Nightlife in KL

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First published 9th September, 2012

Kuala Lumpur has a vibrant nightlife, which may be surprising to some as the city is the capital of a Muslim-majority country. But KL offers something to suit all tastes once the sun dips, from low-key neighbourhood pubs through to cutting-edge clubs. Whatever kind of place rocks your boat, a near-universal feature is how relaxed and friendly everything is. It's refreshingly easy in KL for strangers to become drinking buddies.


Another less welcome shared characteristic is how expensive alcoholic drinks are in KL. For travellers on a tight budget, this is not a city to get drunk in. A small bottle of beer, at even the cheapest Chinese coffee shop, will still set you back eight ringgit. At a proper bar or pub, you'll be lucky get away with twice that amount. Happy hours and other promotions can soften the pain, but only abstinence can fully protect travellers against serious wallet-trauma.


Mix your boozing with a touch of tattooing.
Mix your boozing with a touch of tattooing.

The vast majority of non-seedy drinking dens in KL serve food as well, and characterise themselves as a restoran dan bar/pub (restaurant and bar/pub). They generally have a mix of indoor and outdoor seating, and a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere. Two great examples are Ceylon Bar and Havana, which sit less than 100 metres apart, at the top end of Changkat Bukit Bintang.

Around the corner from Ceylon and Havana is superb cafe-bar Palate Palette. With its funky decor, alternative vibe and friendly staff, this is a million miles away from the generic pubs that litter the city's upmarket shopping centres. Not that a cold beer in one of these places is unpleasant, just a bit bland ... and overpriced.

Overpriced certainly but not at all bland are KL's crop of hotel rooftop bars, with stunning views of the city. G-Tower has not one but two of them, the exclusive Bridge Bar, suspended between two towers, and the somewhat more democratic View Bar.


View from the Sky Bar
View from the Sky Bar

Classy Luna Bar, at the top of the Pacific Regency, is one of KL's most romantic spots for a date, but in terms of views, nothing can rival Sky Bar, on the 33rd floor of Traders Hotel.

For the most part, KL's live music scene is rather disappointing, split between massive venues which host bland international acts, and pub rock bands playing bad cover versions, or worse still, their own derivative material. So if you want something a little more original, it's rather slim pickings.

One of the few venues where music is the main attraction rather than a sideshow is the excellent No Black Tie. Every month, this jazz and blues institution plays host to a steady stream of local and overseas artists. Although principally a cafe-bar and best known for its wicked desserts, Alexis Ampang is also a strong supporter of live jazz and blues.


"Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."
"Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."

La Bodega Lounge provides an intimate, laidback venue for free live music, although it does suffer from a lot of customer noise during performances. For something a bit more cutting edge, then a trio venues best known for other forms of entertainment -- Laundry, Palate Palette and The Actors Studio -- also host regular gigs by local indie bands.

The KL clubbing scene can be broadly divided into the crowd-pleasers and the too-cool-for-school brigade. The former tend to be more fun, particularly if you do not share the local obsession with R&B and hip hop. The only constant about the city's clubs is change -- with venues (and nights) arriving and disappearing at a dizzying pace.

Most clubs in KL have a dress code (for men), which generally comes down to no sandals/flip flops, no shorts and no singlets. This is aimed primarily at non-Malaysians, because locals tend to get very dressed up for big nights out. Admission is usually reasonable or even free, but once inside, drinks are almost uniformly expensive.

In terms of areas, KLCC offers a huge variety of nightlife options, with everything from the tacky charms of the Beach Club, to the city's leading super-club, Zouk. Both these very different venues have stood the test of time, primarily by giving their respective punters what they want.


Giant woman hiding behind the bar at Havana.
Giant woman hiding behind the bar at Havana.

Over recent years, Bukit Bintang has gone from strength to strength in terms of nightlife, particularly on and around Changkat Bukit Bintang. As well as proper clubs like Frangipani and Bedroom, the area also has a number of bar-cum-eateries with small dance floors. Top picks include Twenty One and Werner's, which are both great choices if you fancy a good dance without the rigmarole and cost of a nightclub.

Asian Heritage Row has lost much of its buzz over recent years, although venues such as @Loft are still popular with younger clubbers. Bangsar Baru too is not as happening as it once was, much to the relief of local residents sick of being kept awake at night. But with KLCC and Bukit Bintang more than taking up the slack, KL's nightlife really is one of the city's unsung delights.

Story by Pat Fama.



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