By James Gough
Ipoh’s night life has improved, so said several people working outside of Ipoh, when they returned over the extended Merdeka weekend recently. Indeed their observation is spot on, for over the last two years, the night scene has been heating up all around town with more outlets opening and being upgraded in Greentown, New Town and also Old Town at the heritage enclave surrounding Concubine Lane. These new outlets offer more than just drinks and are now offering a wider variety of light snacks and meals for the family, with live music included.
“If you can sell a new product to Ipoh you can sell it anywhere” – Calvin Leow of Bricks and Barrels
The Changing Scene
Just two years ago when returning children came home to Ipoh for long weekends and holidays, their night hangout joints would be at Ipoh Garden East. On major public holidays, the roads leading to the pub stretch between Medan Ipoh 1 to 5 would be jam packed with cars and patrons would socialize, party and eat at the scores of pubs, coffee houses and eateries there. It was the place for a night out in Ipoh which ultimately earned it the title of being called the Bangsar of Ipoh.
The choice was pubs and karaoke outlets at Medan Ipoh 4 while Medan Ipoh 5 was where the food stalls were located and where whole families would come out for dinner and supper. The other alternative night outlets then were in Greentown with similar watering holes and establishments. However the variety and concentration of outlets in Greentown could not compare to Ipoh Garden East. As such Ipoh Garden East had remained the night location of choice for close to 15 years.
With the proliferation of more hotels both starred or budget now opened throughout the whole of Ipoh, an inevitable outcome was a demand for new establishments both for entertainment, drinks as well as food within the proximity of these hotels.
A new F&B (food and beverage) concept that has now caught the fancy of Ipohites, and has seen the establishment of quite a few of them, is that of the Gastro Bar. Originally conceived in the west to combine elements of good gastronomy with the more relaxed pub style drinking, the Gastro Bar is best epitomized by some of the newer establishments that have popped up all over town, one of these being Bricks & Barrels.
Owned by brothers Calvin and Kenny Leow, both Ipohites and former Michaelians, they established the outlet as they found it difficult to find an enjoyable outlet for a drink and some music when they returned home to Ipoh from Kuala Lumpur where they work as engineers.
They enjoy a social drink, don’t smoke, love to cook and return home regularly. So they came up with the concept of Bricks & Barrels, based on the English pub and where one can dine comfortably on good, even gourmet food while being entertained with live music.
The location at Lau Ek Ching Street was selected because its facade was similar to an ‘English town house’, two heritage houses joined together where the front and back walls are opened to create one expanded unit to enable happy hour chill out meals whether at the front yard or more privately at the back air-well area.
Besides attracting the evening happy-hour crowd of office executives, it also has a family meal following who patronize the outlet for its good food.
Calvin Leow describes B&B as a Gastro Bar. “Actually it was originally created for the whole family. However, the initial concept was for just a bar. Now that our kitchen is being better recognised we want to attract whole families.”
The families usually come in for dinner and leave when the drink crowd comes in although some stay on for the live music.
Drinks with a Decent Meal
The concept of having drinks with a decent meal has certainly paid off for James Kennedy the owner of Barbeza outlet at Medan Ipoh.
Barbeza is one of very few outlets in Ipoh Garden East that has lasted for five years without changing hands, unlike scores of other neighbouring outlets that have changed hands several times.
Kennedy attributes his success to the fact that he caters to his customers’ requirements and creates events to consistently attract his regulars. Additionally, his kitchen, which serves Italian cuisine, contributes 25 per cent regularly to the monthly revenue and has a regular family following who come for their meals in the early evening. Regular pizza takeaway orders are also a common request.
Over at Greentown the scene has grown. As is usual, pubs have changed hands over the years although Mikes Place at Lebuh Satu has remained at the same location and with the same owner since it started 10 years ago.
What has also changed with each change of ownership is the theme of these outlets. Secret Garden over at Jalan Cheah Cheng Lim is a pair of old colonial bungalows with spacious compounds converted to a coffee house that serves drinks and full meals. Bar.Racuda, another bungalow outlet recently opened several months ago, offers similar and very interesting food and has live music during the weekends.
Obviously anticipating better times ahead, Bryan Ngan who first started the Haven (across from the Syuen Hotel) five years ago, has opened another outlet called The Museum Wine Bar at Persiaran Greentown 6. Museum offers live music and serves tapas (small snacks which may or may not be hot) while the Haven which was recently upgraded, offers karaoke with light food, both western and local. At the Haven which has limited parking, Ngan employs a security guard for customers to park their vehicles at the back lane which helps to alleviate their concerns on security.
Then there is Healy Mac’s, the “real Irish bar” which has great food, though, at premium prices and live music six nights a week. Monday nights here is Quiz Night where tables of customers participate in a quiz with the goal of a tower of beer as the final reward.
Ipoh Old Town
Over at Old Town while the area is becoming active in the day, the nightlife is still confined to the heritage enclave around Concubine Lane.
The dominant outlet here is Yoon Wah, a ‘Tai Chao’ food outlet that introduced snow beer to Ipoh over a decade ago. Its shop, located at the east corner of Concubine Lane has expanded across the road while its al-fresco tables line a block along Jalan Bandar Timah.
In July this year, Plan B, a franchise outlet from Kuala Lumpur, opened right next door to Kedai Kopi Kong Heng. Designed to blend in with the heritage image that is Old Town, the outlet is understated in its decor, discreetly cosseted by clever landscaping with bright open spaces and is air conditioned. It operates daily from 9am till 10pm and serves western food.
Interestingly, Dr Mike ‘Gurmil’ who owns Mikes Place in Greentown, has himself ventured to open his second outlet in Old Town calling it Mikes Place 2 (MP2, top pic) with his immediate neighbour being Yoon Wah.
Capitalising on the heritage theme, he has upgraded a unit on Concubine Lane into a cosy and chic outlet with decor that retains as much of that Old Town image as possible. Obviously aware of the challenges with opening a pub, MP2 opened recently in August for four days in a week and serves light fare.
Ipoh New Town
The location in Ipoh which has seen the most makeover activity over the last two years is New Town. The change probably started with St Patrick’s Irish Pub along Jalan Raja Ekram and gradually spread to its neighbouring back street at Lau Ek Ching street which saw the start of Bricks & Barrels and subsequently another two pubs and a dance club.
The party growth has since spread to the opening of two clubs, SOS on Jalan Yang Kalsom and House Music Club on Jalan Sultan Idris, both of which are well patronized especially on weekends.
Fussy Ipoh a Testing Ground for New Concepts
Ipoh is certainly no laggard in the area of F&B concept contribution to the larger world. We can now see Ipoh White Coffee outlets everywhere in Malaysia and touting the fame of our delicious Ipoh bean sprout and chicken noodles.
Due to Ipohites’ demanding standards, another concept developed in Ipoh might soon find its niche throughout the country, and probably beyond, is Bricks & Barrels.
Bricks & Barrels’ business concept and design which owner Calvin Leow described as being ‘Vintage Industrial’, has attracted a following and is due to open its first franchise in KL at the end of this year.
Calvin Leow is from Ipoh. He well knows that Ipohites are fussy and “if you can sell a new product to Ipoh you can sell it anywhere”. Considering that Bricks & Barrels will be celebrating its second anniversary in November, Leow’s gut judgement to create something different will show dividends soon and is another feather in the cap for creative Ipohites.