Some of us here at CILISOS are not spring chicken anymore. We got two writers above 30 – one with white hair, and the other with creaky knees. So it’s kinda comforting to know that there are things older than us here in Malaysia. Unsurprisingly for a former British colony, we have some REALLY old drinking holes. But what was surprising was that many of them are still open!
So we thought we’d pop by for a pint of Guinness, sit them down for a chat, laugh at some old photos, and chat a bit about how the culture of grabbing a pint has evolved in the last 50 years.
Why 50 years?
WAH SO NGAM! Guinness has been brewing for exactly 50 years this month! #omgnoway. Here’s what KL looked like when Guinness first set up its distillery here.
Back in 1965, Guinness saw enough demand here in Malaysia to actually BUILD THEIR OWN DISTILLERY – which up till today, is one of only FIVE Guinness-owned breweries in the world!
To celebrate, Guinness wants to give away 10 limited edition t-shirts. This is like the simplest contest CILISOS has EVER run k? Just tell us what your favourite Guinness-serving pub is, and why you love it! Send answers to [email protected] with the SUBJECT “Guinness 50 year contest“. (Contest ends October 30, 2015)
In the meantime, let’s swing the doors open to the past, and check out what keeps these amazing bars still open to this day. We’ll start with the youngest, and eventually move our way to the OLDEST RUNNING BAR in Malaysia (Yes, they’re all older than The Ship and Ronnie Q too!)
5. Rennie’s House of Oxtail, PJ (1975) – 40 years and running
Snack on: AMAZEBALLS Ox-Tail Soup (we tapaued two packets for additional research), and Spicy Mutton Curry
Rennie’s, near the original Ipoh Chicken Rice and (conveniently) down the road from Universiti Hospital, is probably the most authentic 70s pub in Malaysia. The decor looks pretty much the same as the day it started 45 years ago, with founder Rennie (what else, duh) Bernard Klassen at the helm. The walls are covered with old newspaper cuttings, and of course, some really rude bar signs – which were all contributed by regulars who brought them back from overseas.
Rennie, a Dutch Eurasian, had started the pub when his previous members-only club called MyApartment, closed its doors. “He was my neighbor… we were just dating, I met him when I was 17-years old. He was handsome, charming man… not very funny though,” recalls Aunty Trudy, his rather shy wife/widow, who has been running the establishment since Rennie’s passing 16 years ago. The bar still serves many of the same regulars (and their children) from back in the day, including Lim Kit Siang and Ling Liong Sik (although they have yet to be spotted at the same table). It’s not a surprise, considering that their Spicy Mutton Curry and Ox-tail soup are still the best in town (yes we tried them), mainly because Aunty Trudy still insists on cooking each bowl herself.
“I was a housewife, so I used to come and help last time. If I’m not here, what am I gonna do… just sit at home?” – Aunty Trudy, current owner of Rennie’s House of Oxtail.
There’s a legend at Rennie’s of this one guy, who as a teenager (of legal drinking age, of course) was sent by his mother to go to Rennie’s to search for his dad, who had been spending way too much time there. Unfortunately, while he was there, his dad pulled him into the party, and the next thing you know, the poor son started getting overly-familiar with the regulars there.
A few years later, he became Rennie’s bartender.
4. Jaguar Supper Club, PJ (1970) – 45 years and running
Snack on: chicken wings, and if you’re hungrier, a lamb chop
This one’s one of the oldest school pubs around, from the same vein as Dinty’s (which has moved, so not counted in this list) and Rennie’s, having previously been a regular hangout for the Cycle&Carriage staff, and reporters from the old days. While the anniversary sign says 40th anniversary, and its “Since 1975” crest seems to agree mathematically, some say it’s older.
“When I put 1975, my customers were the ones that actually told me it’s much earlier! One fler, who is in his 60s said his lecturer brought him there back when he was in Form Four.” – Krishna Uthandy, current owner of Jaguar Supper Club
Today, its current incarnation is a little quieter, as a bar and restaurant famous for its lamb and chicken chops. It’s currently owned by Krishnan Uthandy, who turns 59 this year, and has been operating the Supper Club for the last 10 years. “A lot of those people who’s children – their fathers brought them before they were courting their girlfriends back then.”
