It’s official. Kuala Lumpur knows how to put on a party! And when it comes to cocktails, Kuala Lumpur has much to celebrate!
After a truly extraordinary month-long celebration of sensational events across multiple venues in Kuala Lumpur, it was time for the final showdown in bartending. The grand finale, big reveal, or epic unveiling of this year’s most exceptionally talented individuals would bring the festivities to an official close. It was time to announce the The Bar Awards KL winners for 2017.
Held at the Publika White Box design and exhibition space, the event was attended by some of the most fascinating and fabulous people in the industry. Coming from all corners of Malaysia, with experts specially flown in from around the world, the thrill of nervous anticipation in the room was palpable. Unlike many other competitions, however, the excitement among KL’s bar community came from a place of shared accomplishment and camaraderie. Each of the nominees spoke not only of their honour to be counted within such prestigious ranks but also of their excitement for their peers. Many openly acknowledged their picks for who the winners would be, even if in direct category competition themselves.
Speaking with representatives of some of the world’s best and most well-known spirit manufacturers and distributors, there was a single sentiment repeated often: the bars and bartenders featured in the KL Bar Awards truly are world class, and could easily belong in the hippest and hottest bars of New York, or any other major cosmopolitan city around the world. With enough cool creativity and quality to rival the best in the business, the talent, craftsmanship and innovation showcased here should be recognised as one of Kuala Lumpur’s greatest international draw cards.
For this evening’s night of nights, the bar was manned by a host of well-known local favourites, including James from Ril’s, Matt from Skullduggery and Josh from JungleBird to name a few, working with bases of Jameson Irish Whisky, The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, Mancino Vermouth, Dictador 12 Year Old Dark Rum, Havana Club White Rum, Gekkeikan Sake, and Remy Martin Cognac. Additional sponsors for the event and preceding week-long celebration numbered over 50, but notably included DRiNK and Thirst Magazines, Publika, Perrier, East Imperial Superior Beverages, Campari, Cointreau, Giffard of France, Heineken, G.H. Mumm Champagne, Ocho Tequila, Wholly Spirits and Uber among many, many others. The huge array of companies eager to list their names speaks to the increasing notoriety of KL’s bar scene.
While munching on a slice of black charcoal spiced chicken pizza, the thirsty crowd in keeping with the spirit, threw back the cocktails. Personal favourites included the ‘Peppered Pear’ with The Botanist Gin layered with Giffard Poire William and defused with zingy lemon, a hit of black pepper and a splash of Perrier, as well as the delightfully pink ‘Sunburnt White Lady’ made with heady Cointreau, The Botanist Gin, more lemon and Giffard Pomegranate. ‘The Geisha’ comprised a mix of Gekkeikan Sake, Giffard Elderflower Liqueur and Lemon, topped off with G.H. Mumm Champagne, while the ‘The Sessionist’ blended Mancino Secco, East Imperial Yuzu Tonic with Giffard Créme de Peche. There was a point in the night where such precisely created works of liquid art became replaced by free flow shots of Jameson Irish Whisky, but we won’t speak of such things here.
When the flow of banter had reached a constant peak of buzz, excitement and quick wit that accompanies lubricated conversations, our attention was drawn to the stage as the finalists for each category were listed and the winners revealed. For each category, a list of ten nominations was whittled down to four finalists, and only one winner. For the full list of all nominees (also known as your social calendar for the next few months), as well as the full judging panel of local representatives (including our Yum List editor, Monica Tindall) please see the KL Bar Awards KL Facebook page.
The Bar Awards KL Winners
So without further ado, here are this year’s finalists and winners in the KL Bar Awards:
The Rising Star Award presented by Perrier was won by Jason Julian from Hyde, with Calzeno Clitus from JungleBird, Janice Lau from The Pawn Room and Osmund Bernard formerly of Ikki receiving finalist placements.
The Best Restaurant Bar Award presented by East Imperial was won by Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar, with Mercat Barcelona Gastrobar, Ril’s Bangsar and Fuego receiving finalist placements.
The Best Beer Bar Award presented by Heineken was won by Taps Beer Bar, with Ales & Lager, Sid’s Pubs and The Great Beer Bar receiving finalist placements.
The Best Culinary Team Award presented by Mancino Vermouth was won by Fuego with Bistro A Table, Bonfire Restaurant & Bar and El Cerdo receiving finalist placements.
The Best Hospitality Team Award presented by Gekkeikan Sake was won by Coley, with PS150, JungleBird and Locker & Loft receiving finalist placements.
The Most Creative Cocktail Bar Award presented by Cointreau was won by Omakase & Appreciate, with Coley, Coppersmith and PS150 receiving finalist placements.
The Best New Cocktail Bar Award presented by Campari was won by JungleBird with Jack Rose, Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar and Pahit receiving finalist placements.
The Ada Coley Award presented by Havana Club Rum was won by Angel Ng of PS150, with Kim Choong from Thirst Magazine, Michelle Loh from TWE and Shareen Yew from Single and Available receiving finalist placements. Congratulations also to our very own Monica Tindall from The Yum List for her nomination!
The Best Barback of the Year Award (A.K.A. the bartenders right-hand person!) presented by Tequila Ocho was won by Ahmed Al Imran “Bossman” from JungleBird, with Hassan Ratul from The Sticky Wicket, Golam Kibria from Jack Rose and Abu Tayed from PS150 receiving final placements.
And finally, the two biggest awards of the evening, the ones you’ve all been waiting for, drumroll please….
The Bartender of the Year Award present by Jameson Irish Whisky was won by the incredibly talented Chee Kheong “C.K.” Kho of Coley and Pahit, with Angel Ng from PS150, Rizal Junior Johari from Marini’s on 57 and Shawn Chong from Omakase & Appreciate following hot on his heels as the final four contenders.
The Best Cocktail Bar Award for 2017, with the most impeccable service and superbly rated cocktails, presented by The Botanist Gin was won by Coley, with JungleBird, Omakase & Appreciate and PS150 qualifying as finalists.
The Yum List would like to extend a huge congratulations to all the winners in this year’s Kuala Lumpur Bar Awards, but particularly to C.K. Kho and the crew at Coley for securing three of the eleven awards for the evening, including the two big ones: Bartender of the Year and Best Cocktail Bar of the year. When C.K. and Coley were announced as the winners of these final two categories, the room exploded in cheering. It is a sign of overwhelming respect that nobody seemed to mind losing to him or his team. Earlier in the year, I dubbed C.K. the Mr Miyagi of cocktails, and in the fierce yet collaborative competition of these awards, his quiet and unassuming character, gentle manner, and welcoming smile, paired with his skills, creativity and fostering of talent have made him an industry favourite, for good reason.
When it comes to world-class bar talent, Kuala Lumpur has proved it can compete with the best. While Coley and C.K.’s second bar Pahit are the hottest tickets in town, winners JungleBird, PS150, Omakase & Appreciate, Hyde, Fuego, Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar and Taps Beer Bar, as well as all other finalists and nominees are places you need to visit soon and regularly to raise a glass to these local victors! Cheers! Salut! Gan bei! Proust!