Great cocktail bars in KL: Where to find the hip, the cool, the classy, and the kitschy spots to drink

Benita Lee

A great cocktail bar delivers on the entire experience – the décor and the space, with the mood and the music to match. The bartenders and their cocktail concoctions have got to be original and, of course, taste good. Bonus points if the crowd’s a good one, too.

KL is brimming with top-rate watering holes: secret alleyway haunts, classy concepts, and specialty spots with impressive collections of liquor. Here are our favorites, in no particular order.

 

BarZhen

On a street of shop houses, with nary a proper sign in sight, resides BarZhen. Once you spot the hidden entrance – it faces a mural of two colorful birds – then you’ll have to step through a nondescript, unmarked door along the dark Chinatown alleyway, climb up a couple of creaky stairs, and… would you look at that. You’ve gone back in time to Old Shanghai.

Inspired by its very location, the speakeasy’s decor is based on a vintage Chinese medicine shop. Similarly, its creatively-presented cocktails follow the oriental theme, with Chinese herbs like ginseng, wolfberry, and tongkat ali mixed into concoctions such as Ginseng Honey Paloma, Smoked Ginseng Osmanthus Old Fashioned, and Red Dates Clover Club.

5 Jalan Balai Polis, Petaling St. +60 12-335 9945. Sun & Tues 5pm-2am, Wed-Thurs 5pm-2:30am, Fri-Sat 5pm-3am.

 

Coley

From its humble origins behind Dr.Inc cafe to its current impressive new digs just a few spaces down the road, Coley may have upgraded and revamped its look, but to us, it’s still the home of the gin and coconut cocktail. And it’s as welcoming and unpretentious as ever – even after snagging 46th spot on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars list.

In the warmly-lit, tunnel-like space is where you can recline and relax on rattan chairs amidst pockets of greenery to take in the contemporary design interspersed with retro furnishings. Peruse the “Koktel” section for signature thirst-quenchers like Hanky Panky (gin, Bol’s Genever, vermouth, and amaro) and Peanut Butter Jelly (tequila, vermouth, blueberry liqueur, and roasted peanuts), or go for the crowd favorite gin and coconut water concoction.

6-G, Jalan Abdullah off Jalan Bangsar. +60 19-270 9179. Mon-Sat 5pm-1am.

 

Coppersmith

Feeling glamorous? Ditch your usual hole-in-the-wall and switch things up for an elegant evening at Coppersmith, the sleek bar 24 floors above ground, where you can bask in scenic views of the city from floor-to-ceiling windows without leaving your plush perch.

On the menu of intricately crafted cocktails, each creation is a stunner in its own right. Copper Fairies is a mix of blueberry syrup, black pepper syrup, lime juice, Don Julio Reposado, sparkling wine, and salted caramel, while Banana Rama blends house-made banana beer with rum, and The Smith’s Daughter experiments with salted grapefruit syrup, vermouth, mescal, and salted kumquat fruit leather. Unconventional, indeed.

L23a, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC. +60 3-2162 0886. Daily 5pm-1am.

 

Crime Cocktail Bar

This place is so cool, it’s practically criminal. Ha. Jokes aside, the mafia-themed concept is influenced by prohibition-era bars, with interiors decked out in exposed brick and cement walls, luxe leather sofas, and pictures of famous gangsters framing the walls. To get there, you’ll first have to pop in to Crave Oysters and Seafood to nab the passcode before you can enter.

While you attempt to identify the mob bosses from their portraits, sip on unique concoctions like Silk Road, a crowd favorite made of bacon fat-infused whisky with balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Just hold back your judgment until you taste it.  

E-1-09 Electric Boulevard, Lot 436 TREC, Jalan Tun Razak. +60 12-436 2928. Sun-Thurs 6pm-2am, Fri-Sat 6pm-4am.

 

Hyde

Tucked away above The Good Batch cafe – it’s run by the same owners – Hyde is a polished leather-clad lounge that holds a touch of ‘20s style, complete with vintage lightings and a marble-topped bar stocked to the brink with spirits, wines, and craft beers.

