I’ve never been a gin person. Adverse experiences in my wayward 20s with what I can only say were drinks of compromised quality did not set me up for enjoyment of it in my future. Whisky was always my true love, as a daughter of a mason, it had been written in the cards anyway. As my palate matured, I also found pleasure in cognac, wines and champagnes and even rums, but a relationship with gin was something I was never tempted to revisit.
Then Pahit opened, and everything changed. One of KL’s earliest gin bars – there are now a few more in other parts of the Klang Valley. Pahit redefined my relationship with gin because of the way it was presented. In the course of my repeated visits to Pahit, I learnt that gin need not be the snobby spirit it had always seemed, but a fascinating carrier of flavour and fragrance that completely transformed the way I looked at the entire category.
Sir Elton John’s Benny and the Jets is a suitable welcome as I stepped into Pahit that first time years ago, and my overwhelming bias toward this statesman of British pop might have set the tone for a wonderful debut visit. I remember being struck by Pahit’s setting, which was painfully hipster from start to finish – the original tiled floors of this 1920s Pudu shophouse lend the space a delightfully charming air, while lime-washed walls that are peeling in places ensure the space teems with character.
The slender bar commands pride of place in Pahit, with over 80 bottles or gin – both rare and commonplace – arranged against an exposed brick wall. Atop the bar itself, bottles of bitters are lined up neatly together with a wide variety of botanicals that are add flavour to each cocktail that is painstakingly prepared.
Pahit is named after a colonial drink of gin and bitters, as enjoyed in old Malaya, and that was referenced by Somerset Maugham in his travelogues. The original recipe calls for just Angostura bitters and gin, but Pahit’s version is decidedly more sophisticated – London Dry Gin, bitters, homemade falernum syrup and lime juice come together for a complex cocktail with intense flavours and quite a kick. The Pineapple Smash is a little easier on the palate with its refreshing blend of pineapple juice, mint, gin and bitters. I am not particularly partial to cocktails, but this I absolutely enjoyed.
Looking back, I think what changed my mind about gin was Pahit’s approach to a wide variety of tastes – the menu is sophisticated enough for posh palates who had a favourite brand of gin, as well as heathens like me who weren’t yet convinced of the stuff. The bar’s range of in-house infused gins remains my firm favourite, as it incorporates truly local flavours – lychee and ginger flower proved to be a stunning combination, and went down much easier than one would like to admit.
Gin hasn’t become my go-to drink or anything – that’s still single malt – but I have become more open to enjoying it. Colombo Gin and its unusual botanicals that includes curry leaves, or even The Botanist’s herbaceous and minty flavours – my palate is nuanced enough to appreciate and enjoy these gins today, and I have that first visit to Pahit to thank for it.
Pahit, 3, Jalan Sin Chew Kee, Bukit Bintang, KL. Tues-Sat, 5pm-1am. Call 03 2110 0776 to make reservations.
CALL TO THE BAR
Not ready to hit your favourite watering hole yet? Blackbyrd Dine & Lounge is offering a dry gin kit so you can create your own cocktails at home. Each kit comes with a full-sized bottle of gin and cocktail mixer for three recipes. For the uninitiated, a step-by-step video tutorial will guide you along the way.