Kota Kinabalu, for not being all that big, has the lion’s share of options for night life, from the pulsating to the sedate, whatever you feel like, is on offer.
Starting at your hotel is, of course, always a first option, as many people prefer to crawl to their room after a heavy night out, rather than having to stomach the taxi ride. While on that subject, take the business card of your hotel with you when you go out, because it’s easier to show the taxi driver where to go than it is to try to remember and explain when inebriated.
Alcohol in Malaysia carries a heavy Sin Tax and because of that is quite expensive. Jugs of beer, for instance, can fetch upwards of RM35, depending on the brand and location. Tiger, a Singaporean beer, brewed locally under license, is very popular. In the same stable you will also find Carlsberg and Guinness. The first two are often served draught by the jug (which is cheaper than by the mug). Also available is Heineken, Stella Artois and Budweiser, although these are more common in cans and bottles. At pubs and clubs, you will get charged high prices, at hotels you’ll be fleeced.
Cheapest options are usually the inconspicuous eateries that sell beer by the can at around 3 for RM10 (give or take a Ringgit). At many of the venues, spirits by the bottle works out cheaper than it would by the glass. Included for free, usually, is a mixer or 2 of your choice. Some venues also have the option to save your bottle for next time, if you happen to be unable to finish it in one night. Enquire at the bar.
Australian wines are available in most restaurants at reasonable prices (RM90 upwards). Increasingly popular are French, Italian, South African and even Chilean wines.
Some of the bars may require you to buy a drink at the entrance. This serves two purposes. First, they then don’t charge a cover charge and ensure you will buy a drink, and secondly, they make sure the venue doesn’t fill up with idle on-lookers. If you just want to have a quick look to check out the venue, you can tell the doorman this, or you can simply say you will buy the drinks inside. Either way, you will get your drink, no need to worry.
Kota Kinabalu’s Nightlife Venues
Wawwaw Siam Thai Bar
Perfect location to hang out and wind down after a long busy day. Located beside Centre Point Sabah and Api-Api Centre. Tuesday to Sunday – Resident Band from The Phillipines and Local Band performing every Monday. Ladies Night on Wednesday Night, first five ladies in a group will get one complimentary bottle of liquor – before 12.00am that is. Lot G47, Ground Floor, Star City North, Jalan Asia City, Kota Kinabalu, 88200 Sabah, Malaysia.
Atmosphere – Restaurant & Lounge
Atmosphere Restaurant and Lounge is located on the 18th floor of the Sabah Foundation Building, the tall cylindrical building visible on the other side of the bay from Kota Kinabalu. It’s Borneo’s highest restaurant and bar, and its only revolving restaurant, making one revolution every hour. With its funky modern-retro décor in hues of orange, green and purple, it’s the perfect venue for an early dinner or sunset cocktails with, literally, sweeping views of Kota Kinabalu. A taxi from town should cost around RM 30 and takes 15 – 20 minutes.
Around the corner from Upperstar and Shani’s is Cocoon. A funky place with modern decor, good looking and efficient waiter staff, with a live band always at the ready, peppered by the DJ’s mix. The prices are reasonable.
A cafe serving tacos, soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts until 10pm, El Centro is also a watering hole until much later. This new venue is all about people and conversation. It’s the likely the only non-smoking bar in KK, and has no live band – so if you want to go and have good old conversation, then El Centro is great choice. The drinks prices are reasonable, and owner Katie K. do a variety of delicious and strong cocktails. There’s wine by the glass and beer by the bucket.
After a long hiatus, the bar previously called JUGs, recently relaunched as a JUGs The Sports Bar. Nothing much has changed since its last incarnation though. It’s still located at ground level at the Pacific Sutera at the Sutera Harbour Resort.
Previously called Alawa Cafe, Little Kitchen is a medium sized air-conditioned cafe and bar, a little off the beaten track. If you know where the Tourism Office is on Gaya street, with that on your left, you cross over the nearby traffic light and into the ‘printer’s district’ of KK a.k.a Australia Place, near several backpackers lodges. Little Kitchen serves light snacks and full meals, including pizzas, chicken wings a few heavier choices. A variety of alcoholic drinks is available, as well as free WiFi.
