3 After Dark Gems in Kuala Lumpur

From snazzy cabaret clubs to street vendor-dessert inspired cocktails, Mark Lean trains his beer (or margarita) goggles on Kuala Lumpur's evolving bar scene.

May 7, 2017

Photographed by Eric Chow.

Is there anything more tedious than mixing your own drinks? Eight years ago, when I was in the thick of my party-boy stage of life and living in Kuala Lumpur, margaritas were kind of an obsession, but to my dismay, I had to blend them myself. Those days were all about early-morning secret raves and single malt whisky slammed back with Pokka green tea, or glasses of beer swimming with ice cubes. If you wanted a well-made cocktail, you had to roll up your sleeves and make your own, and where’s the fun in that?

But on a recent weekend back, I nearly didn’t recognize the city, dazzling as it is with confidence and a newfound worldly sheen. Of course, the Changkat Bukit Bintang strip with its tourist-friendly bars still sizzles on weekends, but there are also new surprises, giving a cosmopolitan laid-back lilt to the Malaysian capital. Here are three spots that are quickly changing the personality of KL’s nightlife.

1. COPPERSMITH

The cocktail bar at Eddie Chew and Chris Bauer’s Troika Sky Dining empire is a glossy space showcasing Tom Dixon lighting and copper-tone finishing. Here you’ll find delicately blended drinks abound, courtesy of Cocktail Professor, a bar consultation company that has drummed up drinks menus for the likes of W Resort Koh Samui and the W Retreat & Spa, Bali. The result: a thoughtful composition of tastes like the From the Smith’s Garden, featuring healthful celery, lemon, apple juice, fresh basil, homemade kwaifeh syrup, Belvedere vodka, Sichuan foam, thyme and basil. But besides the drinks and the fashion-shoot setting, the highlight is the Instagram-worthy view of the Petronas Twin Towers nearby. The duo is also working on Mr. Chew, an Asian-Latin bar and restaurant atop the WOLO Bukit Bintang, a boutique hotel at the heart of Bukit Bintang, opened in January 2017. fb.com/coppersmithattroikaskydining; drinks for two RM100. 

Blended drinks and stirring views. Courtesy of Coppersmith.

2. ASTOR BAR

You are always guaranteed a dramatic entrance at The St. Regis Kuala Lumpur’s Astor Bar, thanks to the automatic doors that usher you in with bravado. Inside you’ll find an unmistakable old-money atmosphere, even though the hotel opening was a mere six months ago. While the bar’s setting is a composite of turn-of-the-century gilded furnishings featuring muted lighting, horsehair wall paneling, black-and-gold marble, and gold-leaf ceilings, the interior designers have also added useful touches like swiveling chairs and hidden hooks to keep handbags safe. In keeping with the St. Regis tradition of honoring its location with a distinct Bloody Mary creation, Astor Bar’s tangy Asam Boi Mary adds local sweet, sour and salty plums, fresh turnip, calamansi juice and Sarawak black pepper to the classic recipe. Knock back a few of those bad boys and your exit will be even more theatrical than your entrance. stregiskualalumpur.com; drinks for two RM120.

3. SKULLDUGGERY

Speakeasies have been the down-low debutantes in KL for a while, and this secret hole-in-the-wall bar has insiders whispering to their friends in hushed tones. The Damansara Heights haunt proves the hip scene is spilling beyond the confines of the city center, and locals are willing to make the trek for a taste. The cozy 80-seater space is decked out with vintage Edison light bulbs, aged leather couches and 238 tiny copper-plated skulls—very Temple of Doom-chic.

Speaking of doom, all the drinks are double pours. The two standouts are Khan Artist (composed of gin, champagne, absinthe and fresh lime) and Don’t Do Shrooms, a mix of the bar’s homemade truffle-and-wormwood-infused vodka, cream and homemade cardamom-milk jam. A DJ spins here most nights, so expect a classy lounge-party vibe and a well-heeled crowd well-versed in the rules of cocktails and fashion. It is a far cry from the watered-down-beer halls of the aughts; not only will they construct a margarita for you, they’ll deconstruct one too. And I’ll raise a glass to that, just as long as I don’t have to mix it myself. fb.com/skullduggerykl; drinks for two RM100.


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