Words by Monica R. Clear Photos: Monica Tindall
On a recent rainy Friday evening in Empire Damansara, we swung open the oversized glass doors of The Bar, a newly opened cocktail lounge on the second floor, taking the two mixologists by surprise. It was early in the evening for patrons in a lounge that neither has, nor needs, a happy hour. But we were eager and ready to sip some of The Bar’s signature drinks, and before too long, the mixologists were dressed in their finest suit vests, chopping, squeezing, and measuring behind the bar, as we sat admiring their earnest preparation and taking in the Zen-like atmosphere.
Despite its understated name, The Bar is special.
|The Bar, Empire Damansara|
Malaysian owner Haldane Chin has teamed up with veteran Japanese bartender introduced to us as “Sam”, to bring a self-described Japanese-style cocktail bar to Malaysia. Having not yet been to Japan, I had to let the evening unfold to understand exactly what that meant.
The most unique feature of this lounge is the actual bar itself. A long, solid slab of thick and lightly colored wood, the bar is elevated to allow patrons to watch the bartenders work their magic. We saw, for example, Sam pull out a wooden ice bucket and pic, and began expertly chopping a substantial block of homemade crystal ice (made in-house with a special method for producing bubble-free and slow-melting ice.) We also watched as Sam and the other bartender squeezed fresh mangosteen through a cheese cloth, for one of our first and ultimately favorite cocktails of the night – the Mangosteen Sake – served in a delicate crystal champagne flute, mirroring the elegant and sweet flavor of the beverage.
Rather than stools, the bar seats resembled comfortable office chairs, easy to settle into for the evening. A soft, circle of light illuminated each spot at the bar, creating an elegant and classy sense of personal space and privacy. No better a place to sip our next cocktail, the Saketini, served in a tiny crystal glass the shape of a rose. A mixture of Sake and vermouth, this drink adds a creative twist to your average martini, and went down smoothly.
To demonstrate variety, Sam next poured a drink we kept going back to for sips – a Shandy Guff. Made with Heineken beer and fresh, homemade ginger ale from The Bar itself, this drink packed a satisfying punch. Heineken should always be so lucky to be paired with such a partner! I was left wondering if I could produce an equally delicious do-it-myself version at home. (Highly unlikely.)
As if he was reading my mind, Sam mixed a cocktail next that I loved everything about — from its name and history, to the glistening copper and gold mug it was served in, to the ingredients used. Known as the Moscow Mule, this cocktail is made with ginger beer, vodka, fresh lime juice, and soda water, served over ice with a lime wedge. A more fitting nomenclature might be the Malaysia Mule, as it was the perfect refreshing drink for a tropical climate, with a laid-back touch of the traditional mug. Definitely give this one a whirl.
The next two rum cocktails won hands-down for “best-looking”, and were fun to watch the bartenders make with precision and perfection. The first drink, made with fresh purple dragon-fruit and blended to a perfect smoothie consistency, included vermouth and cranberry juice with the rum. Both decadent and delightfully sweet and fruity, this cocktail will you have sipping it slowly just to enjoy its aesthetic beauty.
|Rum and Dragon Fruit Cocktail|
The second drink, more sour citrus in flavor, was made with rum, passion fruit, and fresh orange juice. This cocktail left a tangy and slightly sweet-n-sour taste, and was also a joy to sip slowly.
|Rum and Citrus Cocktail|
At that point, our conversation turned to whiskey, and after a sideways glance with Sam, Harbane reached out to the glass shelf behind the bar and pulled out a bottle of Nikka Whiskey from Japan. With the backdrop of the serene mood music from Spotify, he slowly poured the whiskey over solid crystal ice the size and shape of a baseball, sitting snugly in a whiskey glass. The entire process was slow motion art in the making, and although I am not a whiskey connoisseur, I felt like I was in a scene from a movie.
And that is why The Bar is special.
While the whiskey drinker in our group appreciated the fine Japanese quality of the drink, Harbane offered us samples of their unique bar snacks – smoked on site — (the little smoker sits in a corner of the bar) of scallops, oysters, squid, edamame, and cream cheese. The bar offers a sampling plate (RM 48); we had the treat of tasting the squid, edamame, and cream cheese, and can attest to the delicious savory smoking flavor of them all.
|Smoked Octopus and Edamame|
As an alternative to watching the bartenders concoct your drinks, there are four rectangular tables against the back wall, separated by curtains of fringe; a breathable privacy barrier if need be, easily opened for inclusion of a bigger party.
|The Bar, Empire Damansara|
For those who prefer to enjoy their cocktails outdoors, a sizeable patio overlooks a vast hill of jungle greenery backdrop, adding to the serene quality of the interior and offering a fresh air option for others.
|Outdoor Patio with Pretty Verdant Views|
Reasons to visit: Japanese-style bar design with serene ambience; experienced mixologists who aim to please; a variety of cocktails using top quality, fresh ingredients, unique bar snacks.
112 Empire Damansara
No.2 Heritage Lane
Jalan PJU 8/8A
47800 Petaling Jaya
+6 03 2116 9680
Open 7:00pm – 2:00am Monday – Saturday; closed Sunday
Price of most popular cocktails range from RM 33 – RM38.