An Australian Beach Bar in Southeast Asia

On an unassuming backstreet in Kuala Lumpur is a laidback bar that might be more at home amidst beachside villas than the glossy skyscrapers of Malaysia’s capital.

Barlai is a hidden gem—literally. Positioned in an everyman’s neighborhood across from 1950’s-era apartments, the entrance is obscured behind a row of parking stalls. Its whitewashed brick exterior and minimal signage provide the slightest hint of a bohemian-chic interior.

Only past the shed-like threshold does one discover the understated grandeur of Barlai. Two-story windows and meticulous tile work frame the entrance to the bar’s main hall—a space both airy and intimate.

Whimsical touches, like a two-legged kitchen chair swing, pop against the minimalistic décor of weathered walls and potted stems. Whitewashed picnic tables are used for casual seating inside and out.

Though the space has been carefully crafted to attract a hip, in-the-know crowd, Barlai doesn’t take itself too seriously. The name itself is a lighthearted play on the Malay word for police station, balai. “I used to call my friends to tell them I was drunk at barlai and needed them to pick me up,” jokes one of my hosts. “The first time I did this, they thought I was asking them to bail me out. Eventually, they understood I was just inviting them out for a drink.”

Even the cocktails have a sense of humor. “My favorite is the Milo Kaw,” my other host points out on the menu. Milo is a chocolate drink mix, much like Ovaltine, that many Malay children grow up making for themselves. Barlai’s version of the drink is much stiffer, of course, with a healthy serving of the malty powder floated on top.

While busy on the weekends, the bar is perfect for a post-work drink. Its mellow, chatty atmosphere is inviting and calm. It’s a breath of fresh air away from the city’s bustling center, yet close enough for an easy commute. 

The next time you’re in KL for business or pleasure, add Barlai to your list for a locals-only experience and one of the tastiest happy hours in town.