Krishnan runs it somewhat as a side business these days, serving bottles of Guinness to seasoned regulars, while also maintaining an active insurance business, and running and Indian restaurant in Brickfields.
Upstairs though, it’s a bit louder, but also quiet. There’s an Indian live music place called Supper Club Bistro, which is under a different management. They sing Tamil songs all night (from our Indian friend’s translation, they all seem to be about heartbreak), with often more bartenders than patrons.
3. Sinhalese Bar, Ipoh (1931) – 84 years and running
Snack on: Sausages & kari leaves
Push those saloon doors open at the oldest pub in Perak, and you’ll feel you’ve just walked into a John Wayne movie, but with all Malaysian extras. The extras are also dem friendly, as one patron has said…
“Instead of dead silence to seeing a stranger, it’s all Hellos, Welcomes & Where-are-you-from questions. Not everybody will know your name, but everybody has stories to share!” – One of Sinhalese Bar’s customers
Sinhalese bar has been running non-stop for an astonishing 84 years, with many of the marble-top tables from way back when, oddly matched with those plastic chairs you find outside 24-hour mamaks. It’s currently managed by Mr. Alfred Perera who took over Sinhalese from his dad, George Perera, back in the 60s.
Mr. Perera came to Malaysia with a close-knit group of friends and family from Sri Lanka in the early 1900s. Unlike the others who worked in railway, mining or other things, Mr. Perera was interested in starting his own business.
Today, the pub is very much the same as before, although quieter than in its heydays of being bursting with miners, lawyers and policemen of all races and backgrounds back in the early 1900s. They still serve the same bar (with very few actual Sinhalese dishes, although they’ve been asked for almost a century now), and also play host to a constant stream of cats n dogs (definitely pet-friendly), and one apparently very promiscuous pigeon.
“And she has a one legged Romeo pigeon behind the bar. Got girlfriends one. Kena belasah from his main girlfriend when she found him with another girl pigeon” – Shirin, Sinhalese bar customer.
[Ed’s note 25/10/15: Our original article mentioned that Mr Alfred had passed on. OMG. We’re so sorry that we got this wrong! Long live Mr Perera! Sorry sorry sorry 🙁 ]
2. The Coliseum, Jalan TAR (1921) – 94 years and running
Snack on: SNACK!? Just skip the appetizers and whack the iconic sizzling steak (medium rare)!
Let’s let that one sit in for a while.
Sure… everyone knows the Coliseum along Jalan T.A.R… but do they know that it’s been there for FRIGGIN 94 YEARS!? Well, the good news is that since those first few ads in the 1920s, the Coliseum has not had to advertise at all. “We don’t believe in Instagram, Snapchat, all these things one,” says their marketing guy. Just to prove his point, on the day of our interview…
- Perak Royalty were due to drop by with Pak Lah
- So were the film crew of HK superstars Chapman To and Aimee Chan’s new movie, Let’s Eat – to shoot some scenes at the iconic restaurant bar.
The famed Coliseum was also a favourite haunt of all ex-Prime Ministers (just for the food, of course), who’s faces adorn a mural on the wall outside. In fact, because of its proximity to the high-court, it has also been known for being a great place to get a story, since after a long hour of litigating, the lawyers could loosen their lips with the bar’s signature of Guinness stout mixed with beer.
Another highlight of this bar is the longevity of its workers. The waiter we spoke to, Mr. Foo Meng Kai, has been working there for over 30 years, and since his wife passed, he’s been living upstairs (talk about shortest work commute EVER!). “Few people buy bottles here. Most either bring their own bottles or buy beer n stout,” he says in Cantonese. He also recalls when he first joined, he was a waiter by name, but also doubled as housekeeper, electrician and plumber. “Anything also can do, do lor”. He also sadly reminisces that more people used to sit by the bar, but now have sadly moved to the more silo-ed, but beautifully maintained coffee tables and chairs (which he says are more than 50 years old!).
