KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 21 — The ground floor of Wisma Cosway is an old place.
Old in look, smell, and charm.
Everything, from the caramel-coloured tiling to the faded store signs, feels straight out of yesteryear in an organic, almost dignified sort of way.
It’s not seedy or rundown, but rather it wears its years with a stubborn and defiant grace, standing resolute amidst the glitz and glamour of the surrounding buildings.
Amidst the numerous low-frills restaurants, cafes and bars is Wagon Bar, which has been around since 1984, though it is the absolute antithesis of an Orwellian dystopia.
Unlike the soulless and oppressive setting of the story, Wagon Bar radiates a warmth and character that harkens back to a simpler time.
It’s hard not to feel at ease when walking into the bar at 6pm on a weekday; it is filled mostly with people who’ve come straight from the office, already on their second or third beer and with little reason to slow down.
The bar, where you can humour yourself poring over every object hanging above.
The nonchalant vocals and guitar riffs of Mark Knopfler slinked in and out of earshot, interjected by bouts of boisterous laughter and the occasional YouTube advertisement (premium stinks anyway).
Allow your eyes to wander, and you’ll discover a curious collection of beer mugs, hip flasks and trinkets of all sorts hanging above the bar.
License plates and clocks from all over the globe adorn the walls, and then there’s the glass cabinet showcasing an array of whiskey in some pretty unique bottles — the clear winner is one in the shape of a sitting dog.
The whiskey cabinet: check out the dog bottle.
In addition to the usual tipple, what might one expect to eat here?
A signature here, Betty’s Curry Mee (RM12.80) is a bowl of classic KL-style laksa with a superb sambal on the side, and is the last thing one might expect to dig into while sitting at a bar.
Specials on the day included Braised Beef (RM25), tender pieces of tripe, tendon and brisket atop some springy wantan noodles, and a delicious Claypot Loh Shu Fun (RM25) with plenty of crispy shallots, both inspiring an order for another round of drinks.
A special on the night, Betty’s Braised Beef with ‘wantan’ noodles were nothing short of excellent.
But what about something a little less heavy, more bar-snack-like?
Fried chicken is a common fixture in watering holes all around the world, and in the case of Wagon Bar, it’s fried with nam yue (RM18).
It’s a no-brainer: salty, crispy chicken, especially with the added funk of fermented bean curd, smashes it out of the park.
Boring pub grub is out, Claypot Loh Shu Fun washed down with draught beer is in.
More fried deliciousness followed: Fried Prawn Wanton (RM15) and Fried Prawn Rolls (RM24), with the latter standing out thanks to a filling full of fat chunks of prawns and water chestnuts, injecting a welcome sweetness into a greasy, savoury mouthful.
A night at Wagon Bar is not defined merely by the food and drink, but rather by a genuine old-school character, perhaps a little at odds with the times today, a point hammered home by the bone-dry lyrics of Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing.
Fried Nam Yue Chicken: the perfect accompaniment for even more drinking.
The Fried Prawn Rolls here are really something special.
At the centre of this is Betty Ang, the heart and soul of Wagon Bar, and the owner and operator here since 1988.
She’s also responsible for much of the delicious and comforting food, and as the aforementioned dishes show, she’s got some magic up her sleeves.
The regulars and her are like a scene straight out of the sitcom Cheers, and you get the sense plenty of them have been coming here awhile, not unlike the show’s 11-season run.
You can’t miss the bright yellow mini-canopy by the front of Wagon Bar.
The entire experience has a homey feel to it — in a sense that you’re taken care of, that you belong.
As I got to the end of my pint, it was a shock to see that it was already close to 10 pm — it felt like I had only just walked in, and already I knew I could’ve stayed all night long.
G72, Cosway Guesthouse, 88, Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur
Open Monday to Saturday, 12pm-12am
Tel: 03-2144 0185
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