MAHB: Drink­ing

We prob­a­bly shouldn’t even be telling you about th­ese speakeasies. Oops.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - MAHB / Drink­ing by sam Cole­man

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.

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