Chilli Vanilla Cafe
Situated on one of Kota Kinabalu’s busiest streets, Jalan Tun Razak, close to Wisma Merdeka Shopping Centre and Suria Sabah, next to Nam Xing Hotel and 7-eleven, opposite Kinabalu Emporium, this is a little gem of a cafe. Serving Mediterranean style foods, and healthy salads and main courses, with home-made cakes and bread, apple pie, etc. Excellent coffee is served throughout the day, with wine by the glass or bottle available. Staff are friendly and efficient, and all speak English, and Malay of course. A favourite dish here is the goulash, very authentic, as the Chef is Hungarian. Free wifi is available, and there is air-conditioning too.
A Hyatt Hotel outlet, it’s upmarket in the style of a wine bar. Here you can find bottled drinks, exactly the same as Upperstar, but at twice the price. Hyatt understands the marketing of image though (they also run the most expensive bar in town, Shenanigans) and Mosaic too has its crowd. They have a decent selection of wines, Australian mostly, with a menu of non-alcoholic drinks. A concise menu lists food from salads to meat dishes. Sit either inside in airconned comfort or al fresco on the side walk.
Pirates Rib Shack Diner
The Pirates Rib Shack Diner is a completely new experience with one of the largest outdoor bars in Sabah, serving western food, curries and malaysian cuisine. Live music every weekend, major sporting events, Rugby, AFL, NRL Cricket etc It is situated in Asia city a couple of blocks away from Centrepoint. Clientel ranges from locals to tourists.with beers and foods starting at 5RM. This is the place to get a real all day breakfast with real bacon! Click here for location map
Place Pub & Place Music Lounge
Tucked away in the Api Api Centre on the Marina Court side of the complex and about opposite the divide between Marina Court and the Promenade hotel, The Place is a bar and restaurant, serving a variety of loca, western and Phillipino food and beers 24-hours per day, and gets busy when other bars and nightclubs close.
The Place Music Lounge is a little further up the block in the lot where previously the Office Pub was. They serve light snacks, full meals, pizzas (the freshly made variety) and stone cooked steak. Populated by all sorts, locals and tourists alike. The Place is the only 24h bar in KK and is very busy after the nighclubs close. See their website for current promos and events. There’s a small band for music or karaoke, and free WiFi.
On the ground floor and on the outside of Le Meridien, is Rumba. Once a salsa bar, the niche succumbed to the masses and, like most other establishments in KK, Rumba now has a resident band that plays popular tunes. Spirits by the bottles are the best buy and jugs of beer during happy hour are reasonable.
A bar slightly out of town, but still just a short taxi ride past the Karamunsing Shopping Centre. It has a sprawling area downstairs, and another area upstairs. It is (in)famously open until the wee hours of the morning, is where everyone ends up when they should have stopped drinking, but haven’t and is perhaps one KK’s seedier establishments. That said, it makes for a good storytelling.
It used to be that when you ask any local about the place to visit in Kota Kinabalu, they would say Shenanigans; that was back in the day when there wasn’t much of an alternative. Yet, the legend lives on and it’s still one of the popular venues in town. Located at street level below the Hyatt Hotel, Shani’s, as it’s affectionately known by locals, has happy hours and a pool table with hot bands from the Philippines. A beer garden fronts the pub. Still one of the most expensive bar in town, Shenanigans capitalises on loyal customers and titanium-strength word-of-mouth to maintain its popularity.
Situated in Shangri-La Tanjung Aru, Sunset Bar is a good location for having a relaxing drink before going to more crowded and noisy places. The sunsets are just stunning with the view on the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Beverages are not cheap but it became very popular after the renovations. It’s may be the most luxury venue for a special moment or celebration. It’s good to go there during Happy hours (best after 8pm for 2 Tiger for around RM28). The sunday afternoon with them Jazz Band is very popular.
Just across the road from Shenanigans and Mosaic is Upperstar. It’s not a bar per se, but certainly a nice place to sit and relax and enjoy KK’s fine weather. They serve decent, western and Asian light meals with a variety of drinks. Upperstar is still one of the cheapest places to drink beer; two large bottles of Tiger, for instance, for around RM18. Upperstar also has a branch each in the suburbs of Damai and Lintas, where it’s just as popular.
