Kuala Lumpur has a new Mayor of Good Times and it goes by the name Jack Rose.
Nestled comfortably in the affluent western suburb of Bukit Damansara, this new watering hole boasts of a riotous cocktail list, spanning the length and breadth of pop culture, literature, and folklore.
The carefully crafted cocktail menu has a dedicated illustration on each page, drawing references from the likes of Shakespeare, George Orwell, and Kafka to Humpty Dumpty or even Truman Capote. Each of the references have a direct correlation with the ingredients and style of each drink.
True to his style, Co-founder/Owner James Estes, has employed a truckload of creativity and spunk into designing this cocktail menu, and we can’t help but be a little jealous of Kuala Lumpur today for becoming a significant part of this ever evolving global cocktail narrative through Jack Rose.
Asia is a rapidly evolving market, with consumers at the forefront, pushing the boundaries and bringing global experiences to their list of expectations when they order a drink at the bar. There are hundreds of players in the market but only a few whose focus is on the bigger picture. As Simon Sinek rightly said, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Today, you don’t just sell a drink. You are selling an idea, a belief system, a thought, a feeling. Evoking a feeling is what it is about and from what we can tell, Jack Rose is doing just that.
We caught up with James Estes to tell us a little more about Malaysia’s newest conspirator, Jack Rose and here’s what he had to say.
What is the main concept behind the bar and the name?
Jack Rose is the name of an old classic cocktail. It’s listed in David A Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” and also makes a cameo in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”. The overall concept of the bar; we’ve been playing with the hashtag #notaspeakeasy. “Speakeasy bars” now exist within shopping malls and have some sort of entrance fashioned like a phone booth or toilet or whatever, the staff are all in waistcoats and slick moustaches etc…and while there are some great bars around emulating this concept, there are even more bars jumping on this trend and missing the mark when it comes to service and quality. Our modus operandi is quite simply to be a great cocktail bar without taking ourselves too seriously. We get a lot of people asking if Jack Rose is a reference to Titanic, because the main characters are called Jack and Rose. THIS IS NOT THE CASE (#notatitanicbar)! It’s actually something I never even considered, but I do get a good laugh about it when people ask!
Why did you pick Kuala Lumpur for this project?
I didn’t pick KL so much as KL picked me. I had spent about a year and a half before moving here working as freelance beverage Consultant. Dubai was still my base, but I had been wanting to move to SEA for some time, just couldn’t decide on where. So I get a call from an old friend of mine, Callan C Green. He told me he had this project coming up, with investors and location on the ready. We worked together behind the bar in London years ago, and used to joke about opening a place together someday, who knew it would actually happen! I was completing a job in Bangkok around that time when we spoke (last December) and I decided to come to KL after and check the place out. Man, I fell in love with KL immediately. It’s got great food, a dynamic bar scene, great people, history and most importantly…a whole lot of soul. I moved out here officially in March, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What are your stellar cocktails and what went into designing the menu?
They are ALL stellar of course! Jokes aside, I wouldn’t put a cocktail on my menu that I wouldn’t drink, so I’m partial when it comes to answering that question. We partnered with Melbourne based graphic artist, Bernard Caleo, for the illustrations. It was important for the references and puns to be clear enough to get, yet subtle enough to not be too obvious. I will admit, not everyone gets it at first, but the people that do take the time to read through it all and get it, they love it. I also believe that it really helps set the tone about who we are as people and to connect with other like minded guests.
The USP of Jack Rose would be?
We juice everything fresh, all homemade ingredients, and you won’t break the bank when you visit. Callan and I have picked up a lot of notes of recipes of our homemade ingredients over the years, so it was a lot of fun to sit down and compare them and devise the definitive lists for the Rose. We also have the best hot wings in town (according to our guests)!
What do you have to say about the cocktail market in South East Asia? Anything in particular that stands out or anything in particular that needs work/development?
There are of course some challenges to deal with here; while the region is rife with many exotic and flavourful ingredients, certain things like limes or grapefruits or raspberries can be hard to come by or cost a fortune. Vanilla for instance, you’ve got to cut off your right arm for vanilla. Citrus is also very different here, especially limes. The varying acidity and ph of citrus just means that you need to double check everything and adjust accordingly though, no biggie really. Other than that, I think it’s a great market with a lot of positive synergy going on between each country. Bartenders out here are doing amazing things in their bars, and they are having fun doing it, which in turn makes it fun to watch and keep track of what everyone is doing. There’s always going to be competition of course, but here I feel it truly is “healthy” competition and everyone has a lot of respect and support for each other. Also the guests here are so excited about new openings and want to try everything and ask lots of questions! There was a moment before we opened our doors that I was like, “Oh shit man, no one’s gonna come!”, but it has been the complete opposite. KL and the SEA community have welcomed us with open arms, it’s really been a sensational experience.
Does Jack Rose have expansion plans?
Probably not, but I don’t want to say never. I will be opening another bar next year, but it will be a different concept entirely, and also something close to my heart. For now though, one Jack Rose is enough, and we are waiting for you to come see us!
We have no doubt that we will be visiting James at Jack Rose imminently. If you’re hopping over to Asia, put this on your map.
Don’t forget to follow Jack Rose on Facebook to know what new magic is being conjured behind the bar.