Here’s our pick of five bars in Kuala Lumpur with some history, notoriety, and a dash of class.

1. Chinatown nights at PS150

Locals might consider Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown a labyrinth of stalls peddling “quality” knock-off bags and slightly tacky watches, but tucked away on Petaling Street is destination bar PS150. Its prewar shophouse location is little changed from decades past when the area’s seedy underbelly was obvious to all. The difference now? Instead of there being a line of some of the city’s shadier personalities propping up the bar, there is a mix of tourists and internationally minded city folk. They come for the slightly louche vibe and the cocktails, the latter of which are created by bartender Angel.

Expect drinks such as the tropically spirited Jackie Joy – a blend of Matusalem Platino rum, apricot brandy, sweet vermouth, rosemary syrup, and jackfruit. Or the disco-inspired Salty Chinaman that recalls long sultry summer days. The tipple comprises preserved orange peel vodka, lime, lemonade and orange bitters. PS150 makes up for its slightly hard to find location with its sassy Asian version of a mid-20th century speakeasy. You definitely won’t just have one drink here.

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2. Botak Liquor tempts the bold and the brazen

Also in the Petaling Street area, Botak Liquor is a charming joint that’s making a name for excellently prepared drinks with touches of botany. Originally a brothel, the space – with its original mosaic tile flooring and hanging gardens arrangement of plants – now houses one of the city’s more forward-thinking bars.

Botak (“bald” in Malay) Liquor is all about “farm-to-glass” drinks, created by bartender Jon Quek. The almost medicinal Pei Pa Koa blends grappa, organic elderflower syrup, and freshly plucked kaffir lime emphasises local ingredients and plants. It will probably help clear a sore throat as well.

3. Drink in the sights at Man Tao

A rooftop bar with a difference, Man Tao at the hip Hotel Stripes in the eclectic Jalan Kamunting neighbourhood connects the old with the modern. The former comes from the area’s rich history – a fact that the hotel plays up with its black and white heritage photographs sourced from the National Archives. Man Tao, however, also looks to the future – rather, it looks at the future: the skyscraper views of the city draw in the afterwork crowds, who come to catch the sunset and savour some of the bar’s delicious cocktails.

These drinks reference old Malaya – albeit ones with a sophisticated twist. For instance, there’s the deliciously dry whisky, vermouth, bitters and tea-based Kamunting Club; and the Gadis Chantek – a gin and triple sec drink, topped with foamy egg white. If the drinks have spiked your appetite, order one of the bar’s Man Tao snack plates: the ayam kunyit – turmeric chicken, cucumber and romaine lettuce – is a spicy nod to the bar’s storied location.

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4. Birch, for the off-duty A-lister

This is arguably one of the city’s better spots at which to see and be seen. The bright and airy Birch is more bistro than bar. Regulars include the city’s A-listers living around upscale Damansara Heights, who make this place their Friday night chill out spot.

While its shopping mall location might seem slightly unglamorous, Birch more than makes up for this with its beautiful people clientele and drinks such as the California Daiquiri made from rum, pineapple, tio pepe, orgeat and lime green chartreuse as well as the inventively named – and made – Pina Clear-ada with rum, coconut oil and clarified pineapple cordial. Who says suburban Kuala Lumpur is boring?

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5. It’s all about the house at Drop KL

Drop has branched out from its low-key On Lok Mansion alley location to Kuala Lumpur’s over-the-top TREC, a multi-establishment bar and clubbing mecca. Drop KL eschews the cosy, clubby feel of Drop, and combines a bar, a restaurant serving American food (an updated menu is in the works), a club and outdoor terrace that overlooks the Royal Selangor Golf Club greens.

Order classic Drop cocktails like the potent watermelon and the equally stiff lychee martinis, both of which bring unmistakable flavours of cosmopolitan Hong Kong to downtown Kuala Lumpur. Then there’s the music. Some of Kuala Lumpur’s most clued-in DJs perform there, and the funky beats continue late into the night – and early into the morning.

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