Bar-hopping in Penang Just Got Better

Hidden speakeasies, cocktail bars and upscale lounges – Penang’s nightlife is coming up.

“Prosperity” is created with gin, spiced rum, orange, lemon and Orgeat syrup.

Magazine 63

Dubbed the first “hidden” speakeasy in Penang, Magazine 63 is disguised as an unmarked shop lot along Jalan Magazine. To enter, visitors must first locate the banner bearing the calligraphic word “liquor” written in the Qin script by the side of the building. “For the first two months, people would get lost trying to locate us. We had to constantly monitor the CCTV. Even now, we still get calls,” says chief executive director Lee.

The speakeasy is usually packed during the weekends, and so reservations are highly encouraged.

The speakeasy is thematically decorated to resemble old-world China. Chinese handheld fans adorn the walls, and colourful wooden umbrellas and lanterns hang from the ceiling. On the mezzanine floor, a DJ station overlooks the bar.

“We wanted Magazine 63 to mirror an oriental design concept. It was something unique to explore at a time when English-styled cocktail bars were the ‘in’ thing. We’d like to think we set a precedent for all the Chinese-inspired bars that have popped up around George Town since,” says Lee.

Signature cocktails with intriguing names like Hidden Gem, Drunken Master and Invincible East are served in Chinese pottery by costume-clad waiters. “Our best-seller is the Nv Er Hong. It’s made up of beer, sour mix, rum, vodka, gin, curacao and tequila. We also feature two new drinks every month, sometimes to coincide with celebrations like Valentine’s Day and Halloween.”

Magazine 63 attracts locals mostly, adds Lee. “When we opened last year, we were compared to Suzie Wong in KL. But our customer base couldn’t be more different; we foster a very communal vibe. I’ll give you an example: two groups of complete strangers seated nearby one another would join up within the hour to make room for more people to join them. It has happened on numerous occasions; friendships are made very organically here.”

Magazine 63 opens daily from 8pm to 3am. Table reservations are highly encouraged.

Norm / Noct

Norm / Noct operates as a cafe by day, but come sunset, the baristas turn into bartenders serving a selection of creative cocktails and desserts with a boozy kick.

“The initial idea was to operate this solely as a cafe since my partners are coffee and tea enthusiasts,” says Koh Yung Shen, who also manages Backdoor Bodega at Hin Bus Depot. “But I thought it’d be interesting to incorporate a different element: by turning it into a bar at night as I personally think no one is going to drink coffee that late.”

Koh Yung Shen.

Cocktail bars are new to Penang. “It’s more of a gimmick here rather than a concept. I would say Penang picked up the trend from KL. When I started Backdoor Bodega, nine out of the 10 people who came in wanted beers. They weren’t used to the price of cocktails being so much more expensive, not when you can get a bottle of beer for under RM20. And there was no live band either. But the sudden influx of bars and speakeasies last year helped elevate the cocktail scene – people started going bar hopping and are now more accepting of the idea.”

Customers however won’t find generic cocktails at Noct; instead, they create their own. “We experiment with different kinds of locally sourced ingredients. It takes a bit of trial and error to figure out the duration of the infusion to get that perfect taste before we craft a cocktail out of it.”

Noct’s menu is recently updated to categorically mirror the Norm menu, where each of the coffee, chocolate and tea beverages is designed specifically as a unique cocktail complete with its own complimenting ingredients and garnishes. “Coffee beans are infused with bourbon for our alcoholic coffee Late Latte. But we wanted to go a step further, to play up the milk element of the Joe. So we did this by making our own clarified milk punch whereby alcohol, usually rum, is cooked with milk, before a sour element like citrus or acid is added in. The milk is then curdled and filtered thoroughly.”

Their “Noctails” list also features the new addition Side Chick, a twist to the classic Sidecar. The cocktail is spiced with caramelised apple brandy, cinnamon, star anise-infused triple sec, and a dash of lemon juice.

“Penangites are very open to new experiences, but it’s difficult to gage the one generic direction a bartender should take in cocktail-making,” says Koh. “Some people drink cocktails because they don’t want to taste the booze. But for others, the cocktails are a bit too sweet for the palate. That’s the challenge for us to get around.”

Norm / Noct is located at The Saw Emporium and opens daily from 11am to 12am.

The cocktails are crafted by Callan Green of Wholly Spirits in KL.

The bar snacks feature a selection of pinchostyle small plates.

Golden Shower by ChinChin

An unassuming lounge serving classically inspired cocktails and flavour-packed one-biters, Golden Shower by chefs Weng Chia and Jack Yeap provokes interest and seduces the senses. “We wanted a classy setting where people could come and unwind over drinks and food, a place where people can actually hold proper conversations without being drowned out by loud music. That’s how we got the idea to create Golden Shower,” says Yeap.

The lounge is known for its decor, styled as a layered visual representation of human sensuality. Guests to Golden Shower are greeted by a lux facility, complete with a golden clawfoot tub at the entrance. A second door opens to the waiting room, a darkened graffitied alley reminiscent of Melbourne’s street art, while the third and final door reveals the lounge’s fantastically pink interior. “We wanted to create something that was slightly radical. We like pink – it’s very feminine and Instagrammable.”

A lux facility fronts the entrance of Golden Shower.

The establishment, however, is not primarily cocktail-oriented. In fact, they sell more bottles of alcohol than cocktails. “We don’t have a mixologist or bartenders, and that’s where our collaboration with Callan Green of Wholly Spirits comes in.” Green is the creative director of Wholly Spirits, a purveyor of fine spirits and owner of the KL bar Jack Rose. “He crafted all 10 of our cocktails for us, with In Rye We Trust and The Blinker being the latest additions.

“Our food menu is actually bigger than our cocktail list,” adds Yeap. The menu changes every few weeks and features a selection of pincho-style small plates using the freshest produce from the local markets. “We don’t restrict ourselves in the sort of cuisine we cook, nor the use of ingredients. You can have French foie gras with Japanese – or even Indian – flavours. So long as it tastes amazing, that’s what matters.”

Golden Shower is located at Lebuh Bishop and opens Tuesdays to Sundays from 5.30pm to 2am.

Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from the University of Wolverhampton.

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