You can choose to plop down on a seat at the alfresco area, with a view of houses along the stretch, or snuggle up on a couch indoors, where the soothing melodies of jazz envelop you. Once you’re cozy, try stepping out of your comfort zone to sample beverages like 30 Shades of Grey, with Earl Grey gin, aperol, and lychee liquor, or Screwpine Old Fashioned, a swirl of house-made pandan syrup with pandan-infused Makers Mark Bourbon and Malibu rum.

53M, Jalan SS21/1A Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya. +60 17-680 1357. Tues-Thurs & Sun 5pm-2am, Fri-Sat 5pm-3am.

 

Jack Rose

Yet another hard-to-find spot – although it’s adamantly #notaspeakeasy – Jack Rose is nestled in a basement, where you can enjoy your liquid libations in peace, undisturbed by passers-by. And since it’s named after the classic apple brandy cocktail – of applejack, lemon, and grenadine – you can order the original rendition here, natch.

Simple in its design – with a wooden bar counter, black-and-white floors, a record player spinning nostalgic hip hop and disco beats, and neon signs proclaiming “Hot Wings & Dreams” – it’s the sort of no-frills place you can hit up for a good night out with your drinking buddies. Plus, the witty, comic book-style menu that clues you in on what exactly you’re imbibing never fails to entertain.

In between sips of adventurous concoctions like The Devil’s in the Drink (Cimarron tequila, suze, pickled pear, lemon, lime) or Give Peas A Chance (snow pea-infused vodka, junmai sake, lemon), don’t forget to pad your stomach with a round or two of buffalo wings. Let’s just say you won’t regret it.

B1, Wisma E&C, Lorong Dungun Kiri, Damansara Heights. +60 3-2011 0682. Tues-Thurs 5pm-1am, Fri 5pm-3am, Sat 8pm-3am.

 

Joloko

The hottest new opening on the list, Joloko is making quite the name for itself as a tropical paradise in a concrete jungle, a ray of sunshine in a former heritage home at Chow Kit. Bringing Caribbean BBQ to KL – as well as mescal, tequila, and natural wines – the sprightly, vibrant restaurant/bar makes you feel right at home, with its eclectic decor and electric atmosphere.

To boost its street cred, the space hosts all sorts of parties and cookouts on the regular – all the more reason for you to return again and again for cocktails like Voodoo Old Fashioned, of dark rum, mescal, pecan nut liquor, oloroso sherry, and chocolate bitters, or Dark and Stormy, which blends spiced rum with fermented pineapple and ginger beer, calamansi, and blackstrap molasses.

43 Jalan Kamunting, off Dang Wangi. 03-2694-1100. Tues-Sun 5pm-1am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am.

 

JungleBird

JungleBird is where all the cool kids hang out. Because if you haven’t heard, it’s soaring high above the rest, repping Malaysia as the top bar in the country with its debut on this year’s Asia’s 50 Best list. Tiki vibes – the classy, not kitsch, kind – abound at KL’s first rum-centric watering hole, where wallpaper stamped with palm motifs adorns the place, along with rattan furnishings and bamboo elements.

You can’t help but feel like you’re vacationing at a fancy beach-side resort here – it helps that the bartenders don loud, tropical print shirts – which is all the more reason to indulge in a couple more tipples, including the locally-inspired Closed on Mondays (Cimarron Bianco, salted egg, curry leaves, red chilli padi syrup, and coconut cream), and the bar’s namesake drink, a refreshing creation of Diplomatico Mantuano, Campari, lime, and pineapple juice.

15 Plaza Damansara, Jalan Medan Setia 1, Bukit Damansara. +60 3-2011 7715. Sun-Wed 5pm-1am, Thurs-Sat 5pm-3am.

 

Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar

A duplex penthouse turned into a striking space for food and cocktails, Mr Chew’s is the kind of place you check out for Manhattan loft design inspiration – and rightly so, since it’s spruced up by the team behind Troika Sky Dining.

It’s just the right amount of elegant-meets-edgy, with marble table tops, exposed brick columns, and Herringbone tiles on the floors. Plus, there’s also the view of the bustling city below, and the hidden bar upstairs with a champagne bathtub. And let’s not forget the cheeky spoof portrait of Empress Dowager Cixi clutching a bowl of chips with a tequila bottle by her side. Fancy that.

