As new hotels add their silhouettes to the KL skyline, they bring with them watering holes that offer some of the best views in the city. Here are four to get you started.
Push open the glass doors of the bar on Level 41 to step into vintage Hollywood glamour. The work of interior designer Neri & Hu unfolds naturally, immersing guests in a throwback to the era of film noir and soulful jazz blues. Full-height glass windows, marble, wood and leather come together to create the mid-20th-century allure of Los Angeles, whose time zone the bar draws its name from.
Anchoring the space that is set against sweeping views of the city is a long backlit counter where maestro Ruben Anandha, a mixology whiz recently returned from a stint at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, works his magic. The best seats are of course right where the action is, with retro lamps along the bar contributing to the dim lighting. Otherwise, pick a corner — booths, low tables or the bar stools on the balcony — and settle in with the menu. Handcrafted cocktails are de rigueur here, fortified with homemade cordials, syrups and bitters.
Cocktails are sectioned according to increasing intensity, from the lightweight Hollywood Highballs to the moderate Trip the Lights Fantastic and the serious LA Noire. Working our way through the menu in that order, we start with The Lady Georgian, composed of California citrus vodka, citron cordial and soda water, and garnished with fresh grapefruit and a sprig of thyme. The herbaceous whiff tempers the brightness of the fruit and the effervescence uplifts the effortless drink, making for a refreshing pick-me-up.
A Whisky Sour and an Orange Blossom follow, both marked moderately intense. The former is a mix of rye whisky, citron cordial, egg white and fresh lemon, dressed with an orange slice and syrupy maraschino cherry pierced together with a silver arrow. It is my favourite of the night, straightforward and reliable. The latter, meanwhile, comprises floral gin, vanilla, egg white and fresh orange. A heady orange scent precedes the sip, which I find achingly sweet but my companion adores, so to each her own.
From beneath the LA Noire banner, the San Martin beckons. Old Tom gin, yellow chartreuse and Amaro liqueur infuse a dark, anchored flavour that is mature without being overwhelming. Our drinks (RM45 each) across the board are well balanced and go down easily.
Fret not if cocktails are not your cup of tea, for the menu extends to boutique wines, artisanal spirits, craft beers and champagnes. Browse the bar bites menu for accompaniments — we find the churros too soft for our liking but the savoury selection sounds promising. The elevator system at Alila Bangsar can be tricky, so keep your wits about you to find the exit. Better yet, eliminate the hassle and check in for the night.
Christened after a stingless bee (known locally as kelulut), Bar Trigona does not just pay lip service to its namesake. Honey from a trigona bee farm in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, works its way into numerous cocktails here, along with ingredients sourced locally such as wild turmeric and ginger. Four Seasons’ hotels always strive to pay tribute to their locales and Bar Trigona honours that tradition, from its menu to the interior design.
What the seventh-floor bar lacks in panoramic vistas, it makes up for by being the plushest parlour in the city. The space appears compact but seats 60 with mirrors cleverly imparting opulence and the illusion of scale. The bar itself is backed by a magnificent mosaic of glints of glass and refracted light and colours while another feature wall draws from the ketupat its diamond-shaped outlines and mirrored panels.
Textural play continues in the braided and woven effects of the cushion seats and table tops, and a sense of movement is added by the strings of pendant bulbs arranged in undulating waves. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows remind us that we are in the very heart of Kuala Lumpur and our table faces Menara Maxis with a sunset in the horizon, its hues reflecting off the many mirrors.
We open the cocktail menu to find two pleasant surprises — that no cocktail breaches the RM50 mark and the curious presentation of cocktails. They are divided into the four sections of a plant, highlighting the fruit, root, leaf and flower, and stem and seed. Each boasts four selections (priced at RM45 or RM50 each) and a mocktail (RM30) for the designated driver, detoxer or teetotaller.
The friendly waitstaff walks us through the menu, then brings over a welcome drink — a shot of gin, green chartreuse, lemon and maraschino that open the palate. In a nod to the setting, we begin with the Trigona Old Fashioned, which replaces muddled sugar with trigona honey for an unusual sourish tang. Honeycomb bits bob about the bottom of the tumbler, nearly-tasteless on their own but adding bite for those who enjoy it.
