Oct 27 2011

The strange case of the suburban Kuala Lumpur pub crawl

Published by at 2:05 pm under Bars & nightlife


When is a pub not a pub? This may seem like an odd question, but in Malaysia, what you call a drinking establishment can have a big impact on how it is treated by licensing authorities. Call somewhere a restoran dan pub (restaurant and pub), and you can be open to the world, with outside seating (and drinking). By contrast, if it’s just called a bar, without any food reference, then the imbibing has to be done behind closed doors and opaque windows.

Bright lights, big city.

Bright lights, big city.

Naturally therefore, most pubs in Kuala Lumpur also serve food, so that their customers can drink al fresco. Many visitors are surprised by how open and boisterous KL’s drinking culture is, given that Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country. For the most part though, KL nightlife is focused on heavily Chinese or Indian areas, such as Bukit Bintang and Bangsar, or upmarket shopping centres. Try getting a beer in the Malay neighbourhood of Kampung Baru!

The calm before the drinking storm.

The calm before the drinking storm.

So it’s somewhat surprising that KL’s best pub crawl has grown up over the last few years, in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, a middle class suburb with a large Malay community. In fact, the snappily-named road Lorong Rahim Kajai 14, where this drinking scene is focused, is almost equidistant between two incredibly loud mosques.

Rewarding drink, after a tough pub crawl.

Rewarding drink, after a tough pub crawl.

Seven pubs are located within the space of 200 metres, three of them next-door neighbours. Until recently, all of them had tables and chairs spilling outside onto the pavement. The fun atmosphere drew in punters from around KL, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, which was all very well for those making merry, but not so good for local residents trying to get some sleep.

Wanton destruction, or civic-minded action, you decide.

Wanton destruction or civic-minded action? You decide.

I’m sure some deal could have been worked out with the pubs to reduce late night noise. Rather than consulting with the various owners though, the local authorities instead turned up mob-handed earlier this month, without any warning, to confiscate all the outside furniture, and trash any “illegal” pavement structures.

The satisfaction of  job well done.

The satisfaction of job well done.

This would be all well and good if all the area’s pavements were cleared of obstructions. Needless to say, local Malay or Mamak (Muslim Indian) eateries, including 24-hour ones, were unaffected. Their tables and chairs are still allowed to obstruct pavements.

Some pavement furniture is less "obstructive" than others.

Some pavement furniture is less "obstructive" than others.

In terms of noise too, the whole area is woken up by the aforementioned mosques at 05:45 every day. As with much of Malaysia, the reason the pubs were dealt with so harshly has less to do with noise or obstructing pavements, and more to do with Islamic sensibilities.

Out and proud, the TTDI pubs refusing to give in.

Out and proud, the TTDI pubs refusing to give in.

Regardless of the crackdown, all seven pubs (The Pier, The Boathouse, Tom Dick and Harry’s, Deutsches Gasthaus 2, Sid’s, 42 East, and Chip ‘n Dale) are still open for business (some, rather cheekily, sporting new outside furniture), and well worth a visit for a completely non-touristy night out. All of them do food, being “restorans”, with much pork in evidence. The best eatery in the neighbourhood though, has to be Restoran OK, one of KL’s tastiest Chinese coffee shops.

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