An editorial team of three walks into a speakeasy bar and…
Alright, I’m not sure where I was going with that joke, but it’s a true story. A while back, we were invited to a speakeasy in TTDI called The First Chapter.
The name was already enticing, and their email pitch that described the place as the “perfect escape for bookworms and party goers” was an immediate eye-catcher. (Guess which group we fall under?)
Upon arriving at the location, in true speakeasy style, the entrance was hidden by a big black door with zero signage. To our right was a keypad for the passcode of the day, given by the team when you make a reservation. For now, it’s still operating based on bookings to crowd control.
Head up some stairs, and you’re immediately met with a huge bookcase spanning from the floor to the ceiling. Various genres of titles can be borrowed here, be it self-help, business acumen, romance novels, and more.
These are grab-and-go, meaning that as a customer, you can grab one to read in the bar itself, or check it out to bring home after a night out, much like you would at a library. Customers can later return the borrowed book, or replace it with a donated title.
As the team put it, this hopefully encourages customers to return for cocktails too.
Once you’ve made your way through the disguised front door, the place is structured in such a way that you head straight to the MySejahtera registration area.
On either side of you are ceiling-to-floor, dark wood partitions providing guests in the VIP lounge (to your left) and the bar lounge (to your right) with a bit more privacy. It also serves the purpose of unveiling the place to you bit by bit as you walk through.
This is just one element among others implemented by the team to create a premium and exclusive atmosphere in the speakeasy, aided by the moody and sensual lighting.
We arrived around 5PM, just after the bar’s opening time and way before the usual crowd that comes around 8-8.30PM, so the place was quiet, perfect for a few rounds of laidback cocktail sipping and chatting.
And so, we did
Speaking to co-founders Shawn Luke and Ben Nair over some light bites and one of their newer concoctions, a yet-to-be-named red drink that combines in-house raspberry puree and syrup with Prosecco, we learnt that they’re targeting the working class.
The First Chapter Speakeasy wants to be a place where you can have business meetings or do some work during happy hour. At the same time, it can be turned into a party spot after working hours, staying open until 12AM from Tuesdays to Saturdays.
Why this location? Shawn told us that growing up and working in his home turf of TTDI, he noticed that there weren’t many speakeasys around.
“There’s a lot of bars, sports bars, restaurant bars, but there was never a speakeasy with proper cocktails. We wanted to introduce the whole speakeasy concept with a hidden door, nice lounge environment, just to bring up that kind of repertoire within TTDI itself.”
To do that, Shawn drew from his 11 years of experience in F&B, including managing Circa Bar, while Ben leveraged his training at Omakase + Appreciate, where his passion for cocktail creation was ignited.
The two friends finally bit the bullet and joined hands after several discussions over cocktails at their homes, and the rest is history.
Today, Shawn manages The First Chapter full-time as its operations manager, and Ben works the bar each night after his day job as a financial contract manager.
Books, beverages, and bites
“The First Chapter” is a name that marks the duo’s first venture together, playing along nicely with the bookshelf theme they have going on outside.
Speaking of the bookshelf, they shared that a small portion of the books came from their personal collection while the rest of approximately 1,300 books came from Big Bad Wolf after Shawn and Ben reached out.
As we spoke, we admitted that we initially assumed The First Chapter would be a bar modelled after a library and serve drinks inspired by fictional book characters.
Though they’ve yet to create drinks inspired by such characters, they didn’t dismiss the possibility of doing so one day, since they switch out their cocktail menu every six months.
For movie lovers, there’s already a Regina George on the current menu. Their signature drinks are the Rose Infused Gin and Chrysanthemum Infused Gin (both RM42), and Ben’s Margarita (RM38) is likely a must-try as well for those who love classics.
We tried Wake Me The F*ck Up (RM35) which utilises house infused vanilla vodka and cold brew with Kahlua, The Scottish Nut (RM35) made with Johnnie Walker Black, house infused hazelnut tincture, and fresh lime, as well as The Mandarine (RM38), which incorporated Prohibition whiskey, Cointreau, yuzu, orange, aquafaba, and lemon.
A more unique and dessert-like pick was Payasam (RM30), which is The First Chapter’s take on a classic Indian dessert. It brings minty freshness and a deep creaminess with Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cacao, house infused coconut cream, and Fernet Branca.
The light bites we sampled were chicken and beef sausage rolls, made fresh in their kitchen at the back. While cocktails are the star of the show here, the food is a contender too.
Taking their next shot
6 months into running The First Chapter and seeing good reception, Shawn and Ben are now ready to open a new speakeasy that’s two times the size and located in Damansara Heights.
It will have a different name and design theme, and is targeted to open by early June this year.
While it may seem a bit soon considering how new The First Chapter still is, Shawn and Ben have made it clear that they’re not the type to sit around and watch opportunities pass by.
The First Chapter was built from the ground up out of pure passion, from the self-designed space to the cocktails shaken up and served at the bar.
If Shawn is not on the floor interacting with the crowd, he’s in the kitchen for food prep, and though they already have three bartenders serving up drinks, you’re still bound to find Ben involving himself behind the bar.
This duo’s passion and creativity have been bubbling for a while now, and The First Chapter only marks the beginning of what they’re capable of doing.
All image credits: Vulcan Post