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December 18, 2007

New beer in an old bar

Posted in: Cool Pubs, Beer

Archipelago travellers wheat beerA SHORT while ago I made a whirlwind visit to Kuala Lumpur. While there I had planned to go over to Finnegans in Bangsa for a pint of draught Beamish but the rain was bucketing down and I had a suspicion that finding taxis would pose too much of a challenge.

But all was not lost. I’d brought a couple of bottles of Archipelago’s Travellers Wheat Beer up from Singapore and I decided that the old bar in the Heritage Station Hotel, where I was staying, would be a suitable place to enjoy them.

The hotel, like the railway station, began operations in 1909. Legend has it the construction was held up for ten years because the station roof didn’t comply with British saftey standards of the time. Thus, when it finally opened, just a few degrees north of the equator, it boasted a roof that could supoport the weight of a ten foot snow drift.

Archipelago travellers wheat beerIt is a lovely building. It was designed by Arthur Hubback, a government architecht, using a blend of Mughal and Moorish styles and has been an icon of Kuala Lumpur ever since. Despite being a bit run down I still enjoy staying there though I do worry about it’s future.

Inside the hotel is full of athmosphere. A broad wooden staicase winds around a creaky old lift that would have been state of the art in it’s day. Long straight corridors, which give way to rooms on each side, run for the length of the station’s platforms.

On the second floor the old bar room stands desserted. It’s a huge room with with a teak bar at one end. A large wooden partition separates the bar area from the corridoors.

The place was unlit but there was light from the street outside and from the corridoors. I found myself a table by one of the unglazed windows and surveyed the shadows. The rain was lashing down outside bringing with it a barely perceptable breeze.

Archipelago travellers wheat beerThe beer was perhaps not a cold as it could have been but it was good. It has a slightly flowery, hop flavour with a delicious hint of ginger. Other Asian flavours such as tamarind and lemon grass are present too but these are not as clearly defined as the ginger. A traditionally brewed beer with a tropical Asian twist. It slips down well and I wished I’d brought more than two bottles.

Feeling at one with the world I slouched down in my chair and let my imagination play while the breeze played with the flags that were draped from the ceiling. I tried to visualise how the bar must have been in its heyday. I listened for the ghost of a steam train whistle below and looked for the people who would have used the bar. They would have been mining and plantation staff.

Kuala Lumpur was never on the colonial social circuit though colonial socialites would have inevitably passed through the station as they journeyed from Raffles in Singapore to the Oriental in Bangkok. The city’s old Majestic Hotel was turned into an art gallery many years ago.

I know it would probably put the Station Hotel beyond my budget, I would love to see this grand old building refurbished and accorded the dignity it deserves. Which, of course, would include stocking this bar with a generous selection of fine beers.

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