One of the biggest complaints about Kuala Lumpur, from both visitors and residents alike, is the shocking price of alcohol. It is often more expensive to get a drink in KL than in notoriously expensive cities like London and New York (and er, islands like Bali). Hefty government taxes are partly to blame, but many bars and restaurants contribute to the problem by having extremely high mark-ups. The routine charging of “plus plus” (10% service, and 6% sales tax), helps to inflate excessive prices even further. Clearly, the best way to avoid being ripped off is to abstain, but several other options exist to significantly cut the budget-busting cost of drinking in KL.
As with good comedy, timing is crucial to being a cheapskate drinker. The majority of bars, and quite a few restaurants too, have happy hours. The first thing to remember about happy hours is that they are almost never limited to just 60 minutes. Most commonly, they kick off about 17:00, and wrap up by 20:00, but some start before midday, and others run into the early hours of the morning. It is also important to recognise that many happy hours are not that generous. But in the end, every little bit helps.
With hundreds of happy hours around the city, and the strange reluctance of many establishments to publicise their own promotions, the choice can be a bit bewildering. Here’s a few of the better ones, to get you started.
The Social on Changkat Bukit Bintang has a long happy hour, from 11:00 to 21:00, with decent, if not spectacular, reductions on its draught beer and house wines. A few doors away, Twenty One Kitchen and Bar packs its offers into a much smaller period (17:00 to 20:00), but they are more generous, including two for the price of one on all loose drinks.
Away from Changkat, several of the outside (level 3) bars and restaurants at The Pavilion do good offers on buckets of beer (4-5 bottles), such as Island Bistro. Many of the places in and around KLCC have decent happy hours, including Malones, which reduces its prices on a range of draught beers between 14:00 and 21:00 on weekdays. Pints are especially good value. The Library at Avenue K (opposite KLCC) does two-for-one (pints only) on several draught beers from 12:00 to 18:00, while you get a free half pint for every pint from 18:00 to 22:00. In Bangsar, another branch of the Social has a reasonable happy hour from 12:00 to 21:00.
Happy hours are not the only way to cut down the price of drinking though. Being a woman helps a great deal, as many establishments are desperate to attract female clientele. The city has umpteen “ladies nights”, mostly midweek, with cheap or even free drinks, such as Girls Night Out, at Sky Bar, which has free flow on selected cocktails between 20:00 and 22:00 on Wednesdays.
A small number of bars try the novel approach of offering reasonable prices at all times, such as Ceylon Bar in Changkat. If only more places followed suit.
Another good tactic is to head to a Chinese coffee shop. Almost all of them serve beer at relatively cheap prices (14-15 ringgit for a big bottle of Tiger or Carlsberg). A great choice is Wong Ah Wah, located in the car park at the Jalan Tong Shin end of Jalan Alor. It’s not the most sophisticated of settings, but it has a great atmosphere, it’s open until gone 03:00, and should you get peckish, the food is excellent.
In terms of retail booze, Chinese-run convenience stores are normally the cheapest place to buy beer, while for wine, supermarkets are your best bet, although try to avoid the full-price bottles. The cheapest alcohol of all has to be locally produced spirits, with great names like Balalaika Vodka and Watson’s Gin. It’s really not that bad with mixers. How potentially harmful it is to your health is anyone’s guess.
(Changkat) 22 Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2142 8260
(Bangsar) 57-59 Telawi Street 3, Bangsar Village, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2282 2260
Twenty One Kitchen and Bar
20-1 Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2142 0021
C10, level 3, The Pavilion, 158 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur.
T: (03) 2145 1886 (ext 355)
The Ceylon Bar
20-2 Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2145 7689
Lot 48 Ground Floor, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur
Ground Floor, Avenue K, 156 Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2161 3869
Level 33, Traders Hotel, KLCC, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2332 9888
Wong Ah Wah
9 Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 26th February, 2015.