The food is a fusion of Asian and Latin American, but we’re mostly here for the drinks – like Frida Froza, a frosé rendition with white wine, jasmine cordial, dry vermouth, and shiso — and the dessert tasting menu that’s paired with booze. Of course, you can’t leave without trying the widely raved, photogenic gin and tonic either – it consists of Opihr gin, pink peppercorn, guava, and Three Cents Aegean tonic, and it comes served in a takeaway box, Chinese-style.

The Penthouse, Wolo Hotel, Corner of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail. +60 3-4065 0168. Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-1am; Sun noon-3pm, 6pm-1am.

 

Omakase + Appreciate

Once the sole representative of KL on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, Omakase + Appreciate may have dropped out this year, but it still retains a solid spot in our hearts. This is the bar that helped kick off the speakeasy buzz when it debuted in 2013 – and true to its word, it’s an intimate space located behind an unassuming door in the basement of an ordinary-looking building.

Once you’re all settled in, you can either pick from the selection of cocktails conjured up by the two co-founders (both local bartenders), or you can do things omakase style and let ‘em whip up something bespoke for you based on your preferences.

Basement level of Ampang Bangunan Ming Annexe, Jalan Ampang. +60 3-2022 2238. Tues-Fri 5pm-1am, Sat 9pm-1am.

 

Pahit

Of all the gin joints in KL, Pahit is a haunt favored by drinkers of G&T for its smooth, gin-based cocktails and rustic space ensconced in a 1920s building. Charming and quaint, it’s an oasis from the jam-packed roads outside – ideal for post-work drinks and weekend booze sessions.

As one might expect, the menu is crammed with gin bottles of all sorts, but if you’re the type to get overwhelmed easily, opt for classics like the Gin Pahit #2, the bar’s version of Pink Gin, made with London dry gin, orange bitters, lime, and house-made falernum syrup. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with the potent Pineapple Smash, which blends Bols Genever, pineapple juice, vermouth, mint, and house-made raspberry and bay leaf shrub.

3 Jalan Sin Chew Kee. +60 3-2110 0776. Tues-Sun 5pm-1am.

 

PS150

Stashed away in a historic Chinatown shop lot under Merchant’s Lane café, PS150 houses an “opium den” with booths for you to get snug, an alfresco courtyard where you can breathe in the night breeze, and a vibrant main bar area lit by crimson lanterns and neon lights, where all the cocktails get shaken and stirred.

There’s a hint of mystery in the air – aided by the fact that the building used to be a brothel – as if the brick walls have secrets they’re whispering to you. Reflective of the space, the ever-changing cocktail line-up brings Southeast Asian flavors to its massive selection of spirits, resulting in concoctions divided into five eras: Vintage, prohibition, tiki, disco, and contemporary.

If you’re feeling bold, sip on drinks like Salty Chinaman, a zesty mix of preserved orange peel vodka, lime, lemonade, and orange bitters, or Siam Siam, made with tequila blanco, green chartreuse, passion fruit, pineapple, kaffir lime syrup, and sweet basil leaf.

150 Jalan Petaling, ground floor. +60 3-7622 8777. Tues-Sat 6pm-2am, Sun-Mon 6pm-1am.

 

Skullduggery

To find Skullduggery, you’ll have to enter through the back of Huckleberry cafe – because what would be the fun in a cocktail bar minus all the intrigue? Dimly-lit with dark-colored leather couches and a feature wall of copper-plated skulls, the space is suave yet playful, exuding an enigmatic charm.

On the menu, classics mingle with creative drinks that pique your curiosity with ingredients such as seaweed agave and cardamom milk jam. But the next time you pop by, you may be in for a surprise, since the team has been hunkering down over the last couple months to rustle up some new cocktails.

2M Plaza Damansara, Jalan Medan Setia 2. +60 17-328 5141. Tues-Thurs 6pm-2am, Fri 6pm-3am, Sat 7pm-3am.

 

Hungry for more? Check out these stories: 

Brunch in KL: 10 best buzzy cafes for pancakes, pastries, pastas, and poached eggs

What to do in Damansara Heights: Pizza, cocktails, late-nights, boxing fights, and spray-tans in KL’s coolest neighborhood

Changkat: Where to eat the best tapas, pizza, and street food in KL’s most popular bar strip

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