In The KK Waterfront
Opposite Warisan Shopping Centre is this little entertainment strip. Packed from left to right with restaurants and bars, it’s a popular venue for locals and tourists.
Featuring cuisine and drinks from the land down under. Cocktails, Steaks and, of course, beer. Under new management, you can now hopefully have a friendly drink and meal there.
B.E.D stands for Best Entertainment Destination, but creates interesting plays on words when it comes to questions like “where are you?” A very large area, it’s popular as a dance place and is the venue in KK closest to a dance club. Also featuring a live band (as most places in KK do), otherwise the DJ keeps the dubs dubs going.
C*ck ‘n Bull
A pub along the lines of those commonly found in Britain. A small stage is occupied by, yes, a band. Alternating with background music, you can drink a jug or your favourite spirit whilst chatting away inside or outside facing the seafront. They also have a pool table.
It’s a very nice chill out bar if only it wasn’t that they felt it necesary to have loud, live music in the relatively small space. Saving grace is Black Mondays, which champions cheap Guinness, awesome Daquiries and a nice wine menu. Sit inside in the aircon or outside and enjoy the sunset. Prices are reasonable at Happy Hour and pretty much on par with the rest of the Waterfront after.
Irish themed pub. They have a menu of awesome food, of which the burger is one of the best in town, but also one of the most expensive. Kilkenny, Guiness, Heineken and Tiger are all fresh on draught, and it’s a favourite hangout for local rugby fans for watching the international games on the big screen.
The newest business in this venue relies on the tried and trusted recipe for success: a live band and a cool vibe. It features a downstairs part with a loud band entertaining people inside and out, and an upstairs area for a more al fresco experience.
In KK Times Square
Quiet office complex by day, party central by night, KK Times Square is just outside the city perimeter and bit of a drag to get to if you don’t have transport. Taxis will take you there (about RM10 – RM15) from the city centre), but make sure you have a taxi’s number for when the party stops, because they generally don’t hang around there that late and could leave you stranded.
Sullys Bar is KK’s nearest answer to a jazz club.It opened in December 2010 and is designed to cater for the needs of the 30+ age group as opposed to most of the bars and clubs in KK which cater for the younger age group. Sullys is a place where you can chill out and listen to good music in sophisticated surroundings . It serves a good range of whiskys, wines and beers. The resident band is one of the longest standing jazz bands in KK. Band nights are currently Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
One of KK Times Square’s recent additions, Chocolate Factory brings yet another live band and DJ combo to the party scene. Carlsberg by the tower and spirits are about standard.
Firefly Bar & Grill
Firefly was one of the first and is still one of the most popular venues here. Relatively small, it’s packed on weekends with a good, mostly young, crowd. They do a decent dinner outside or in the restaurant area, with popular and good burgers, and pork ribs if you get there before it’s sold out. The mandatory live band is the center of attention inside, and the DJs spin whats popular inbetween. Firefly has a wide selection of beer on draught and in bottles, and has cheap Happy Hour. A 4.2 litre of beer is RM80 before 9pm – a good deal, but RM160 after. Bottles of spirits are about standard, RM300 for Black Label whiskey, cheaper if you buy 2 or 3 at one go.
Jarrod & Rawlins
A deli franchise from KL, they serve awesome pork products such as pork knuckle and variety of sausages. The food menu is compimented by fresh, draught beer all in a setting designed to be al fresco. It does have an interior though and live band which plays unobtrusive music, making Jarrod & Rawlins a great place for a drink and chat. Its an upmarket venue with upmarket prices, and a pint of Kilkenny, for example, will set you back RM20++ during Happy Hour and RM28++ after.
From the people who brought you the clubbing experience of BarSu, White Room continues the tradition in KK Times Square. The after party venue of choice, White Room livens up when everywhere else dies down. The cavernous interior focus more on tables and drinking that on dancing, but people dance on the stage when the band is occupying it. Drinks are expensive, both beer and spirits, but the in-crowd that likes to be seen here doesn’t care.