Watering Holes – James Estes

A year ago (that’s right, A YEAR AGO) I asked James Estes to talk to Dram Attic about his favourite drinking memories. One year later, here we are, reading prose like poetry – liquid gold on paper. Read on as James Estes waxes eloquent about his favourite watering hole and what makes it so.

James Estes
James Estes

“And I am an unhappy stranger grooking in the streets of Mexico-

My friends have died on me, my lovers disappeared, my whores banned, my bed rocked and heaved by earthquake – and no holy weed to get high by candlelight and dream – only fumes of buses, dust storms, and maids peeking at me through a hole in the door secretly drilled to watch masturbators fuck pillows…” – Jack Kerouac

61 Monarchy, Kuala Lumpur
61 Monarchy, Kuala Lumpur

I’m starting this with a quote from one of my favourite writers because it (somewhat) embodies the way I felt when I first came upon the bar that would become my refuge, rock and peaceful sanctuary, 61 Monarchy.  Nestled away in Petaling Jaya, up an unassuming staircase off of a small and dimly lit thoroughfare on the outskirts of Uptown Damansara, lies a whisky bar, or rather, a great bar (in every sense of the word) with a focus on whisky (about 400 expressions as I was last informed). I had been to 61 Monarchy’s sister bar “Hyde” before, and to be honest, Hyde was where I was actually heading that night in which I found myself in the aforementioned Sinatra/Kerouac-esque state of self-loathing.  My mind in many sorts, I walked right past the entrance Hyde and up into 61 Monarchy instead, and immediately my mood changed.  I think it was the Chet Baker playing in the background accompanied by the percussive sound of cocktail shakers…you know the one I’m talking about, it soothes the mind like the sound of sizzling bacon.

The music is but one element of the bar I definitely love; a mixture of old school jazz and R&B (the real kind), featuring some of the best of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Bo Diddly, The Rat Pack and so on… being a fervent lover of the classics, my ears were in heaven.  When it comes to cocktails, I’m also an avid lover of the classics, and my “go-to” classic, when I need a frown turned upside down, is always the Vieux Carre: an exquisite blend of Congac, Bourbon, Benedictine, Italian Style Vermouth, Peychaud’s and Angostura Bitters.  Head bartender Shirmy Chan makes one of the best Vieux Carre’s in town, as I would shortly discover, and apart from making great cocktails, she is an all around kick ass bartender and probably one of my favourites in Asia, if not the world.

Shirmy Chan
Shirmy Chan

And when I say “kick ass”, I don’t mean that she’s loud or brash, in fact on the contrary.  Shirmy has this quiet, yet commanding presence on the bar; attentive of everything that is going on, and ready at a moments notice, yet she is not forward or pushy, always with the delicate touch, soft spoken and humble.  Many a times I have been to the bar and poured my heart out to her about my woes, and many a times I have sat there, an anti-social beast on my phone, and she always seems to know how to handle my mood with grace, and not just mine, but EVERY guest that comes in.  And the times that I do engage her in conversation, apart from her being a great listener and solid council for advice, I l always learn something new about her that impresses me and shows me how much humility this talented bartender has.  On my last visit, I was quite distraught over the loss of a favoured feline companion, and somewhere between Shirmy reminding me that I was triple parked (Japanese IPA, Mezcal, and a Brooklyn) and my laments of loss, I began to tear up, and in typical ‘manly-man’ fashion, I attempted to hold back the wave of emotion and appear as composed as possible.  No stranger to the deep bond one can form with a cat, she let me finish speaking and then quietly handed me a tissue, having noticed my subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) anguish.  She went on to tell me about a similar circumstance she had faced and that she understood the way I felt…and I felt that, I really did, and I was comforted.  Shirmy, if you are reading, thank you.  You are Mother Theresa, you are Elvis, and you’ve always had a way of turning my mood to a positive upswing.  For this reason, and many more; such as the elaborate interiors, music, clientele, spirits selection etc, will be why 61 Monarchy is probably my favourite hidden watering holes in KL.©


James Estes is the beverage manager at the PS 150 Group, Brand Ambassador for Ocho Tequila, and overall dude (his words, not mine).

Give him a shout if you find yourself in Kuala Lumpur and have a drink for me!

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