We probably shouldn’t even be telling you about these speakeasies. Oops.
It’s a quiet, soggy night in KL this first week of April, the kind of damp night that drives one indoors to wile away the hours. We’d love to do that… we have our destination in hand, if only we could find the right place. Bangunan Ming Annexe gives up no secrets. There is no signage that facilitates the effort; it takes close inspection of each door and a possible entrance to find what we’re looking for. But finally, upon chancing on a door—that in four languages declares, “Dilarang
masuk/no admittance”—we know we’ve finally found our haunt.
Omakase + Appreciate, KL’S first speakeasy, opens into a warm, somewhat tight embrace. And on this night, its two-year anniversary, it’s worth noting how speakeasies have been one of the most welcome and interesting bar trends in recent years (as opposed to the K-pop karaoke bars like @Live that held the mantle before). “The omakase (“I leave it to you” in Japanese) format allows for freedom of creativity and enables us to push that boundary on the spot,” muses Shawn Chong, co-owner along with Karl Too, who started the unlikely space in 2013.
The DNA behind a speakeasy—hard to detect as homage to Prohibition-era drinking establishments; cocktails as derivative of the same bootleg booze culture and maybe even illegal by way of taxes and licensing (Shanghai is the place to go for “raw” speakeasies. Make sure to have your lawyer on speed dial)—has had a couple of waves, starting with the excellent Tate in the Intermark and WTF in Avenue K, and has since moved onto Mr Brooks in BSC, 2014’s excellent Blue Elephant in Plaza Damansara, Hyde at 53M, above the Good Batch in Damansara, and the most innovative of all: 44. “We’re really a pop-up bar, not exactly a speakeasy,” says culture raconteur Adrian Yap, of Urbanscapes and The Bee fame, on his creation. But still, when pressed, he’ll admit that half the fun of his space is the challenge and the satisfaction of being in the know, of being the select few that is urbanely aware. “I’m not the biggest fan of the term ‘speakeasy’ but that’s a personal thing! We’re keeping it under wraps where it’s going next, but if you’re very nice, we’ll let you know,” he quips.
Chong, someone who has lectured on cocktail culture, sees all this innovation as a massive, positive step in terms of getting people to spend money on quality drinks, and to spend time in more curated, authentic places. “The way I see it, for the bar scene in KL, there is ample room to do a lot for the industry. There’s no doubt that the speakeasy concept is catching on in KL, because the cocktail culture here is still very much in its infancy, so any form of quality bar business will help the culture to grow. Any innovation in drinking spaces, done right, is good for KL.” And to that we say the secret password: another round.