Another guy, who was sadly taking a well-deserved vacation during our interview slot, was restaurant captain, Mohan, who has been there for over 30 years. However, he goes by another name at the Coliseum. When he first started, the patrons kept mispronouncing his name as “Morgan” and Mohan was so enamoured to be called “Captain Morgan”, that the name just stuck after that.
92 years, and still one of the best Hainanese chicken chops and most affordable steaks in town. What a long time. But that isn’t the oldest bar we’ve come across yet.
1. Long Bar, Royal Selangor Club – 100+ years and running (!)
Snack on: Murruku and heritage
The Royal Selangor Club has been around since 1884. We can’t even be bothered to whip out the calculator on how long that is. We also don’t know how long the Long Bar itself has been there, although we know it was created to have a perfect view of the rugby and cricket matches which have been going on since the late 1800s all the way till 1987, when the iconic field area was taken back by DBKL. As a consolation, they gave RSC a plot of land in Bukit Kiara – That… is why it’s a Royal Selangor Club ANNEXE.
AAAAANYWAY. Back to the Long Bar. It is the epitome of heritage.
- The bar counter is the same.
- The TILES on the floor are the original tiles from British India (which means they’re older than your kungkung)!
- It’s still full of white peepur (thus the meme).
The walls are brimming with history, with photos of champions, many of whom might no longer be with us. Roy, one of the managers who’s worked here for over 20 years, tells us that the bar has been serving the same gin-tonics, scotch on the rocks, beer and stout since the colonial era.
There’s a very nice image in our heads of people sitting here in the cool breeze of August 1957, drinking beer, stout and sipping scotch and contemplating history, while Tunku Abdul Rahman was declaring Malaysia a free country just metres away.
Speaking of free though… we did verify that one very old limitation on freedom at Long Bar.
So how did these amazing bars survive so long?
There were more stories to tell among all the bars than we could fit in this already-lengthy article. As for their successes, different reasons were given for each bar. For places like the Jaguar Supper Club, Sinhalese Bar and Rennie’s, it’s the regulars that kept it alive – by not only coming there many times a week, but bringing their children in to do the same thing. Amazingly, these three bars are still paying rent, and despite their heritage, haven’t even bought the land out for themselves.
For others like the Coliseum and Long Bar, it’s purely the sense of amazing heritage that oozes out of them. Many things are done in exactly the same way as before – from the Sizzling steaks, to the familiar sight of a waiter in a penguin suit with a bowtie. They don’t take orders – they remember them, together with the names of the patrons that keep them alive to this day.
“A lot of them, when they come down memory lane, they’ll drop by here. They like to come back and reminisce. They like the environment. Some of them have gone abroad. They’ll talk about the past… they’ll say my father used to do this or that,” Ms Kamalatachy, who helps her husband at the Sinhalese Bar.
“Bars have tremendously improved – the younger generation have so many concepts to pick from. Those youngsters don’t really come to our club. But those that come do appreciate the ambience, privacy and the food. And of course, the bartenders remember the names of the regulars.” – Krishnan, Jaguar Supper Club
“Many remember the easy camaraderie between those who ran Coliseum and those who relished its food and delighted in its drinks.” – New Straits Times, July 9th 2007
“So when all rebook yamseng & cheers, someone will get the drink munchies & ask aunty for her special sausage & kari leaves (while stock lasts). Usually, got la drunken rebut share share. Then someone will bring up the topic about the roof tiles jatuh, some old walls jatuh, someone died, masuk hospital or jatuh. den they’d talk about that person. It’s like… you walk into the bar, and you get life stories. You were there with them. Sharing the laughs, sadness. Best la.” – Sinhalese Bar Patron.
PS: If we missed any, do let us know in the comments. FYI, Dinty’s has moved (and was uncontactable), and Farquhar at E&O Penang isn’t really that old 🙂