Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 Best Bars in Malaysia: A Bee, A Bird and A Bartender

Asia's 50 Best Bars | Best Bars in Malaysia | Food For Thought

Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 Best Bars in Malaysia: Bar Trigona, JungleBird and Coley Cocktail Bar

The recent Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 had quite a number of toss ups, with new entries abound and a change in the top spot. But what has Malaysians buzzing are these three bars making the list. Bar Trigona with its honey-centric programme; JungleBird, the bar named after the only Malaysian cocktail; and Coley Cocktail Bar, which takes its namesake from the first female head bartender of The Savoy, Ada Coleman. We speak to their head honchos to find out a little bit more.

Ashish Sharma, Joshua Ivanovic and CK Kho | Asia's 50 Best Bars | Best Bars in Malaysia | Food For Thought

Bar Trigona has not only placed at No. 14 (No. 40 in 2019), it has also won the Ketel One’s Most Sustainable Bar Award. JungleBird came in at No. 37 (No.44 in 2019), the highest the bar has ever been, while Coley Cocktail Bar placed at No. 48 (No. 27 in 2019). We speak to Ashish Sharma, Bar Manager of Bar Trigona, Joshua Ivanovic, Co-Founder of JungleBird and Chee Kheong Kho, Co-Owner of Coley Cocktail Bar.

No.14 | Asia's 50 Best Bars | Best Bars in Malaysia | Food For Thought

Congratulations on making Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020. How do you feel about making the list this year?

Ashish Sharma: This a moment where you can see that all our hard work has been recognized by the industry and consumers, which makes us feel proud and honoured.

Joshua Invanovic: Thank you kindly Sir. We all feel fantastic with this years result. It is the highest we have placed over the last three years since opening and we jumped a fair few places from last year. And with so many new bars making the cut this years, we’re very very pleased.

CK Kho: Thanks a lot! We are glad we still made it on the list since a lot of new bars are coming up. It’s good news at this special timing especially for the team.

No. 37 | Asia's 50 Best Bars | Best Bars in Malaysia | Food For Thought

Do you have a Malaysian cocktail on the menu, and if you do tell us about it?

Ashish Sharma: The new menu’s cocktails have one or more ingredients that are sourced from Malaysia and coming from one of the local farms. Drinks like the jackfruit milk punch and watermelon rind Bloody Mary, which are very local Malaysian fruits, are part of the new menu. 

Joshua Invanovic: We actually have a bunch. Our current menu ‘Trains, Planes & Automobiles’ is a celebration of the different cities, countries and regions JungleBird has taken us over the last three years since we opened in March 2017. My personal favourite is probably Strawberries & Cream which takes inspiration from the elevated regions of Cameron Highlands just North of KL. It is a cold brewed local tea, butter washed rum, strawberry clarified milk punch.

CK Kho: Most of the cocktails are inspired by local ingredients, we have a drink called “Borneo Attention” which is made with Rinomatto and topped up with sparkling lemongrass and ginger tuak.

No. 48 Coley Cocktail Bar | Asia's 50 Best Bars | Best Bars in Malaysia | Food For Thought

What is something great about the Malaysian cocktail scene that is uncommon knowledge outside Malaysia?

Ashish Sharma: We are still an upcoming cocktail market and most of the people do not know what Malaysian bars have to offer but on the other hand, it is a favourable condition for us to surprise them with all the talent and diversity of bars we have in the city. 

Joshua Invanovic: I think I would have to say the diversity of bars that has popped up over the last couple of years. The scene has grown rapidly, making way for some really great bars with really positive results.

CK Kho: I feel it is a very small market within a small community in a Muslim country.

Bar Trigona Kuala Lumpur | Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award | Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Food For Thought

Tell us something about your bar that many people might not know…

Ashish Sharma: We donate RM3 from each sale of the Trigona Old Fashion cocktail to our Beekeeper. 

Joshua Invanovic: It’s not a tiki bar… Hahaha.

CK Kho: We drink the most Angostura Bitters.

Interior | JungleBird | Food For Thought

Care to share a personal cocktail recipe that you like making and tell us why?

Ashish Sharma: I like to make a drink called Stiletto, it is a spirit-forward, rich and flavourful drink. 

