The Travel Series: Kuala Lumpur

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Unfortunately, our experience in this intriguing country was restricted to two days, but what a two days they were. We wanted to fully immerse ourselves in KL’s culture in the short time that we had, so we decided to base ourselves right in the middle of the famous ‘Chinatown’. However, what we found when we arrived in the orient-inspired district was not exactly what we had imagined. Petaling Street isn’t a Chinatown. The green tiled rooftops and red lanterns that line the streets may evoke oriental roots but it stops there. Instead, you will find vendors of all different origins, making their livings side by side, but instead selling knock off trainers and sunglasses, and not the Asian handicrafts that we had both expected and hoped for.

Kuala-Lumpur-Lanterns

The authenticity doesn’t exactly hit you like a ton of bricks, more like a feeble whack with a soft feather pillow. Yes, the culture and spirit can still be seen (and smelt) in the aromatic food stalls that sell both local and Chinese favourites, but more prominent than this is the waft of commercialism that lingers in the air. However, we were lucky enough to meet Chye and CK and thanks to their industry expertise and unparalleled knowledge about the city, we were able to overlook this and experience the real magic of Kuala Lumpur.

Faced with what looked like a row of ‘rustic’ colonial houses, we felt sure that we weren’t in the right place. Thankfully, their logo is spray-painted artfully on the white brick exterior and this encouraged us to step through the hole in the wall next to it, where we found ourselves in the courtyard of a quirky bar. The beaming smile and warm welcome that we received from Chye, one of the owners, definitely confirmed that we weren’t lost. The courtyard offers both intimate corners for whispering sweet nothings and larger areas for social get-togethers, all decked out with charming wicker furniture and hip yet homely furnishings. The main event, however, is definitely inside where the main bar shines like an incredibly attractive shrine to Mother’s Ruin.

Pahit

If the smooth taste of classic G&T or a gin-based cocktail is one that brings you the utmost pleasure, as it does to us, then consider any pursuit of happiness that you may have been undertaking to be fulfilled in the colonial walls of this bar. The instagramable neon sign in the courtyard brazenly stating ‘Juniper and Joy’ almost dares you not to find it… and we certainly did.

Pahit - Kualar Lumpur

After travelling to countries that are yet to feel the full effect of the gin craze that is currently sweeping our Nation, we have sadly become accustomed to desperately scanning the bottle shelf of every bar that we visit in the hope that they stock a bottle of even the most standard gin. So you can only imagine the pure ecstasy that ran through our bones when we found ourselves faced with a menu so abundant with the spirit that we were actually going to have to spend time deliberating over which to choose!

The beautiful nature of travelling meant that we had no plans and absolutely nowhere to be so we were able to thoroughly indulge ourselves for a few hours and try more than one of the glorious cocktails on Pahit’s tempting menu. Hand on heart, there was not a single one that we tasted that we wouldn’t re-order, but there were definitely a couple that stood out for us!

Gin Pahit

Guided confidently by Chye, A chose the bars’ namesake and signature cocktail, the Gin Pahit. Always a stickler for a classic! A blend of London Dry, bitters, house farlenum, and lime, it definitely – and deliciously – does its’ name justice; Pahit translates to ‘bitter’. But it’s not bitter in a screw your face up kind of way, it’s bitter in the way that it’s so refreshing, you’ll have to restrain yourself from ordering another.

Pahit cocktails

Yes, you guessed it. D’s favourite was the sweetest, creamiest (and girliest looking) cocktail on the menu – the Coconut Clover Club. A blend of Ford’s London Dry, coconut puree, raspberry, lemon, sugar, egg white and chocolate bitters, served with a white chocolate covered cherry on top. D thoroughly enjoyed sipping the delicious frothy pink nectar from a quaint martini glassware… how oh la la! Although, he felt absolutely no shame when it tasted as good as it did!