Pollen features the same honey alongside applejack, citrus, yoghurt and kaffir lime leaves, rendering the cocktail almost child-friendly with its creaminess, slipping from tart to smooth and honeyed. I ask for a sour or bitter cocktail in contrast and am served a Negroni Sour with lemon, piquant and nuanced. Finally, Terra — botanical gin, fresh lemon and turmeric, bianco vermouth and dry orange Curaçao — has a deceptively healthy kick to it, allowing you to pretend it is as good for you as it is indulgent.
Up high on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur sits the open-air rooftop bar Vertigo, with a mesmerising and uninterrupted view of the capital and its twin towers no matter where you are seated. At the centre of the U-shaped balcony seating is a marble-topped bar with a pyramid shelf holding bottom-lit bottles.
We arrive at around 6pm, just in time to see the colour of the sky shift from blue to a light orange. Vertigo’s cocktail menu surprisingly contains only four choices — RM45 each — and one is not available on the day we visit. After ordering the other three, we add the recommended beef sliders (RM38) and Australian Saltbush Outback minced lamb soft roll (RM34).
The food is easy to share and really hits the spot as an evening snack. The sliders are everything we want them to be, tasty and easily consumed in a few bites with warm thick-cut fries on the side. The bun of the soft roll soaks up the juices of the moist lamb, and the tzatziki sauce has the perfect tang to balance all the flavours.
The first cocktail, Pandan Love, is made with Stolichnaya vodka, pandan-infused syrup, lychee juice and Monin peach syrup. It is dangerously easy to drink and especially refreshing in our humid weather. The Marie Antoinette, although a lovely crimson colour, is less impressive. It contains Champagne Drappier “Carte D’Or” and Cassis de Bourgogne, and tastes like a regular glass of champagne rather than a cocktail. My favourite is certainly Hazelnut, concocted with Kraken spiced rum, gula Melaka, Frangelico, Monin coco and fresh lime. It is gorgeously balanced, light and actually has a hazelnut aftertaste.
The temperature is cool in the afternoon, and we are perfectly content to chat and enjoy the view. Vertigo is the perfect place to take endless snaps of the stunning skyline, or sit with a drink in one hand and a slider in the other.
W Kuala Lumpur’s Wet Deck has quite a view of the Petronas Twin Towers as it is on the 12th floor, so we are not at eye level nor are we straining our necks from the ground floor. At night, the pool deck glows with pink and purple lighting offsetting the blue pool. Unusual hexagonal shades hang from the ceiling, just under the large fans cooling the bar area.
We made a reservation at the Woobar a few floors down by mistake but have no regrets as it offers some delicious bites, which are RM35 each or RM95 for a set of three. The Señor Quack, an Asian five-spice confit duck taco, is sweet and has a nice crunch of cucumber and corn. The Hallyu chicken wings are crisp and Sitting Duck, a steamed foie gras chawan mushi, is silky smooth and delicious. We would recommend their Hive Five (RM45) cocktail made of gin, lime, mint, Tualang honey and pomegranate. It is the perfect balance of sweet and sour, presented in an odd-shaped glass resting on a log.
Stuffed, we make our way to the glamourous Wet Deck and take a seat at the bar. Their expansive cocktail menu has an interesting mix of flavours and spirits. The friendly bartender recommends Escape (RM45) — made with dark rum, dry orange curacao, tuak-infused almond, coconut, banana and Triple citrus — and Shutter Island (RM45), concocted from various rums, orange curacao, maraschino, mango, pineapple, grenadine, lime, sugar and angostura bitters. Both are sweet and filled with ice, served in ceramic tiki cups. Escape has a nutty flavour with a tinge of citrus, while Shutter Island is refreshing and very fruity.
We also try The 1972 Tour (RM45), which is a strong yet refreshing drink served in a disco ball and made with watermelon and cucumber-infused tequila, orange and pomegranate. We finish off with the signature drink, The Wolf Whisperer, which contains wolfberries, passion fruit, grapefruit, simple syrup and gin. Served with an enthusiastic howl from the bartender, the drink is full of freshness, perfect for those who like berries.
Environmentally conscious, the bar uses paper straws and only when necessary. It is the little details that make the Wet Deck an enjoyable hang-out. The round lights scattered around the pool, the friendly servers, the fun music and the pink glow that surrounds you and fills every photo taken, all make for a great night.
This article first appeared on Oct 29, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.