Starting off on what will be one of the ongoing topics of this blog I will return to the previously mentioned Straits Quay (SQ) and the Healy Marc and Finnegans bars. As has been mentioned this is an up and coming area and while it's not quite there yet I am sure it will develop further and pick up in terms of customer numbers and outlets, especially as the local population swells and also when the new Tesco opens.
Both Finnegans and Healy Marc are good sized premises with ample outdoor seating, both stocking a range of beers at reasonable prices and, not surprisingly, Guinness. They offer a reasonable range of food but as an example a simple fish and chips at Healy Marc will set you back around RM50 which is pretty much twice that charged by the 'Top Pick" Blue Reef restaurant just a few doors away. Whether the portions are considerably larger or the taste considerably better (which I doubt given the excellent standard in the Blue Reef) I don't know and am not overly inclined to try. When I get chatting more to people there I will ask those who eat about the quality of the food. Price wise I suspect you may be paying a little more to eat in that pub environment, saving you the trouble of relocating during your stay, or allowing you to eat and drink with others who may just wish to drink.
One the subject of food at SQ, should you wish to eat before or after a few beers there is also the excellent new Papa Rich eatery in the mall at Straits Quay serving a variety of food at very reasonable prices including a very popular Asaam Laksa which is well spiced, very tasty and served in good quantity. You will likely not want a starter!! The drinks are also very varied and reasonable with a good selection of coffee/tea variations and some excellent blended bean, herb and vegetable drinks. I ate there the other day and would certainly go back. When I do I shall publish a more complete review.
Back on the bars, I have been there a couple of times now and it has to be said they were quite quiet. Once was Sunday afternoon and once on Tuesday early evening. I had tried the Tuesday as it has been said that the places get quite popular with the local office crowd and have a clientele that reflects this. It does seem to be popular with local office staff indeed, they both turned up about 6:30pm and stayed about an hour. So, at least on Tuesday, there is now mad office turnout or upsurge in the 'buzz' there, just the rather quiet business as usual. I also visited the bars on the following Friday and have to say they were considerably busier. Not full but busy enough, most outside tables were taken at about 9pm. I had to leave at about 9:30pm and it may have got busier still. These are not music bars though and while music is playing it is more background. Those expecting to rave the night away to loud music will need to head off towards UPR. Worth a visit though, especially if you are with a crowd at the weekend and fancy a quieter watering hole with the marina outlook.
Most of the activity in Penang takes place around the Upper Penang Road, or UPR as the locals call it. It is a stretch that runs from just opposite the E&O Hotel and anyone taking a bus into town may be able to get the driver to stop off outside the E&O to let you off (as I did with the 103). In any event, the terminus on Pengk Weld (Weld Quay) is not much of a walk away. Taking a taxi to the area from Gurney Drive should be about RM 15 and coming back after midnight, somewhere between RM 18 -20. The drivers will try it on and try to talk up the price, especially after midnight but sticking to your guns, often accompanied by a feinted walk away normally brings them round.
So, what's it like there. Well, experience so far is that I strongly suspect that Friday and Saturday are the main nights it takes off as visiting earlier in the week thus far has proved somewhat disappointing .
The area is broadly split between a range of bars with seating outside and inside and the clubs such as Mois, Voodoo and Slippery Senoritas, or SS as it is known locally. The bars, frankly, are nothing special, and the insides of some are actually quite desperate!!! They all charge roughly similar prices for drinks with a bottle of Tiger at around the RM 13 mark. Many also do Happy Hour deals with a bucket of beers (5) for RM 55 or even two buckets for RM 100, depends on how thirsty you are or the size of your group but the savings are OK. Many also do food but it's fairly bland pizza/pasta fare from what I saw. Most also have large TV screens outside where they will show sporting events or whatever. Of these bars Monkey Bar, Zanzebar and D-Joint are considered popular by the local Chinese with D-Joint considered to have one of the better sound systems. I visited on a Monday night and also Wednesday night which is promoted as ladies night and I have to say the most appropriate song for them to be playing was an 80's hit by the Specials called 'Ghost town'. Unfortunately it was just that, dead, both nights, with Wednesday being marginally better. I found ladies night here like ladies night the world over. Bar owners trying to convince people that mid-week is a good night to go out, trying to entice the few girls that fall for it with free entry, with loads and loads of guys who think that ALL the girls will have fallen for it stalking the bars in search of prey. Think again. The outside areas of the bars I would say were still 90% empty and the insides, totally and this was between 10:30pm and 12:30am. Hmmmmmmmm, so far not so good.
Another place I was suggested is Soho. This is a bar which is across the road from the main cluster but still in Jalan Penang. It is a short walk down and opposite the Malaysia Hotel. Now this place really WAS desperate. Entering downstairs it was a bit like looking for a black cat in a coal bunker, it was SO dark. On this occasion, said black cat had decided to wear a black eye-mask making it even less easy to spot. A few die-hards were seated on the limited exterior seating near the windows and inside was much more quiet. Dreary was a word that doesn't do it justice. I checked the place out upstairs as it is said to have a more sophisticated appeal with music, better lighting and more comfortable seating. It was better but the Specials were being played here too, in fact the staff outnumbered the customers by 4:1 and again this was at about 10:30 pm and 12:30 am.
So, there you have it, or at least the early week view. I suspect that Friday and Saturday will have a better buzz and I will return to check it out as time goes on and publish a further update. As it stands so far though I can't really say I was that impressed. And on that front, on to the next review, Slippery Senoritas (SS).
NB: The first in a more in-depth series of articles covering Penang's nightlife can be found here.