In honour to one of the greatest bartenders of all time, Coley is named after Ada Coleman, creator of the Hanky Panky and absolute cocktail revolutionist. She was the head bartender at The Savoy in London for 23 years and is one of only two women to have ever held that position. Bar owner, CK Kho, is also a very talented mixologist in his own right and, after learning about his impressive success in winning not one but THREE awards in The Bar Awards Kuala Lumpur prior to meeting him, it’s safe to say that we weren’t expecting someone so welcoming, down-to-earth, or humble! Clearly equally as talented without a shaker in his hand, CK has created a bar that its’ namesake trailblazer would be proud of. In a similar fashion to Pahit, Coley is located just outside of the hustle and bustle of the centre of KL and instead resides in a upmarket, residential neighbourhood. And what does this achieve? Whether it be to catch up with friends, to have some food, or to enjoy their favourite cocktails, it is a refreshing feeling knowing that you are surrounded by people who have sought out the bar specially rather than just being drawn in by their alcohol licence alone.

Coley Cocktail Bar

The gin scene has definitely not reached the unbelievable level that it has in the UK, and so Coley offers a craft beer on tap for those who are yet to be converted to gin and cocktails. However, after sitting down with CK, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the drink that they sell the most of is in fact a juniper based tipple: a refreshing mix of Gin and coconut water. Surely this a sign that maybe the delirium is catching and that the Kuala Lumpur juniper craze is nigh?!

Coley cocktails

This best seller was also our favourite; whilst tonic water is great for the stomach and digestion, there is just something so smooth and drinkable about coconut water. We’ll definitely be adopting this combination when we get back home! Sadly, and not to disparage their passion or skill, we have had experiences in the past where the bartenders are so concerned with mixing us something unforgettable that the drink becomes over-complex and it is nigh-on impossible to remember the lengthy list of mixers, syrups and garnish used! The taste becomes so over-the-top that you can’t even tell if it includes the one spirit you asked for. So this simple serve in a charming bar in Kuala Lumpur, where our beloved gin is the show-running taste, is one that we’ll never forget. After all, there is that little old saying of ‘why try to fix something that’s not broken…?’

Meeting two guys who are so passionate about the industry, and who are working tirelessly to changing opinions and convert the masses, was absolutely inspiring. You could say that Chye, CK, and the other industry pioneers that KL is lucky to have, are non-conformists. They’re not willing to stand by and let this vibrant city stay stuck in its current uneducated ‘dark spirit and beer focused’ rut. But it won’t be easy. They face almost impossible government regulations of distillation and importation as well as multiple religious and cultural obstacles, but it is clear that their admirable and tireless dedication is pushing this city’s drinks industry in the right direction. Kuala Lumpur is about to EXPLODE – watch out Bangkok and Singapore, there is new Asian kid on the block.

Despite being nestled behind the door of an underwhelming toy shop, PS150 was certainly nothing of the sort. The slightly intimidating ‘toy vendor’ that asked for our name at the door was our first hint that all was not as seemed, and when we stepped behind it, the seductive and salubrious bar was full blown proof. We were guided down a dimly lit corridor, (the ‘Opium Den’) which is lined with intimate two person booths, and into the main bar area, which was an opulent hive of activity.

PS150 Kuala Lumpur

The cocktail menu is quirkily divided into the 5 eras of gin: Vintage, Classic, Tiki, Disco and Contemporary, offering classic cocktails from each age, complete with the bar’s own personal and creative spin. The delectable diversity of the menu makes choosing a cocktail a very, very difficult task indeed. Thankfully, Head Bartender, Glen Oliver, was on hand and came to our rescue. After asking our personal gin preferences, he made each of us one of the best cocktails we’ve tasted on this trip – if not ever!

Kuala Lumpur PS150

Completely seduced by its’ authentic charm, PS 150 gave us in the brief dalliance with the city’s oriental past that had previously been missing from our short stay.

As we reflected on our brief Malaysian affair, it suddenly dawned on us that initial waft of ‘commercialism’ was in fact the scent of tireless hustle and admirable entrepreneurism, the sweet, sweet smell of a revolution! We had a wonderful three days in the city all thanks to people we now consider to be friends, and we left with full stomachs, warm hearts, and a reignited passion for our favourite spirit!

So, until next time - Bottoms up!

Written by A

20th July 2018

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After a few months of passive aggressive wall-knocking and sliding notes under the door, it took a first date – that turned into an eleven drink-long bar crawl – to realise we had a lot in common. Travel, food, and gin.