After a painfully slow ride during rush hour in the Malaysian metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, my taxi drops me at a nondescript office building. I hope it’s the place I’m looking for. I duck inside the lobby and hit the elevator button for the top floor. As I disembark, I see a panelled entrance that looks like an airline counter.
After explaining the reason for my trip, I am led inside a swanky lounge staffed by dashing young men dressed like pilots. With an impressively large model airplane hanging from the ceiling, a piece from the center of a 747 on display and walls decorated with aviation equipment, this spot could be mistaken for an outpost of the National Air and Space Museum.
Still, this is not my final destination. I’m shown to a curtain-lined passageway that leads to set of industrial metal stairs. I am greeted twice by warning signs, at the bottom and the top: “Stay Clear Of The Tailroter, Remain In View Of The Pilot!”
Having climbed two flights of steep stairs, I feel a blinding flash of sunlight. I am on the concrete roof of a skyscraper, high above the congested streets 36 floors below. I gaze in wonder at the sleek high-rises now at eye level. I spy a large white triangle in the center and a sign telling me to wait for a signal from my pilot. I have arrived at a helipad, my journey’s end.
So where I am being whisked off to? Nowhere! I am here to enjoy a cocktail.
Welcome to Heli Lounge Bar, helipad by day and bar-lounge by evening. Telvince, the manager, describes it as KL’s best-kept secret and I can see why. There are no signs directing customers from the outside to this stunning spot. Even though I’m in Bukit Bintang, KL’s party strip, the crowd is subdued and chill.
There is no shortage of rooftop watering holes in KL, all of which promise the “best” view of the Petronas Twin Towers, which remain the world’s tallest. The striking difference between them and Heli Lounge Bar, Telvince points out, is that here you have a unobstructed 360-degree view of the entire city.
What’s more, there are no barriers corralling you — no permanent fence, rails or walls — just a ring of nylon tape between you and the edge. This is definitely not the place to go if you have a fear of heights. And since there is only a stairwell and no portico or deck, there is nothing to block the dizzying scenery around you.
The libation menu offers several aviation-themed elixirs. The first one I try is called the Hellusion, the name putting a heli-spin on the Illusion cocktail. This version is forged with vodka, coconut rum, triple sec, pineapple juice and lemon juice. The coconut rum and pineapple juice give this tipple a bright tropical flair. It’s the most popular drink.
If you’re looking for something with more thrust, try the Jet Fuel, a no-nonsense mixture of rum, vodka and mint. Reluctant flyers can get a similar experience with the Fizzy 747, mint and vodka topped up with ginger ale for a gentler ride. Jonny, one of the “pilots” (bartenders, that is), tells me his favorite drink is the Star Kiss, a sunshine-colored mixture of vodka, vanilla, passion fruit and pineapple juice. This sweet and fruity cocktail goes down nicely, just as the sun starts to go down.
The privately owned, working helipad has a 4 p.m. cutoff for helicopter flights. The indoor bar downstairs opens at 5. At 6, you’re permitted to venture to the roof, where tables and chairs have been moved onto the tarmac. The sunset views are breathtaking and at night the bar transforms into a groovy club, with sparkling city lights making a spectacular backdrop.
While the drink recipes at the Heli Lounge Bar are kept secret, I’ve compiled a recipe for the Hellusion from careful observation, using the recipe for the Illusion as a starting point.
The Hellusion (adapted)
30 ml coconut rum
30 ml Blue Curaçao
30 ml vodka
15 ml lemon juice
15 ml of pineapple juice
Pour spirits and lemon juice into a shaker and top with pineapple juice. Garnish with a lemon wheel.