We’ve had tons of other bars call themselves ‘institutions’. But having been around since 1921, Coliseum is one place that would turn around and say that it practically invented the term.
You enter the bar through its original wooden swing doors. Inside, it’s a bona fide blast from the past, as its appearance hasn’t changed much in its 90-over-year existence; most furnishings have been here since day one, and only a handful of pieces have had to be retired in case some unwitting patrons fall flat on their rear end.
Still, it’s a simple setup here, with just some seats by the bar and some retro tables and chairs scattered around. And as far as their bar offerings go, first impressions are heartwarming – if you can call a Black Russian that. Indeed, it’s Black Russians and other classic cocktails like Rusty Nail and Pina Colada which are on the menu, and after cooing over their unbelievably retro drinks list, what you’ll notice are the retro prices – not one cocktail costs more than RM15.90, making Coliseum one of the cheapest places in the city centre to go out on the lash.
Not that you’ll be doing much of that here. Its heyday as the hippest joint in town is long gone. Today, Coliseum attracts an older set of regulars, who still pop round everyday. Weekday nights see a steady afterwork crowd that come in for a few beers, whilst weekends are unofficial ‘family day’, where the bar’s previous hardcore drinkers now bring their grandchildren and extended family in for a meal. Tourists potter in too, but all this only adds to the atmosphere.
It’s undeniably charming here, even when the bar smokes up as another sizzling steak is delivered to a diner in the adjoining dining hall. And speaking of food, all meals must be had in this very space; the bar is a no-go for full meals, but it does serve a few classic snacks – the inche kabin and ikan bilis fried with chilies and onions being notable options.
Tuck into these and look around you as you sip on a cocktail or a mug of Tiger (only RM10). You’ll spot an old regular’s drawings all over the walls (eminent cartoonist Datuk Lat), postcards from travellers and friends, a tatty vintage map of KL, and old newspaper articles everywhere, including one on the bar’s old matriarch, an octogenarian Madam Khor. Look out also for the old photograph of two British police officers drinking at the bar with pistols visible in their pockets (and no, that wasn’t a euphemism). That photograph shows Queen Elizabeth’s portraits hanging high above the bar, and today, that exact spot sports photographs of our Yang di-Pertuan Agong and his wife instead.
You don’t come here to drink your eyeballs out, you come to bathe in history. Call us nostalgic, but above all, call the Coliseum its rightful title – an institution. In times when many of KL’s historic spots are being threatened to extinction by a bulldozer, or which have already been destroyed, this place is an emblem of older times, of a gayer Malaya, our riveting history, and so much more. Coliseum is a charming watering hole, and with new management at the reins, we hope this great small bar stays put for another ninety years and beyond. Rachel Jena
As featured in Time Out KL's 101 things to do in KL