Let’s Raise a Glass to the FMS Bar

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Ipohites have reason to toast Lee Yee Tsong for his effort to restore the FMS Bar & Restaurant, in Ipoh’s old town, to its former glory.

In a move which is uncharacteristic of most Malaysians, this businessman will not demolish Ipoh’s famous landmark and replace it with a bland modern construction of glass and polished steel. He is to be applauded for preserving an ornate structure of architectural merit. In doing so, he will help retain a chunk of our past.

When history is sidelined in our schools, our youth fail to appreciate and hold dear the places that helped shaped our young nation. Who knows how many policies, political machinations and players’ tactics were hatched in the FMS Bar?

FMS B&R Artist Impression

The ‘FMS Bar’, as it is affectionately called, is a 104-year-old restaurant in Brewster Road (Jalan Sultan Idris Shah). It was named after the Federated Malay States (FMS), which comprised Perak, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor. This federation was formed in 1896 to be financially self-sustaining, and not burden the British Empire. Originally sited in Belfield Street (Jalan Sultan Yussuf), the FMS Bar relocated to its current site, in 1923.

Popular Watering Hole

This 19th-century Chinese-style shophouse was built by a Hainanese immigrant and became a popular meeting-point for European miners and planters, as well as a favourite watering hole for cricket, rugby and football sportsmen, who played on the Ipoh Padang opposite. Until its recent closure, the FMS Bar was the oldest functioning bar and restaurant in Malaysia.

Anyone privileged enough to sample refreshments in its cool ambience would also have experienced a time warp, surrounded by colonial antiques, historical paraphernalia and a large portrait of Princess Elisabeth. Hopefully, these objects will make a welcome reappearance when the FMS Bar’s doors reopen to the public.

During a tour last February, Lee said that restoring the building was an enormous undertaking, “I need to source for the best of raw materials such as meranti, imported tiles for the flooring and other quality materials for the doors and windows”. He maintained that the building would keep its original façade.

Ambitious Plans

His ambitious plans for the FMS Bar include converting the second floor into a boutique hotel, retaining the ground floor as a restaurant and part of the first floor for private functions. The FMS Bar last traded in March 2008 and has been closed and unoccupied ever since.

Upstairs-cemented floor. Roofing awaiting its upgrade

Let’s hope that the FMS Bar and Restaurant will serve Ipoh’s best sizzling steaks to equal, or excel, those served in Kuala Lumpur’s Coliseum Café & Hotel in Batu Road (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman). This KL institution has retained its unpretentious colonial charm and any discerning diner might be forgiven for mistaking the old waiters, looking comical in their one-size-fits-all white uniforms, as relics passed down from the colonial age.

But we are confident that the FMS Bar will not end up like the Mitre Hotel, in Killiney Road in Singapore, which was eventually sold to property developers in 2008. In the 1960s through to the 1990s, the Mitre Hotel had a welcoming trademark of hot-and-cold-running girls amusing the Vietnam War Veterans, and oil-field workers on shore-leave from the rigs. But in its heyday, this gorgeous Chinese mansion, nestling in its luxurious grounds in the shadows of the skyscrapers, was one of the popular hotels in early 20th Century Singapore.

Nevertheless, Lee’s project to revive another one of Ipoh’s major landmarks is much appreciated. The thought that Ipohites and its visitors can drop in for a cool long draught before they continue their journey along Ipoh’s famous heritage trail, is one that intoxicates.

Meanwhile at a press conference recently, Lee attributed the slow progress of the restoration to his intention to retain the building to its original design.

He has already ordered the floor tiles with designs on them from Vietnam, while roof tiles used during that period are being sourced. “Hopefully, it should be completed by the end of 2010”, he said. “Actually, I am hoping to find a Hainanese cook who can serve their style of western food when we are ready.”

YAM

11 thoughts on “Let’s Raise a Glass to the FMS Bar

  1. When my son was young and studied at ST.Micheal Primary,I used to take him to FMS for the Fish and Chips and Chicken Chops prepared by Hainanese Chefs.Also not forgetting their Shepard Pie.Have to order in advance though.I will miss the ‘Old FMS’.

  2. I visited the FMS Bar in 2007 and enjoyed meeting Nephew, sorry to hear of his death, he was part of the institution that was and hopefully will continue to be The FMS Bar. A toast to the memory of Nephew and thanks for preserving the FMS.

  3. Thank u Ian, I am indeed shocked to learn about nephew’s demise. Nephew, the famous bar tender at the most celebrated watering-hole F.M.S. I fondly remember and cherished the joyful conversations I had with nephew during my visits at the F.M.S. My condolences to his family.

  4. I am very happy to know that building with such a rich history shall be preserved. My children and I have read about the FMS from Sejarah class in school. Thank you for the information and keep up the good work. I have link this post to my blog post today at Klang, Malaysia Daily Photo. Hope you don’t mind. I hope more people will know about it.

  5. I am an Ipohite, and always will be, though living in bonny Scotland. The FMS brings back lots of lovely memories and I have just notified a couple of my mates, who are in KL, of this restoration and they are over the moon. I hope to be back in Malaysia at the end of the year and a wee reunion there. Keep up the good work Mr. Lee.

  6. Grateful that the structure remains as is. However is this not a heritage site ? I seem to remember that the FMS was declared one a while back, hence the the structure cannot be changed.

    The article also failed to mention “Nephew” who ran the bar till the owner’s decided to shut down the bar. He was one heck of a gentleman who had a ready smile and had a story to tell.

    Many of the “young uns” these days had no time for his cheery banter and he was synonymous with the bar and preferred the glitzy girlie joints in Green Town and Ipoh Garden East. The few other decent drinking man’s bar must be the Miner’s arms and what used to be the Station bar. If there are others, I’d be grateful to know.

    Anyways, I digress.

    I miss the FMS and being thousand of miles away, I can only romantisize the by gone days on a stool cherishing a cold brew. Fading in and out of Nephew’s view of the modern world in which I was very much part of.

    I miss the FMS for the history in which many a soul had shared, stretched for added colour nameless in importance save to the teller.

    I miss walking out in the evenings and being called “young man” by Nephew. A cold mug and a satisfied sigh after the first hits the spot.

    Never have I ever enjoyed a bar such as the FMS.

    These works do not do it justice but then again one cannot stand in the way of progress…….so I am told.

    I doubt the old glory days will ever re-surface. A building is just a building for me. The FMS had a soul that lived through it’s clientele. It will re-emerge but alas it will never be the same.

    Cheers.

  7. Among its other delights, FMS used to serve the best currypuffs in Ipoh; even now, so many decades later, their taste lingers.

  8. There are several Chines restaurants in Ipoh that serve halal food. You have to ask around, Serina.

    I know of one in Bercham named “Caterbest”. The owner is a former cook with the Royal Perak Golf Club. JAIP halal certificate is prominently displayed on the restaurant’s glass door. It’s a big hit with Muslim customers, especially Malays.

    Try it one day.

    Call Mei, the owner’s wife, at 05-547 8622 for reservations.

    Cheers.

  9. I am an Ipohite and I have always wanted to have a meal at the FMS but was afraid the food served was not Halal. I hope the new restaurant will serve halal food.

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