Atas Speakeasy Ipoh
Claiming to be Ipoh’s only authentic 1920’s American-style speakeasy, the team at Atas focus on craft cocktails, good conversations and sustainability.
Found in Jalan Theatre, the cocktail bar is only accessed with a reservation and the street-level door is unlocked as you arrive. Head up the stairs in red-hued light, draw the curtains and entire a parlour styled with furniture and memorabilia from near a century past.
Jazz music soothes the air, and flickering candles and table lamps provide minimal light. A marble-topped bar is softened with a repurposed leather cushion underneath, and arched windows add a distinct Art Deco feel. A giant painting of a mysterious lady walls the bar. Created by a local mural artist, you might recognize some of his other work in Ipoh’s back alleys.
Focus on Sustainability
Head bartender Eugene Wong stresses the importance of sustainability in the bar industry. With so many garnishes and ingredients, it would be easy to produce ridiculous amounts of waste. They are so serious about the reduction of their impact on the environment that they weigh their waste after each shift, recording and always trying to do better.
As part of this philosophy, they source as much as they can locally. Plentiful local produce provides distinct flavours for drinks. They also dehydrate all of their own garnishes, increasing the shelf life of produce and also eliminating single-use packaging that would otherwise come with purchased dried goods.
Premium spirits are also sourced with sustainability in mind. They hold several spirits under the Eco Spirits brand. Selling their spirits by the 20 litres, bars can refill a single smaller bottle for the shelf as needed. This saves over 25 otherwise single-use bottles!
Atas Speakeasy Ipoh Cocktail Menu
Eugene’s romantic partner and founder of Atas Speakeasy, Alicia Mak, is the inspiration for the menu with its sections divided into The Huntress, The Maiden, The Sage and The Mystic. There are an additional two collections for The Classics and Coffee Cocktails.
The Huntress represents the younger female, finding her way in life and discovering who she is. These cocktails are low in ABV and straightforward in nature.
As Eugene sets to work to prepare Miss Bond (RM 36), we spy a mysterious sphere of bubbles frothing on his work counter. This curious foam makes a fairy-floss looking top for the drink with a distinct umami finish. Bourbon, cranberry juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, Peychaud bitters and ginger ale meld to create luxurious aromas of leather, followed by a grainy and fruity quality in the palate. It looks fantastic but how do you approach this drink elegantly? Face-first the Huntress would say – go for the milk/ beer moustache look. If you’d rather not, you could ask for a spoon or reusable straw.
Beverages in The Maiden section represent the woman who is ready to settle down. Having seen the world, life is taken up in intensity and so too is the mix. These recipes hold two to three spirits and liqueurs and three to four flavour profiles.
Despite being completely transparent, Kugo Ginjo (RM 36) is one of the most attractive and flavourful drinks on the menu. Eugene wanted to create an umami international-style drink using only local ingredients. Ipoh shitake mushrooms infused into vodka and pomelo shrub are key components. Sake gingo, genmaicha tea and Japanese shisho bitters are also included. So where are they all in the glass? The combo is clarified by curdling milk and lemon juice. It’s then run through a filter to create a clear liquid– you lose the colours and cloudiness but not the flavours.
The Sage has been there done that and sets a good example for others. Showing the wisdom of life, this section again increases in complexity.
A tribute to Eugene’s Sarawak upbringing, the White Rajah (or should it be Rani?) is based on pure wheat vodka, tuak, ginger syrup, lime juice and beer. The description says it’s “a large vessel of… Malaysia, lah!” (RM 42) In Sarawak, tuak is often topped up with lager or stout making a tropical equivalent to a shandy? At Atas Speakeasy, a custom-made cup has been sourced from Sarawak to fit exactly 450ml. The garnish of shaved nutmeg and chrysanthemum are best mixed in, changing the profile as you drink it down.
The Tuak (RM 15) is well worth trying on its own. We’ve had quite a few over our 18 years in Malaysia, and this one must be one of most appetizing versions. It has a delicious balance of sweetness and tartness. Eugene says the secret is fermentation for precisely 42 days. Served in a vintage 7-Up glass, you could believe you’re sipping on soft drink (until you stand up that is).
We leave The Mystics (mocktails) to their fortune-telling as we foresee no alcohol in that future and move onto a classic.
All four different techniques from the 1920s are presented in the Classic section of the menu at Atas Speakeasy. These techniques form the foundation for their signatures; stirred, shaken, built and poured.
Turns out that the Bees Knees (RM 20) is, in fact, our cat’s meow with its simple list of ingredients – gin, lemon juice and honey. Gaining fame during the prohibition era, this bevvie hales from none other than the Ritz Paris. Because gin was rough around the edges back then (nicknamed bathtub gin), the spirit was not so palatable on its own and hence the use of honey to soften its edges. Lemon juice is included for the healthy excuse of getting a dose of Vitamin C – it’s a health tonic really Sweetie. They’re shaken over ice, served in a well-chilled coupe and garnished with a dehydrated lemon. Delicious.
Current SOPs require the menu to be plastic-coated and hence easily sanitised, so the menu you’ll see is a single page back and front. You can request from the full-menu, however, and on that, there’s a list of coffee cocktails that might be just the zap you need to kick off (or end) an evening.
A shot of espresso concludes every good meal, right? Whether that meal is solid or liquid in nature is just a small detail. I skip the creamier curations and sip on the Influen-Czar (RM 32), which seems especially appropriate right now in more ways than one. It’s a twist on the London-famed martini with the usual espresso and vodka softened with Amarula and honey. Mr Black cold brew espresso liqueur from Australia, as well as a shot and a half of espresso, certainly give the drink some oomph. Shaken over ice and served in Champagne coupe with a mint leaf garnish, it’s surprisingly fresh, and goes down all too easily.
Another off-menu order is Atas Speakeasy’s entry for the Giffard West Cup Asia Selection 2019 of which they came in the Top 20 Finalists. Big Moano (RM32) was created specifically for the competition. The theme was tropical and the requirement was to use Blue Curacao. This drink features the local Ipoh mango, the queenie. It’s seasonal so only available every two to three months. The team get around its inconsistency in supply by buying it in bulk when available and freezing it in peeled cubes. Mango infused vodka, Blue Curacao, elderflower syrup, absinthe and tonic water make a refreshing drink with a light fizz and a faint taste of sweet liquorice.
If you’re still cautious about going out but don’t want to miss out on the fun, Atas Speakeasy makes a whole series of cocktails in mini to-go bottles (three for RM100). In honour of Negroni Week, we grab a traditional and one made with Mezcal (yum!) to take home. Garnish provided.
Atas Speakeasy Ipoh Review
Cocktails lovers should definitely put Atas Speakeasy on their must-visit list for any trip to Ipoh. I’d even go as far as saying that the growing craft cocktail scene is reason enough to visit this small town in itself.
Reasons to visit Atas Speakeasy Ipoh: craft cocktails; sustainability focus; sit at the bar and learn something new by chatting with the very knowledgeable bartender, Eugene; a reservations-only experience.
Atas Speakeasy Opening Hours
Wednesday to Monday: 6 pm – 12 midnight