit on the weekends. The establishment currently serves full meals such as pasta and sandwich sets but keeps everyone hooked with a secret weapon – creative cakes baked by Jamie herself.
The success that Alvin and Jamie are experiencing right now three years after first opening their doors, did not come easy.
“When we moved in, we were almost camping in here. There were still a lot of renovations going on but we were already paying rent so we just stayed here. We started the construction from the bedroom, then the piping and the electricity. We used to shower where the café restroom is now. At one point we had to knock down the toilet wall so anytime we needed to use the bathroom we had to make sure that the front door was properly locked,” Alvin recounts.
That is all in the past now as Narrow Marrow took form to become the Instagram-friendly weekend-haunt that it is today. The artistic duo have done a great job with the interior, the walls lined up with Jamie’s macramé art and paintings while the furniture comprises the couple’s personal collection born out of their shared passion for interior design.
Nonetheless, for Alvin, it was important that the original character of the alley-turned-coffeehouse was still retained amidst all the renovation and redecorating.
“Nowadays people like to build, and if it’s in a heritage area, they build a new one (building), but they make it look like a heritage building. It’s confusing. It’s not real anymore. So how do you protect heritage? It’s a very tricky question. People start to attack heritage before thinking about ‘What do you actually mean by heritage?’ ‘What is heritage?’ ‘Why is it so important to us?’ Honestly it is a big mess. And the questions of which part of the building is more important, which one do you want to preserve and for what reason. That part I can go on forever,” explains Alvin before cutting himself short.
If you still think having the café open only for three days a week is not a smart move financially, Alvin has this to say.
“If you think about it, last time, all the coffee shop patrons had no money to buy newspapers, so they went there to read newspapers. And they just passed it around. That’s also why people in Penang were more politically conscious before because it was a part of their everyday conversation. If people have something similar to talk about, you’ll have a community. And with great community people start to make friends. Trust each other. Honestly, that’s why we started Narrow Marrow. We want people to come here and have conversations with us and each other.”
So in case you’re in Penang and want to drop by to chat up either Alvin, Jamie or someone else, be sure to order the crowd favourites Coconut Clitoria Cheesecake and the Toddy Mojito. That should keep the conversation going.
252, Lebuh Carnarvon
10100 George Town