Tucked behind an unmarked door on a small street in Chinatown, inhibiting the least expected of places, PS150 is housed in a pre-war shoplot situated next to a tiny stationery store sitting under a popular cafe, Merchant’s Lane
by DASHVEENJIT KAUR & LYDIA NATHAN
SOME of the country’s most intriguing bars are in locations you least expect; hidden in taco joints and noodle shops or disguised as everything from umbrella shops to hair salons.
A rookie will pass right by PS150, unbeknownst of its existence. What looks like a retro toy shop, is actually Chinatown’s most sleek speakeasy.
Tucked behind an unmarked door on a small street in Chinatown, inhibiting the least expected of places, PS150 is housed in a pre-war shoplot situated next to a tiny stationery store sitting under a popular cafe, Merchant’s Lane.
The irony of its name is that, it is as simple as can be. Located at lot number 150 in Petaling Street, the team PS150 did not stretch their creativity very far in naming the place.
After all, Benjamin Franklin did once say that originality is the art of concealing your sources.
From Old Tales
Although the concept of speakeasy was coined a long time ago — around the 20s, people from around the world are still mesmerised by the idea of secret bars. Given the ongoing intrigue of venturing into hidden establishments, hundreds of hidden bars and speakeasies have recently burst onto the scene.
Between the early 50s and 60s, the pre-war shophouse where PS150 now resides was formerly a brothel, as claimed by city council members.
Founder Tan Boon Way (picture; above) however did not shy away from the space’s sordid past. In fact, he embraced it.
“At the very beginning, when we just started doing up the place, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall fellows told us about the hedonistic past of this place and more than anything, we were intrigued,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.
PS150 officially opened its doors on Dec 24, 2015, and has seen double-digit growth up to today.
An investment of a few hundred thousand went into the creation of the venue which has become well-known for its music, ambience and cocktails.
When designing the venue, the essence and originality of the location was meant to be maintained, paying homage to the iconic location in the middle of the bustling city.
“We wanted to honour what Chinatown really was, along with its history,” Tan said.
The building underwent quite a few changes over the years, including the restructuring of the walls and strengthening the pews.
“When I first met with the designer, we drew up plans on how we wanted PS150 to look like, but even during that time, we made so many changes,” Tan said.
He also shared his pleasant journey with the landlord who owns a stationery store beside the speakeasy.
“The entire shoplot used to be hers. We are now renting a large part of it while she maintains a small part as her stationery shop.
“Also, what makes this place unique is that she uses a small corner behind the entrance for her mahjong sessions, hence the wall built around it,” Tan shared.
Mahjong is a tile-based game developed in China during the Qing dynasty and has spread throughout the world since the early 20th century. For the staff of PS150, who come in around 3pm, the clack of shuffling mahjong tiles is a familiar sound.
Today, the outer part of the venue named ‘Opium Den’ has booths against the wall, covered by red Chinese bead curtains with artistic paintings of traditional Chinese women lining the walls.
About four years ago, people were allowed to smoke in that area. Apart from giving it an intimate smokey atmosphere, its privacy was a good setting for first dates.
The inside area is called the Courtyard, a dimly lit rustic room with neon lights stationed here and there.
Patrons are welcomed to sit on the dark-coloured sofa sets or there’s plenty of standing room amid tree roots in the wall.
The demographics of the bar are mostly locals with about 35% of foreigners frequenting PS150.
“Our Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest. Everyone wants to relax and have a good night out.
“Our music is neither loud nor heavy, but we came up with a Spotify playlist which allows people to enjoy the music but still have a good conversation,” Tan said.
Besides the design and its scandalous past, PS150 is also known for its drinks and Tan aims to maintain that.
The beverage list has been divided into five distinct eras to reflect the evolution of art, which are Vintage, Classic, Tiki, Disco and Contemporary.
“The drinks represent the eras and additionally, we have a special crafted cocktail every month. We try to inject local flavours into every single one here, to respect the ingredients and specialities of our country,” Tan said, adding that almost every drink is a signature.
The three top bestsellers are Asam Boi Margarita, Lychee No 3 and The Salty Chinaman.
The bartender can also whip up mocktails. Just tell them what flavours you like, and they will fix you something unique.
The venue also serves unconventional food, with a specialty in a variety of spring rolls or “popiah.”
Tan said instead of the traditional fresh spring roll, the team decided to use chicken rendang, vegetable curry, hoi sin duck and a banana and chocolate popiah called “Mat Salleh Popiah”.
“We also have sweet and savoury bun or ‘paus’ like chicken char siew and a special one we call PS150 Pau, which is a deep-fried chicken fillet served between two Mantou buns.”
The Road Ahead
A big accomplishment for Tan this year was travelling with infrastructure conglomerate YTL Group to Melaka, Japan and the UK.
He explained that the intent was to help other establishments out by creating pop-up bars, where about five signature cocktails were served.
“We went to The Majestic Melaka; Hilton Niseko Village and The Greenleaf Niseko Village in Japan; and Threadneedles Hotel and The Academy in UK.
“We had a really fun team who took over the bars for about three days and introduced our Malaysian flavours to the international markets,” he said.
“When we went to Japan and the UK, some people had already been to our original PS150 and were so excited to go back,” he said.
For 2019, Tan intends on opening another bar, but not another PS150. “We are definitely toying with a few ideas for this new bar, but we want to look at international markets before Malaysia. If something excites us, we will definitely embark on that journey.
For now, we are focusing on getting the business to work,” Tan noted.
So, if you are someone who appreciates historical buildings or want to unwind at the end of a hectic day, pay PS150 a visit, where men of yesteryears were said to go to quench other thirsts…