PS150 Group: KL cocktail bars raise a bottle to halting shutdown hangover

April 27, 2020

A bustling bar on a weekend, with scores of customers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder for hours, sipping and sharing cocktails in intimate quarters: With this scene unthinkable now, how will KL's popular Friday night destinations keep the drinks flowing?

Peter Lamb, general manager of PS150 in Chinatown, Tickets in Damansara Heights and the new PostScript in Chow Kit, believes that bars will survive, despite surging health fears that could keep patrons physically away for months.

"Safety is the new sexy," Peter tells Eat Drink KL. “We must encourage trust to give guests peace of mind, knowing that all precautions that can be taken are being taken, so they can enjoy their experience like they used to."

In this age of anxiety, the PS150 Group is bottling up cocktail kits for home deliveries, with a curation of potions that represent the three bars. Even though people can't head out to drink amid the stay-home edicts, many still crave a soothing tipple or two.

 “The cocktails are in single-serve bottles. between 90ml to 150ml, which is the standard - the same as what you'd have at our bars," Peter says. "Guests only need to have glasses and ice at home, but we can order ice for guests and add it to the order."

The cocktails are crafted and sent out from Tickets - the selection ranges from PS150's tequila-based Puan Rosita to PostScript's Pineapple Tart Daiquiri, with bar snacks like crispy duck popiah to boot.

“PS150 and PostScript are currently located in red zones, which aren't really accessible from a logistics standpoint. Geographically speaking, Tickets is the most appropriate, because a lot of our market comes from PJ, Mont Kiara and Bangsar. So we operate out of a central essential unit for the dispatch, which is Tickets in Damansara Heights."

The PS150 Group expects to continue deliveries even after bars reopen, especially since each of its venues draws slightly different demographics, including tourists who might not soon flock back.

“The deliveries complement us by addressing a different audience and a different occasion," Peter says. "Until consumer confidence comes back, it’s a nice way to enjoy our brands in the comfort of home. It’s also good branding and good imagery in terms of people posting images (on social media).

"We don’t believe things will revert anytime soon, until the world economy stabilises and the governments can effectively reopen doors to travel. We have customers who are cautious, and we totally respect that by catering to individuals through our delivery programme. We see it as an opportunity and an area to develop."

Bars, nevertheless, won't fade out. "There's still no substitute for having the entire bar experience that we provide within our brands - immersive experiences with interaction, with the drinks being made in front of you, the sights, smells and sounds."

Eventually, bars want to welcome people back, while patrons need these places for chilling out and celebrating. Peter foresees a future where bars must promise not merely a playful refuge but a more reassuring one.

“Places will have to focus on sanitisation because people will become a lot warier of poor practices. The bar industry must really look at its production systems to ensure every step is followed for health and hygiene. Systems will come under scrutiny - the storage, making and serving of drinks.

“Before, if you sold cocktails at a good price in a cool place, people came. But now, well-being is a priority. People won't go to bars that aren't paying attention, that are packing customers in - those places will come under criticism from the community. So we need to do everything we can to provide a safe environment."

The PS150 Group has a blueprint in mind once bars restart.

"We believe the market is going to change, with people becoming very sensitive. We're working on our internal seating plans, limiting capacities and ensuring that seating and standing locations adhere to social distancing guidelines.”

"Staff will wear personal protective equipment and undergo hygiene training. There'll be health screenings at our bars and restaurants to make sure that staff, guests and delivery drivers aren't showing symptoms. Those who do won't be allowed in."

Even without a swift thaw in business, Peter remains optimistic. “I think there’s going to be an element of celebration, a rebirth to an extent. We've heard a lot from guests who anticipate this, like an opening up of freedoms.

“We would be crazy to ignore customers who have concerns. At the same time, we don’t want our bars to be sombre affairs. We want them to be fun environments for people to relax and to realise that all measures are being taken within reason."

Reporting by EDKL writer Aiman Azri. Interview excerpts were edited for brevity. Images are courtesy of the PS150 Group.

This is the fifth part in our series on how people working in Malaysia's restaurants, cafes and bars are confronting their current challenges.

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