Cocktail bar AlcoHall and liquor library The Chamber redefines drinking scene in KL

Two outlets are enticing customers with a fresh way of getting a drink.

AlcoHall is tucked away in Arcoris Mont Kiara; The Chamber makes Starhill its home (Photos: AlcoHall/The Chamber)

There are several kinds of watering holes in Kuala Lumpur, namely pubs, bars and speakeasies. Of course, you would also have the odd restaurant that serves tasty tipples and draft beers. Then, there is always home sweet home, where you can indulge in your favourite bottle of wine or whisky while relaxing in your pyjamas.

Unsurprisingly, a new concept has emerged and shaking up the local scene. There are two retail bars in the city, each with its own vibe and set of ideas.

Tucked away in Arcoris Mont Kiara is a branch of QRA, a modern grocer that subscribes to the phrase “eat well and live well”. Next to the seafood section, in front of the store’s selection of liquor, is the punny AlcoHall by Wholly Spirits. Aimed at casual day drinkers who don’t mind a break from their shopping or the numerous visitors to Arcoris Mont Kiara’s many amenities, this no-fuss bar seats about 10 but also serves cocktails to those taking respite in QRA’s al fresco dining area.

While AlcoHall’s extensive menu includes contemporary classics and craft beers on tap, it also has a section of No Lo (no or low ABV drinks) and, most impressively, keto-friendly cocktails. The latter two were crafted in line with QRA’s theme of providing healthy alternatives. On the menu, each drink has the number of calories and percentage of alcohol printed next to the price, which is especially useful for the more conscientious consumer.


AlcoHall’s extensive menu includes contemporary classics and craft beers on tap

After completing your shopping, or perhaps halfway though, guests can indulge in a tipple and a snack. We tried a few concoctions on our visit, starting with the Kombucha Sangria (RM25), which brings the in-house kombucha together with fruits and wine for a refreshing drink. Another low ABV cocktail that is ideal for a sunny day is the Garibaldi (RM25), a blend of orange juice — freshly squeezed to order — and a bitter liqueur.

To sample a classic, we had the White Lady (RM45), a mix of lemon, gin and curacao that produces a velvety and punchy drink. We are told that QRA uses an in-house lemon cordial that takes about six hours to make and Aér, a natural plant extract used to replace egg white. Other classics include the popular espresso martini, Boulevardier and Negroni.

The carefully crafted Keto menu was especially difficult to put together as this diet does not include sugar — a key ingredient for almost all cocktails. Named after a Nepalese machete-like blade, Kukri (RM40) is a mix of gin, pandan, coconut, kaffir lime, homemade supasawa, lime peel and saline. This light and delicate drink is easy to sip, and the lack of sweetness really allows the pandan and kaffir flavours to shine.


Kombucha Sangria

The Reverse Star Fruit Daiquiri (RM40) tastes like a beach holiday — fruity and sunny. Finally, we were curious to give the Ketro whisky sour (RM45) a go as it uses a sugar replacement called erythritol. A perfect balance of sweet and sour, this cocktail was certainly a highlight.

Of course if cocktails are not your thing, you could opt for something from QRA’s impressive list of spirits, sake, wines and beers. Guests are welcome to pick a bottle from the retail shelves and enjoy it on the premises for a minimum corkage fee.

In the heart of KL is another retail bar with a slightly different approach. Located in Starhill, The Chamber promises to be a library of truly exemplary spirits and cigars. Aimed at filling the gap between retail shops and stylish bars, this 4,600 sq ft space is filled with the finest wines and spirits from all over the world. The Chamber’s storefront is classy, with large windows and a vintage black frame, making it stand out on the upper ground floor of the premium mall.

As soon as you enter, you will find a dedicated cigar room on the left with a range imported from Cuba and the Dominican Republic for the discerning smoker. The rest of the space is thoughtfully divided accordingto  the different types of alcohol — the wall of wines on the left feature labels from key regions and on the right are refrigerators stocked with imported craft beers and rare saké labels. In front of each of these sections are round bar tables, with a gold base and a large stylish ring light above. There is even a temperature-controlled room in the right corner reserved for truly special bottles of wines, including highly sought-after French bottles and effervescent champagnes.


The Chamber is aimed at filling the gap between retail shops and stylish bars

Further into the space, on an elevated platform that takes you two steps up, is a gallery of luxurious cognacs and prized single malts and whiskies. The walls of this section have been decked with displays designed by individual brands — Hennessy, Mortlach, Macallan, Highland Park, Singleton, Johnnie Walker and Louis XIII, to name a few. A pillar in the gallery features space for the whisky of the month as well as a map of Scotland to help identify where each of the distilleries are, and on the other side is a flavour profile graph, with magnets of all the whisky brands, so guests can attempt to pinpoint the flavours they identify while tasting. There are even rums, vodkas and tequilas to choose from, should you prefer something else.

The Chamber has Malaysia’s first Hennessy Hands workshop, allowing those who buy a bottle of Hennessy Paradis to have it personalised with an engraving of their choice directly on the glass. The exclusive addition allows you to have your initials or a special note (Chinese characters are also available) on the bottle.

The impressive collection of alcohol in the entirety of  The Chamber is perfectly in line with its aim of having the most extensive library of spirits to choose from. Oh, but there is more. Just down the hall with the Perrier-Jouët and Dom Pérignon displays are three private spaces that guests can book for their own use: The Mortlach Room is decorated in the distiller’s signature deep blue and gold; the Hennessy Paradis Room has masculine furniture in brown and cream beside a brightly lit display with bottles; and the Louis XIII Private Chamber has striking red walls and a classy mishmash of furniture. These rooms can comfortably accommodate six to seven guests.

This premium retail experience also has tiered membership — Blue, Silver, Gold and Emerald — that allows guests access to the private rooms and additional perks such as complimentary bottles, members’ promotions and even a luxurious staycation, depending on which tier you are in. A notable benefit of memberships Silver and above is complimentary rental of the Mobile Chamber, a portable bar complete with bartender that can add that extra wow factor to your next soiree.


The retail space gives customers the option of popping in after work to enjoy a bottle

As The Chamber is certainly a retail-first space, it does not have a menu of cocktails or open bottles to taste from. Instead, the round bars are for customers who have bought a bottle (or two) and have decided to enjoy it in the space. Ice and all the necessary mixers are available on request. Especially as Starhill is located in such a busy area, it gives customers the option of popping in after work to enjoy a bottle while they wait for the traffic to ease, or indulging in an afternoon of sipping their favourite spirit with a couple of friends.

The store is often used for corporate events as well. More space can be made by moving the mobile gondolas of spirits aside for larger groups.

The Chamber already opened its second branch at Sunway Pyramid, which is designed differently to cater for the younger and more family-oriented clientele in the area. Another store will open towards the end of this year.

While AlcoHall and The Chamber have wildly different concepts, they are prime examples of a new trend that is bridging the gap between retail and F&B. They give consumers new options, be it a quick tipple while shopping, or a chance to indulge in a bottle of their favourite wine or whisky after work. Here’s to this trend becoming a permanent part of the local scene.

This article first appeared on Sept 19, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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