There are several types of watering holes in Kuala Lumpur, namely pubs, bars and speakeasies. Of course you would also have the odd restaurant which serves delicious drinks and draft beers. Then there’s always home sweet home, where you can enjoy your favorite bottle of wine or whiskey while relaxing in your pajamas.
Unsurprisingly, a new concept has emerged and is shaking up the local scene. There are two retail bars in town, each with their own vibe and ideas.
Tucked away in Arcoris Mont Kiara is a branch of QRA, a modern grocery store that subscribes to the phrase ‘eat well and live well’. Next to the seafood section, in front of the store’s liquor selection, is Wholly Spirits’ little AlcoHall. Aimed at casual drinkers who don’t mind taking a break from shopping or the many visitors to Arcoris Mont Kiara’s many amenities, this no-fuss bar seats around 10 people but also serves cocktails for those taking a break from the QRA’s outdoor dining area.
While AlcoHall’s extensive menu includes contemporary classics and craft beers on tap, it also has a section of No Lo (drinks with no or low ABV) and, most impressively, keto-friendly cocktails. The latter two were designed in line with QRA’s theme of providing healthy alternatives. On the menu, each drink has the calorie count and alcohol percentage printed next to the price, which is especially useful for the more conscientious consumer.
After you’ve finished shopping, or maybe halfway through, you can indulge in a drink and a snack. We tried a few concoctions during our visit, starting with the Kombucha Sangria (RM25), which brings homemade kombucha together with fruit and wine for a refreshing drink. Another low ABV cocktail ideal for a sunny day is the Garibaldi (RM25), a mix of orange juice – freshly squeezed to order – and a bitter liqueur.
For a taste of a classic, we had the White Lady (RM45), a blend of lemon, gin and curacao that makes for a velvety, punchy drink. We’re told QRA uses a homemade 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 particularly difficult to put together because this diet does not include sugar – a key ingredient for almost all cocktails. Named after a Nepalese machete-shaped blade, Kukri (RM40) is a blend of gin, pandan, coconut, kaffir, homemade supasawa, lime zest and saline. This light and delicate drink is easy to sip, and the lack of sweetness really allows the pandan and kaffir flavors to shine.
The Reverse Star Fruit Daiquiri (RM40) tastes like a beach vacation – fruity and sunny. Finally, we were curious to try the Ketro sour whiskey (RM45) as it uses a sugar substitute called erythritol. A perfect balance of sweet and sour, this cocktail was definitely a highlight.
Of course, if cocktails aren’t your thing, you can opt for something from QRA’s impressive list of spirits, sake, wines and beers. Customers are invited to choose a bottle from the store shelves and taste it on the spot 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. Intended to bridge the gap between retail stores and stylish bars, this 4,600 square foot space is filled with the finest wines and spirits from around the world. The front of the room is sleek, with large windows and a vintage black frame, making it stand out on the upper ground floor of the upscale mall.
As soon as you enter, you will find on the left a lounge dedicated to cigars with a range imported from Cuba and the Dominican Republic for the discerning smoker. The rest of the space is thoughtfully divided according to different types of alcohol – the wine wall on the left features labels from key regions and on the right fridges stocked with imported craft beers and rare sake labels. In front of each of these sections are round bar tables, with a gold base and a large elegant ring light above. There’s even a temperature-controlled room in the right corner reserved for truly special bottles of wine, including highly sought-after French bottles and sparkling champagnes.
Further into the space, on a raised platform that takes you up two steps, is a gallery of luxurious cognacs and prized single malts and whiskeys. The walls of this section have been adorned 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 has space for the whiskey 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 flavor profile chart, with magnets of all brands of whiskey, so guests can try to spot the flavors they identify when tasting. There are even rums, vodkas and tequilas to choose from, if you prefer something else.
The Chamber has the first Hennessy Hands workshop in Malaysia, allowing those who purchase a bottle of Hennessy Paradis to have it personalized 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 liquor collection throughout The Chamber is perfectly in line with its aim of having the most extensive library of spirits to choose from. Oh, but there’s more. Just down the hall from the Perrier-Jouët and Dom Pérignon display cases are three private spaces that customers can reserve 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 next to a well-lit display with bottles; and the Louis XIII Privy Room has striking red walls and a chic mishmash of furniture. These rooms can comfortably accommodate six to seven people.
This premium retail experience also offers tiered membership – Blue, Silver, Gold and Emerald – which grants customers access to private rooms and additional benefits such as free bottles, promotions for members and even a luxury stay, depending on the level you are in. A notable perk with Silver and above memberships is free rental of the Mobile Chamber, a portable bar with bartender that can add that extra wow factor to your next party.
As The Chamber is definitely a retail space, it doesn’t have a cocktail menu or open bottles to sample. Instead, the round bars are for customers who have purchased a bottle (or two) and decided to enjoy it in the space. Ice and all necessary mixers are available upon request. Especially since Starhill is located in a very busy area, it offers guests the opportunity to come in after work to enjoy a bottle while waiting for the traffic to calm down, or to indulge an afternoon sipping on their favorite spirit. with some friends.
The store is also often used for corporate events. More space can be created by moving the moving spirit gondolas aside for larger groups.
The Chamber has already opened its second branch at Sunway Pyramid, which is redesigned to cater to the area’s younger, more family-oriented clientele. Another store will open later this year.
Although AlcoHall and The Chamber have very different concepts, they are great examples of a new trend that is bridging the gap between retail and restaurant. They’re giving consumers new options, whether it’s a quick drink while shopping or a chance to treat themselves to a bottle of their favorite wine or whiskey after work. Now this trend is becoming a permanent part of the local scene.
This article was first published on September 19, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.