Jalan Petaling Must-visits

Penrose KL, Cocktail Bar Chinatown Kuala Lumpur

Penrose KL

Words: Matt Brown
Photos: Rich Callahan

It’s pretty impressive how full of distinctive bars Chinatown has become in such a short time. A lot of this creative resurgence can be attributed to the founders of Merchants Lane and Wildflowers, Ken Ho and Matthew Goh. They have now opened a new bar concept next to their popular Wildflowers. Penrose KL is a sophisticated and refined bar focused on classic cocktails. The drinks are the focus of attention from a dedicated and highly skilled staff whose mission is to elevate your cocktail experience.

Penrose is named after the Nobel-prize-winning Sir Roger Penrose, who, among other attributes I do not possess, is a mathematician, mathematical physicist and philosopher of science whose work has helped unlock the secrets of black holes. When brainstorming an idea for a new bar, Matthew serendipitously linked up with bartender extraordinaire Jon Lee – formerly of Tippling Club in Singapore – to create something different for a street already known for lots of difference. (Maths + Art) x Alcohol = Penrose KL.

During the MCO, Matthew and his team had been busy feeding the masses from the kitchens of Wildflowers while Jon was delivering wine cocktails with his Bad Montè business. A chance encounter right near the future site of the bar connected the two innovators. Eight months later, Penrose opened its doors, only days before its namesake’s 91st birthday.

The exterior is an eye-catching geometric metal-sheeted construction, which during the day will either catch and confuse the eyes of passers-by or not even get noticed as more than an industrial-style wall. When the door opens, though, you step into a cool and muted palette of colours where a sleek pair of bars runs along a wall and where pretty much all of the seating is arranged. With a comfortable yet intimate capacity of 25 people, reserving a spot for your drinks is essential. The experience at Penrose is personal and engaging, as the staff are knowledgeable, friendly and highly passionate about what they offer. Amongst the clever lighting and blacks, granites and greys of the minimalist decor, you’ll receive the menu, and then the fun begins.

Penrose KL Chinatown Cocktail Bar Kuala Lumpur
Penrose KL
Penrose KL Chinatown Cocktail Bar Kuala Lumpur
Penrose KL
Jalan Petaling Must-visits
Penrose KL

Cocktail Menu at Penrose KL

As if the exterior and interior design weren’t eye-catching enough, the menu at Penrose is a mixture of origami-die-cut-realness-dark-side-adult-picture-book-for-cool-Mathletes. It explains that almost every cocktail is based on the five compound structures of Alcohol, Taste, Body, Dilution and Flavour. The beautifully designed symmetrical symbol for this element is then attached to each drink with the main elements highlighted, like some sort of delightfully boozy hieroglyphics. See – MATHS CAN BE FUN.

There are 15 cocktails on the Penrose menu. Jon and his team are more than willing to create a classic upon request or suggest an elevated interpretation of their favourite classics like Negronis, Martinis, Aviation and Tom Collins. Categorised as Highballs, Sours and Spirit Forward, the cocktails are RM55++ for one, RM110++ for two and RM130++ for three. Even I know that you cannot complete many mathematical equations with a single number, so embrace some multiplicative thinking and be prepared to order a few.

Cocktails at Penrose KL

The night begins with a glass of bubbles – the House Mousseux. This is carbonated white wine presented as the Penrose take on a prosecco. It is light, bubbly and comes in what will be the first of many eye-catching pieces of glassware you will experience at the bar.

Jalan Petaling Must-visits
House Mousses


From the Highballs selection on the menu, we sampled two fresh and clean concoctions. For the Rum de Violette, the striking colour of the violette liqueur blends smoothly with rum and umeshu, which is a Japanese liqueur derived from steeping ume plums in sugar and liquor. The practically perfect ice cube in the glass is sprinkled with sakura salt, which slowly melts into the drink or which can be added to suit the drinker’s taste. Already proving to be one of the most popular items on the menu after only three weeks, the Cherry Pop combines gin, soda, grapefruit, maraschino cherry and kirsch brandy in a light highball where the ice is topped with freeze-dried raspberries.

Jalan Petaling Must-visits
Rum de Violette
Penrose KL Chinatown Cocktail Bar Kuala Lumpur
Cherry Pop

Penrose KL – Sours

Things get more complex with the Sours. The Rum Musa utilises three distilled layers of banana – the heart, leaf and fruit itself – with rum, tamarind and pimento berry. Shaved tonka bean on top completes this drink, but the ever-changing imagery that comes from the first sip makes it stand out: does it taste like a muffin? Banana bread? A fruit salad? This is one of those gloriously complex mathematical equations I am happy to be perplexed by.

Penrose KL Chinatown Cocktail Bar Kuala Lumpur
Rum Musa

A cedarwood, orange and dashi meringue balances on top of the Oba Rossa, a flavourful and complex blend of tequila, oba leaf, yuzu and honey. It’s an elegant adaptation of a margarita, with softer flavours adding more elements to a classic drink.

Penrose KL Chinatown Cocktail Bar Kuala Lumpur
Oba Rossa

Spirit Forward

An interpretation of the classic Negroni using vodka, fortified wine, cacao and fennel seed makes up the Xoco Negro, crowned with a branch of chocolate and parsley. As with all of the new takes on old classics at Penrose, there is still a lot of respect paid to the original, with any modernising or innovative ingredients elevating the time-honoured elements.

Penrose KL Chinatown Cocktail Bar Kuala Lumpur
Xoco Negro

The Penrose Gibson is a truly savoury drink, where you are encouraged to nibble on the slice of fermented leek that comes in the glass, an act that really changes the flavours in impressive ways. Gin, leek, shio kombu (kelp dried in soy sauce), and saké vinegar all blend together with a touch of wasabi to offer a glowing and grown-up version of the classic Gibson, where the elements once again complement each other, and the replacement ingredients refine the drink’s intent.

Penrose KL Chinatown Cocktail Bar Kuala Lumpur
Penrose Gibson

Reasons to visit Penrose KL: Matthew, Jon and their passionate team have created something special. It is a pleasure to be in the heart of buzzing Chinatown and yet be transported to a calm, elegant and welcoming space that takes such pride in its refined offerings. The gents spoke about how after only three weeks in operation, they already have a group of steady regulars, and it’s not hard to see why. Add yourself to this equation as soon as you can. Matt loved the comfy bar stools and is still musing on the different banana tastes from the Rum Musa. Monica enjoyed the freshness of the Cherry Pop, while Rich and his fancy camera adored the thoughtful lighting of this intimate space.

Penrose KL
149, Jalan Petaling, City Centre
50000 Kuala Lumpur
Instagram @penrose.kl 

Penrose KL Opening Hours
Wednesday – Sunday: 6 pm – 12 am
Closed Monday & Tuesday

Find more KL bar recommendations here, and stay up-to-date on the latest gourmet and travel happenings around Malaysia here and here.


  1. That Rum Musa sounds mighty interesting!

  2. I like yuzu.
    Guess which one is my favourite?
    Oba rossa!

    By the way, do you know how to make 100% clear ice like theirs? The ones I make at home are kinda opaque.

  3. All of the choices are perfectly presented 🙂

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