SOMETIMES IT SEEMS LIKE A NEW BAR OPENS with clockwork regularity in Kuching and, unfortunately, many of them close with the same steady rhythm. But the nightscape of Kuching, still with its cast of old favourites, is lively with new stars, especially in the so-called golden triangle. So, after a long stint with the F of F&B, it is time for KINO to run down the best of the B, those new faces that are doing a roaring trade in the nightlife of Kuching.
The Roof Top Jazz Lounge (Gibbon) – Jalan Green Hill
Any bar that can persuade its punters to climb five flights of stairs has got to be something special. But as you reach the top, wheezing and panting, you are certainly ready for a refreshing beer! Rooftops are hugely underutilized in Sarawak, normally the preserve of water butts and washing lines, so this bijou bar is a welcome surprise. The theme is jazz – portraits of jazz masters, lilting jazz tunes – a relaxed, improvisational air that is perfectly pitched for Kuching regulars. The crowd is young and hip, there to sample the cool tunes (even the occasional live performance) and the excellent range of beers. Actually, there is a pretty mean sausage on offer, all made behind the tiniest bar in Sarawak. So for some swing at the canopy of the city, the Gibbon is your best bet.
Speak Eazy – Jalan Ewe Hai
Speak Eazy is a study in retro. Full-on 90s, its bright orange walls are full of characters from the era’s best loved computer games. There is even a retro monitor on the bar with old games loaded onto it – the ultimate nostalgia trip.
The name may hark back to prohibition but the beer is on full flow. Decidedly Dayak, there is a good range of Tuak and a largely Dayak crowd but all are welcome, so long as you love the 90s! In fact, try the spam chips (chicken spam, to be inclusive) – one of those Dayak favourites reimagined as a bar snack. In fact, the venue is about to expand into a restaurant, taking over the shophouse next door. The staff are obviously musical, often seen with a guitar in hand, and they regularly burst into impromptu jamming sessions which spill out into Carpenter street beyond. But overall, speak Eazy really lives up to its name – eazy chat in an eazy atmosphere.
5 Foot Way – Jalan Song Thian Cheok
Perhaps one of the oldest of the new batch, 5 Foot Way is exactly as it sounds and it does its job well. A narrow strip of a venue, it is always packed out with drinkers, spilling out onto the eponymous five foot way outside. The black walls are picked out with astonishing golden murals, intricate rainforest flowers and creepers spreading far and wide. This is a place to sit and chat, to see and be seen, right by the roadside and Kuchingites are visiting in droves (or rather as many droves as can squeeze themselves into the tiny space available). Simple and to the point, it is the epitome of Kuching, just as is the five foot way.
Borneo Rednecks – Jalan Padungan
While this may sound like a contradiction in terms, in fact it is highly apt. Take the best of the Redneck and mix in the Borneo and there you have it – tough, rural, workboot- wearing, country-and-western-loving, down-to-earth, honest– to-goodness, beer-drinking, burger-eating boys, but right here in the centre of the city. The décor is sturdy and serviceable wooden booths and long wooden bar and buckets of beer are the order of the day. This is no glamour trip despite the icons on the wall – James Dean and Elvis – this place has zero pretension, and therein lies its charm. But slap my chaps, this is where you go for a good ole Borneo hoedown!
The Barber – Lebuh Wayang
In that tiny stretch of Wayang Street which is now almost a straight run of drinking and dining options, all largely under the same umbrella, there once was a traditional barbershop, complete with movie star mirrors and twirling signage. The chance at a haircut is now gone (you’ll have to go to Ruai for a barber in a bar!) but the décor remains the same in this very trendy new establishment. It might be a bit disconcerting watching yourself eat in the mirrors lining each wall, but it is perfect for observing the other patrons! Out the back is a wonderfully tranquil space with a long wooden bar and tables under the stars. This back alley is a popular run all the way past Junk and beyond, so you can bar hop to your heart’s content. Short back and sides, anyone?