Make a date at Penang’s best secret bars
Tourists may come to Penang for its legendary street food, but they stay for the Malaysian state’s burgeoning cocktail bar scene. Trendy speakeasies and cool hidden bars are now mushrooming in George Town, making the capital city an exciting spot for barflies and cocktail lovers. Here are the best secret bars and speakeasies in Penang – and how to locate them.
It’s easy to miss Magazine 63, one of Penang’s pioneer speakeasies. Nestled among shophouses on perpetually busy Jalan Magazine, it could easily be mistaken as a warehouse from the outside. The bar has no signage, but spy a small white flag that reads “Alcohol” in Mandarin, push past the large wooden door next to it, and you’re in. Inside, you’ll be greeted by an arresting and decadent old-world Oriental-style decor. True to the theme, the servers are dressed in traditional Chinese garb while drinks are served in elegant Chinese tea cups and pottery. Enjoy the selection of reasonably-priced beers and cocktails and swing by at 10pm for tuneful live music to go along with your tipples.
63 Jalan Magazine, George Town
Hipster haunt Hin Bus Depot might be famous for its weekend market, but it’s also home to one of Georgetown’s most exciting bars. In true speakeasy style, Backdoor Bodega masquerades as an “overpriced pin shop” and playfully requires its customers to purchase a pin in exchange for a tipple. Its drinks are clever plays on popular and locally-loved beverages — try the Pinang Colada (a pineapple-coconut cocktail infused with a coconut fat-washed rum and homemade milk punch) and (A Little) Essence of Chicken (a twist on the Old Fashioned stiffened with a hint of Italian amaro and chicken essence). To visit the bar, spot an unmarked door at the rear end of Good Friends Club and enter.
37 Jalan Gurdwara, George Town
Out of Nowhere
Out of Nowhere moonlights as a minimalist coffee shop by day, and a vibrant speakeasy by night. This moody and cosy watering hole bills itself as George Town’s first and only Omakase specialty cocktail bar, offering diners a say in crafting their own bespoke cocktail. The bartenders here are especially skilled in concocting clever drinks using plenty of local ingredients like kedondong (a type of plum native to Malaysia), pandan and jackfruit, so rest assured that you’ll be treated to a uniquely Malaysian cocktail experience like no other. Tip: to enter, locate the bright orange refrigerator within the coffee house and walk through.
75 Jalan Kuala Kangsar, George Town
12 Senses Penang
Blink and you might miss this secret watering hole. Hidden in a traditional shop house in Georgetown, there are no visible signs indicating this is a bar. To get in, make your way to the dimly lit shophouse along 12 Lebuh Preserve –once you see the portrait of Bruce Lee and a Wing-Chun dummy, you’ll know you’re at the right place. Push the lever on the dummy (you’ll have to figure out which) and a door will automatically open, revealing a secret entryway that takes you to 12 Senses. This laid-back and trendy spot features a hodgepodge of both Asian and contemporary decor, and an Instagram-worthy illuminated colour-changing tree. Try the Jungle Bird cocktail (a delicious blend of Campari, fresh lime juice, pineapple juice and Phraya Rum). If you prefer something off the menu, ask the mixologist for a special request. The live band here is a crowd favourite as well.
12 Lebuh Presgrave, George Town