There are many reasons why 61 Monarchy is the whisky bar that the Klang Valley has always needed. First, and most importantly, is its main offering — an almost 400-strong range of single malts and blended whiskies from some of the world’s top producers, complemented by a select coterie of bourbons. Second is access: Because it is in the lively and accessible suburb of Damansara Uptown, it is easy to drop by after work for a wee dram, or make one’s way there for a post-prandial drink or three. Then there is the setting — from the relaxing jazz music at just the right volume, the elegant and simple décor and the exceptional service, 61 Monarchy is warm and welcoming, and will quickly become the Cheers-like bar where everyone knows your name.
61 Monarchy bears the creative handprint of seasoned restaurateur Andrew Tan, who also owns cocktail speakeasy HYDE at 53M as well as brunch retreats The Good Batch and Nara Kitchen & Co. His latest project is really Tan’s way of creating a bar he wants to drink at, and it is why you can find him there on most nights as he provides great recommendations on which whisky to try next. Something I learnt the hard way: Tan’s interpretation of “one for the road” rarely actually implies the singular.
The bar is designed in a speakeasy style, with nothing but a gold-plated fleur-de-lis above the doorway indicating the entrance. Incidentally, 61 Monarchy is just above Nara Kitchen & Co and is the landmark to pick if you’re getting a Grab or an Uber. A suitably darkened stairwell and a sliding door later, the bar opens up to two separate sections — a smoking-friendly seated area separated by glass doors from the smoke-free zone where the bar is located. The bar is my favourite spot in the house by far, mostly for the unimpeded view of the whisky bottles arranged with a razor-sharp neatness.
However, 61 Monarchy’s stock-in-trade is its informative service — each visit is an experience because the bar staff are more than happy to explain the whiskies that are available for your enjoyment. If you would really like to expand your palate, a tasting flight is the way to go: Half a shot (15ml) of four different whiskies that allow you to try each one before deciding on your tipple for the rest of the night. Although Tan and his team have worked out several pre-determined tasting flights, bar manager Chris is happy to design a personalised one as well depending on what you like.
After several visits, Chris is familiar with my tastes and is able to make recommendations that never miss the mark. Personally, I’m more of a Speyside girl and Chris has since served me a delicious range of whiskies from this northeastern area of Scotland. But on a particularly adventurous evening, I gave him carte blanche to design a tasting flight that expressed the variety that the bar stocks.
I wasn’t disappointed with the selection he put together: Royal Brackla 16 Year Old, AnCnoc 24 Year Old, Arran 18 Year Old (the last of a limited edition trilogy of expressions) and the second edition of the Octomore 10. The whiskies were in ascending order of light and easy to peaty and weighty, and from across Scotland, showcasing what whiskies from different regions taste like.
Although you can find a great many whiskies from familiar brands and distilleries on 61 Monarchy’s extensive menu (which is helpfully segmented by country, then region), the bar also stocks truly rare varietals as well — bottles with incredible provenance that command equally impressive price tags. Some of the rarest ones include those from closed distilleries Karuizawa and Port Ellen (the latter costs RM700 a shot) as well the powerhouse of Irish distilling, Midleton. 61 Monarchy also brings in rare bottlings from smaller distilleries that simply don’t make enough for large-scale commercial export — regulars are often kept abreast of unusual bottles, which they can place orders for as well.
There is not too much to eat at 61 Monarchy, but the bar bites that are available are carefully curated and delicious. The shoestring truffle fries with garlic aioli is an easy favourite — its saltiness and rich flavour the perfect accompaniment for whisky. The serving is huge, though, so this dish is easily shared. For something less carb-heavy, the air-dried cured meat platter is ideal, while gourmands in search of exotic flavours will enjoy the pan-seared scallop with ponzu teriyaki and torched Japanese mayo topped with tobiko and bonito flakes.
61 Monarchy does not get too busy on weekday evenings, making it the perfect location for an intimate rendezvous with an old friend or even some alone time to nurse a favoured whisky over a good book. But even the buzz on weekend nights is never too intolerable as this place is not quite on the radar screens yet, so best make your way there before it is.
61 Monarchy 61 Jalan SS21/1a, Damansara Utama, PJ. For reservations, call (017) 680 1357. Mon-Sat, 5pm-2am.