Although they are not meant to be found, it is undeniable that speakeasy bars are the talk of the town. Without any signage and only an easy-to-miss poster of Muhammad Ali signalling that you’re at the right place, Three X Co is well worth the hunt. Taking over the space OTHRS used to occupy with its pop-up barbershop on the third floor of Bangsar Shopping Centre, the speakeasy oozes contemporary Eastern charm.
In an effort to create a speakeasy that is unique in its taste and daring in its style, Three X Co is the brainchild of three friends – Wong Wai Hung, Eugene Yeoh and Daniel Gunawan. Partnering with renowned mixologist and Asia’s first World Champion of the Giffard West Cup 2017 Competition, David Hans, the speakeasy is also David’s first signature bar showcasing his finesse in creating world-class cocktails.
“Nowadays, people are more driven by passion when it comes to starting a business. Which I think it’s great, because that’s how you have all these different yet fascinating ideas.”
With its mesmerising emerald green walls, bold accents, leather sofas and dazzling glassware, you’d be forgiven if you think you’d just enter the set of a James Bond flick set in Shanghai. Famous for its unique flavours based on Asian and Oriental ingredients and a refined atmosphere, bar-hoppers can also enjoy the speakeasy’s intriguing range of gin and whiskies, along with fine whiskies and expertly crafter cocktails.
We at August Man Malaysia had the opportunity to speak to half of the brains behind the renowned bar, Wai Hung and David. Throughout our conversation, we discussed the modern approach to business, the decision behind the speakeasy’s emphasis on Eastern ingredients, as well as the pair’s opinion on the ever-changing bar industry.
“It became apparent to me that there are many ingredients that we can bring to the table that is unprecedented in the market. This encouraged me to bring a part of my childhood into the cocktails that we serve here.”
What is the modern approach to business?
Wai Hung: It’s a new generation now. Things are constantly changing at a rapid rate. Years ago, people start a business to survive, it is basically a means to an end, as opposed to now. Nowadays, people are more driven by passion when it comes to starting a business. Which I think it’s great, because that’s how you have all these different yet fascinating ideas. Despite being a hard path to walk, I see many young people going all out simple because of the love they have for their craft.
What is the motivation behind infusing Asian elements and ingredients in your unique cocktails?
David: As a bartender, I frequent a lot of bars in the market. Both the local ones as well as the international ones. I see that many of them are following the trends of the West. As we progress with time, I started to realise that there are local bars that are infusing local ingredients into their cocktails. However, many of them are always playing around with the same ingredients – gula melaka, cinnamon or coconut milk, to name a few.
I thought to myself, what if we were to infuse some of the Eastern ingredients that we are familiar with into our menu? Raised in a Chinese family, it became apparent to me that there are many ingredients that we can bring to the table that is unprecedented in the market. This train of thought encouraged me to bring a part of my childhood into the cocktails that we serve here.
Why is personal attention to the operations, quality and environment important to you?
Wai Hung: Before we even became the owners of a bar, we used to be the consumers as well. And as a consumer, it is undeniable that there are a lot of factors that go into quenching your satisfaction. Whether it’s a good drink, a nice place, or something as simple as having the bartender smile at you as you enter the space… it goes a long way in delivering a memorable customer experience. The latter of which is something that I find lacking in many Malaysians;
You could walk into a restaurant or a convenient store and have an unpleasant experience simply because of the way people are treating you. I don’t believe it’s because we’re rude though, it’s simply because of the way that many of us were raised in environments where positive emotions are not actively expressed. As for the environment and the ambience, it’s not just replicating what the other bars are doing. Come on, you can have too much of a good thing (laughs).
There’s a unique collection of liquor in Three X Co’s arsenal, do you have a favourite?
David: Gin and whisky. Surprisingly, I don’t drink cocktails when I’m off duty. I tend to stick with either whisky or gin and tonic, or even a beer. If I do go for cocktails, I would go for the classic ones. Because of the nature of my work, I need to experiment with a lot of drinks, and that gets a little tiring sometimes (laughs). Which is why I prefer to stick with the simple ones when I’m off work.
Speakeasy has redefined the city’s nightlife. How do you keep up in with the ever-changing bar industry?
Wai Hung: Other than switching up the menu every now and then, we encourage ourselves to go for competitions. These competitions are not only great for my team, but our brand as well. It’s a force, a necessity to push my team to constantly reinvent, innovate and come up with all sorts of out-of-the-box ideas. In addition to that, we implement guest shifts, in which we invite bartenders from all over the world to take over the bar for a night. It is apparent to us that as long as we keep things fresh and exciting, we leave our customers wanting more.
David: I believe in constantly reinventing our drinks. Eastern ingredients are still pretty much our front and centre, when it comes to a signature flavour. Of course, we are still serving the classics like Old Fashioned or Mojito. However, I would want our customers to think of our Asian-centric specials when it comes to Three X Co. Nowadays, many bars are going for a “young and different” concept. However, I do believe that it is ultimately beneficial for the industry. For many consumers, many of them are not as well-versed when it comes to the drinks. Having a variety of offerings in the market will go a long way in educating the consumers.
This article was first published in the August Man Malaysia November/December 2019 print issue