Cocktail of the Week: The Jungle Bird

I remember seeing the pictures when the Petronas Twin Towers opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in the mid-1990’s overtaking the World Trade Center for the crown the world’s tallest building. I was living in the big apple at the time and all New Yorkers were astounded that someplace else could now brag about having the world’s highest skyscraper. This was a period of great upswing for New York, it was a time when then-mayor Rudy Giuliani proudly boasted on David Letterman, “Our city can kick your city’s ass.” Suddenly, a small country on the other side of the globe had stolen a little bit of thunder from New York.

With this memory etched in my mind, the Petronas towers were at the top of my must-see list when I visited Kuala Lumpur in early August. For me, the best way to experience this architectural wonder was by enjoying a few cocktails while marveling at this architectural phenomenon.

In New York, if you wanted to glance at the twin towers while enjoying a swanky drink, you headed for the legendary rainbow room in Rockefeller Center. In Kuala Lumpur, if you want an up-close view of the Petronas Towers in style, you go to Marini’s on 57.

This upscale lounge on the cutting edge of KL’s evening scene is Malaysia’s highest rooftop bar. To arrive at Marini’s you are whisked up 57 floors in seconds by a high-speed elevator. You can choose to sit outside on one of the patios or imbibe from indoors where floor-to-ceiling windows give you an almost dizzying view.

The lounge is located in the third, shorter building of the Petronas complex. The lounge wraps its way around the building, providing visitors with 360-degree views of the city skyline and an imposing view of the towers. While sitting there, you visualize Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones, scaling across building like they did in the film “Entrapment.”

Marini’s on 57 has an impressive list of signature cocktails, concocted by mixologist Junior(one name only). I started off with a chocolate espresso martini. While I usually avoid cutesy candy-flavored faux martinis, I found this one to be a cut above. Instead of being mixed with chocolate or coffee flavored vodka, this one featured Maker’s Mark Bourbon as its base spirit, which gave it a hearty full flavor.

The next drink on my list was the Mellow Sundown cocktail, a tipple conceived by Junior to celebrate the lounge’s, sunset hour, when guests can enjoy watching the sunset between the towers. This drink had a sunny taste, which came from a mixture of fruits, including pineapple, apple, lime and predominantly passionfruit. Junior mixes this cocktail with vodka to highlight the bright fruit flavors.

My favorite of the three was the 57 Sour, Junior’s twist on the classic whiskey tipple. Like a proper whiskey sour, this one was shaken with an egg white to give it a frothy texture and sprinkled with bitters for added spice. The two main differences that make this drink stand out are the addition of grapefruit juice to the standard lemon for a more rounded tart sensation and the use of honey as a sweetener which provided a robust compliment to the semi-sweet Maker’s Mark bourbon.

When Junior heard I was a tiki drink enthusiast he whipped me up a Jungle Bird, a long-forgotten tropical drink that, according to lore, was created at the Aviary bar at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton in 1978. Junior became familiar with this lost cocktail after finding the recipe in one of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s tiki books. For me, this drink – a combination of 5-year-old rum, Campari, pineapple and lime juice – took the cake. Campari, a bitter Italian aperitif, may seem out-of-place in a tiki drink, but somehow this odd combo of sweet yet complex rum, tropical fruits and herbs melded perfectly together.

As the day turned to dusk, I enjoyed these lovely cocktails as I watched the changing light dance across the towers. When the moon began to rise, I headed back to my hotel, knowing I’ve visited a KL’s signature landmark the way I wanted to see it – with a drink in hand.

The Jungle Bird
(Courtesy of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry)
1/2 ounce simple syrup?
1 1/2 ounces dark aged rum (Junior uses Angostura 5-year rum)
?3/4 ounce Campari?
1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice?
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice?

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine all of the ingredients except the garnish. Shake until well chilled and strain into a glass filled with ice.

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