  • 45ml of Scotch whisky
  • 10ml Averna Amaro
  • 10ml Mancino Rosso
  • 5ml Trigona Honey 

Joshua Invanovic: I have been serving a simple adaptation on a classic gin drink called the Albemarle Fizz. It’s basically a tall Clover Club with a dash of soda. Except we use Diplomatico Planas.

CK Kho: I love this drink in our menu called Peanut Butter & Jelly.

  • 30ml Tequila
  • 30ml of White Vermouth
  • 30ml of Blue Berry Liqueur infused with roasted peanut over 2 nights.

Stir with ice block with pinch of seat salt It’s fun flavour and inspired by a beer geek while I’m tasting some mead with them.

Coley Cocktail Bar | Courtesy of Timeout KL | Best Bars in Kuala Lumpur 2019 | Best Bars in KL 2019 | Food For Thought

What 3 cocktails would you suggest at your bar and why?

Ashish Sharma: From the new menu I would recommend a must-try cocktail will be The Judgment, Dance of Calypso and Emerald Dream, for the mocktails you must try the ManDonald’s and Hi-C.  

Joshua Invanovic: Strawberries & Cream, Thunder Thunder and Pilot’s Getaway. They’re all very unique in their own way and immensely different from one another.

CK Kho: Gin And Coconut is our first ever cocktail, simple and refreshing, still our number one selling drink; Hanky Panky since our bar name is inspired with creator Ada Coleman. Our recipe with extra Genever & aged in claypot give extra complexity and smooth texture; and Paradise Lost consisting of Rinomatto and strawberry shrub and topped up with sparkling lemongrass and ginger tuak.

Passiflora | Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award 2020 | Bar Trigona | Food For Thought

Which bar in Kuala Lumpur (excluding Malaysian bars on the list) would you take a friend who is visiting from out of town?

Ashish Sharma: Three X Co, Tickets and Bar Shake.

Joshua Invanovic: That’s a tough one as there are so many gems, but if I had to choose one, I would probably say Three X Co. Very creative drinks with an incredibly warm reception every visit. The team are well versed and it’s just generally a comfortable, welcoming environment to be in.

CK Kho: Not so much on the bar but food.

Thunder Thunder | JungleBird | Food For Thought

How is your bar coping during the Covid-19 crisis and tell us about your Cocktails Delivery Programme during the Movement Control Order (MCO /EMCO)?

Ashish Sharma: Well, we are doing customised cocktail delivery and trying to be personalised to our consumers. It is a hard time for all of us and will take some time to recover, the only way to survive this is together. As for our new menu, the “Life Cycle Of Fruit” is an approach to educate ourselves and our consumer about the global food waste problem and finding a solution to help our community and eco-system. This menu is all about discovering new methods to innovate with exotic and everyday fruits as we are constantly educating ourselves on different aspects of sustainability. The menu is focusing 4 local fruits and drinks which are based on the different stage of the fruit like fresh, overripe and aftermaths. 

Joshua Invanovic: We’ve been struggling like everyone. We lucky enough that we already had the bottled cocktail program setup as it is something that our event company, The Cocktail Co. Group had done previously. This enabled up so snap in to action reasonably quickly.

CK Kho: Like others, lots of cleaning, R & D, self-study, charity etc… For cocktail delivery, we’re launching the menu stage by stage. First we launched our cocktail delivery with Koktel in Can (light and simple), following that, with something boozy that comes with a bespoke ice block so customers can stir down themselves. Then we launched our “Lock Down Tails”, a series of bottle aged cocktails, where we select some forgotten classic cocktails, where customer place an order, we will aged in the bottle for them with an American Oak stave. It comes with the small original version so customers can compare the transition in flavour. After that, we will bring back some of our Coley’s signature cocktails. Our latest menu is are Low Proof Cocktails.

Koktel | Asia's 50 Best Bars | Best Bars in Malaysia | Food For Thought

Bar Trigona is No. 14 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
JungleBird is No.37 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
Coley Cocktail Bar is No. 48 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
For our thoughts on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020, see Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
For all 50 Best related content, see 50 Best.


Nicholas Ng

Nicholas Ng is a restaurant critic, travelogue and opinion columnist which is curated on Food For Thought. He has been a freelance writer for 10 years and has previously worked as a lawyer. He currently is the Principal Counsultant of A Thoughtfull Consultancy.

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