A stylish gin bar with strong New York jazz club vibes and surprisingly reasonable prices.
Making its unfortunate debut in the middle of the pandemic, this sophisticated lounge bar has endured despite countless lockdowns in the worst year ever for businesses. Part of the exclusive Starhill Dining group, The Alchemy in the heart of Bukit Bintang is joining the small brigade of KL bars that focus on the health tonic of yore. The Alchemy’s speciality is the drink of choice for fancy people looking to get sloppy: gin.
Ambience & Amenities
The Alchemy is located on the LG floor of the Starhill Gallery. You can also get here from the JW Marriott Hotel, which will take you through this cool tunnel illuminated by vibrant blue bulbs. If you came direct from the Starhill Gallery, take a walk through this corridor after your visit.
The bar shares the massive floor space with four other similarly upscale Starhill eateries. The entire level has an open concept floorplan with mainly just glass balustrades acting as the boundaries of each restaurant. People walking by or diners at the adjacent restaurants can see into the entire bar. When visiting here, be prepared to be a part of the scenery like that Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks.
The décor at The Alchemy is super modern with a slight art deco aesthetic. Along the wall opposite the bar are the booth seats made up of one long leather sofa and squishy pillows in contrasting navy colours. Low armchairs fill out the middle of the room, while high bar tables are set up at the far end for those who want to see and be seen. Sitting at the bar is the place to be, in my opinion, to witness the mixology taking place. The most private place is the nook in the back right corner, where there is one table that is obscured by the pillar.
There is no natural light except for one window next to the bar. This is the sort of place that’s better suited for the evenings. The black décor accents and warm dim lighting create a sultry, Manhattan jazz club ambience that is such a mood at night but can be claustrophobic if it’s a gorgeous day outside. There was no obnoxious thumping music at The Alchemy, just soft, classy jazz playing overhead.
To get to the toilets, exit the bar and turn left. Follow the path around the bar and before you reach the blue tunnel, there is a corridor to the washrooms. I didn’t need to use it during our visit, but Mark said it was one of the nicest washrooms he’s ever done his business in.
The front page of the menu highlights the 22 premium gins on offer. While it is not exactly an extensive list filled with obscure gins, this is many more gin brands than you’d find at any regular bar or lounge. Whichever you choose from this list, you’ll also have your choice of how you’d like to enjoy it: on the rocks, with tonic, or in a traditional cocktail like a gimlet or Tom Collins.
Despite the upper-class vibe, The Alchemy appears to be noob-friendly. Nobody is expected to automatically know what a Negroni is when stepping in here. If you know nothing about gin and don’t have the refined palate to have a brand preference, there are six carefully crafted gin cocktails to make it easy to choose. Along with a flowery backstory, the ingredients in each cocktail are helpfully listed. These special gin cocktails all use the cheapest brand of gin from the collection list, Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater.
For a self-proclaimed gin bar, The Alchemy strangely has more whiskies on its menu than gins. All of the other varieties of spirits are here, even absinthe and grappa. Sweet digestif liqueurs and spiked coffees round out the last page of alcoholic drinks. Lastly, there’s beer and cider, but looking at their price, getting a beer seems criminal when for just a little more you can get a quality gin.
Designated drivers or those who simply don’t like imbibing aren’t excluded as there are also a few pages of non-alcoholic options. You can still enjoy a regular coffee, tea, juice, mocktail or even a kombucha in this chic lounge. Filtered water is free. You are free to pour yourself a glass from the pitcher on the bar or the dispenser at the back.
Once you’ve ordered, a generous bowl of salted nuts will be served to you. I do not believe The Alchemy serves any kind of food unless you’re there for afternoon tea. I’m sure the point is that after you’ve had your aperitif here, you’re supposed to move on to any of the other fine Starhill Dining options conveniently located just steps away.
The Alaska (RM40) is like a sexier martini. The fragrant citrus is strong on the nose, and the flavours are of energizing bitter orange. The yellow chartreuse adds a honeyed sweetness but its spiciness adds an extra punch. Combined with the bitters, the Alaska cocktail is more on the sour side and one where the alcohol stands out more. If you order this, be ready for that initial lip pucker at the first sip. Not surprisingly, based on the taste and the fogginess in my head 30 minutes later, this was the stronger drink of the two.
The Butterfly (RM40) seemed to be the most unique cocktail on the list. It didn’t look anything like a traditional gin drink with its lovely creamy lavender colour (alchemy between the butterfly pea and lemon juice at play) and served in a goblet. This drink was shaken, resulting in a decent layer of foam floating on top. This was finished with some foam art and a dried citrus peel shaped like a flower. This drink was a much smoother tipple. The overall taste profile is sweet, but the lemon juice keeps this from becoming an overly sugary Bailey’s-like drink. I could barely taste the gin. Each sip was like ripe pears with a light lemon zing. This was so easy to drink, the challenge was not finishing it within two minutes. Of the cocktails, this is the one to get if you’re new to gin or don’t like harsh tastes.
I enjoyed my visit to The Alchemy very much and intend to come back again when I’m in a bougie mood. The servers were very attentive and prioritised precision, not expediency. I was very surprised at the prices not being outrageous considering the location. I have absolutely seen cocktails at tacky bars that cost more than the prices here. The drink prices in each category (except whiskies) are satisfyingly round numbers with little differentiation. Cost-conscious individuals like myself aren’t immediately drawn to the cheapest option because there are about twenty premium choices that are all the same price. RM40 for a lovingly prepared cocktail by a friendly and gentle bartender that I get to enjoy in a beautiful, relaxing setting – I’ll happily shell out for that.
Price for 2 Pax: RM92.80
10% Service: RM8.00
6% SST: RM4.80
Address: Lot LG09 (Lower Ground Floor), Starhill Gallery, 181, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur
Opening Hours: Daily, 11am – 10pm