How many bars are active helicopter pads by day and top-ranked clubs by night? Heli Lounge Bar sits in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. For the record, Kuala Lumpur is Malay for “confluence of mud,” originally inspired by the swampy rivers that come together where the city sits. The name fits today more than ever: The booming capital is nothing if not a confluence of influences.
The native Malay, Chinese and Indian flavors all figure into the food with delicious results. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians all enjoy a significant presence here, and people from around the world gather to shop, make business deals or drop anchor permanently—it’s a top-10 relocation destination worldwide. Aptly named Food Street is a bucket-list place to visit by itself.
A Rooftop Among Rooftops
Top-floor bars happen to be the city’s strength. Standouts in the category number a dozen, at least, including Luna Bar (with two stories of lofty hospitality, 34 floors up) and Sky Bar (with an indoor pool and floor-to-ceiling windows) ranking among the best. But it’s Heli that has risen to the heights of TripAdvisor’s list of the area’s tourist destinations, despite zero marketing work or even a simple website.
The backdrop is a big reason why. The Kuala Lumpur skyline—its silhouette running like an EKG between the iconic Petronas Twin Towers and soaring KL Tower and beyond—can rival any on the planet. Heli’s view is the only 360-degree one in town, 57 floors up, almost a kilometer in altitude. On it, you’ll find pod-like seating huts, day beds, cocktail tables and four-tops. “The view is everything,” says manager Telvince Tana. “There’s no obstruction, not even a glass panel. It’s open to the elements.”
While that can mean that the occasional thunderstorm scoots people off the landing, it also means dazzling sunsets. “Every day, it’s a different sunset,” says Tana. “You’re in the city center, only you don’t get the noise or interruptions; it’s still very much Kuala Lumpur. It’s a good place to reflect and think about life.”
Aside from the View
There are other qualities to think about, including a lower floor appointed with glass walls, aviation gear and chunks of fuselage; and affordable drinks—something that’s uncommon in a country that taxes alcohol heavily and allows limited wholesale outposts.
Tana created the drinks. He ranks the Hellusion as his favorite, a mix of vodka, coconut rum, fresh pineapple and lemon juice, plus a splash of triple sec. Other eye-catchers from his sublist of aptly named “Gasoline” drinks include the Jet Fuel, with vodka, rum and mint; the White Skirt, with white wine, pineapple and a lively lychee liqueur; and the Red Baron, with vodka, red wine, orange juice and green tea that turns out to be unsurprisingly high-octane but also surprisingly balanced.
Local vlogger, veteran Kuala Lumpur tour guide and hard-core foodie Nik Nadzru Iskandar is among those who understand why it has become a cult hit without any publicity to speak of. He acknowledges its watering hole singularity in a Muslim nation like Malaysia that’s religious and “tolerant to the needs of its multicultural, multireligious denizens, with an innovative entrepreneurial spirit and a deep-rooted penchant for capitalism to boot.”
‘You’re not here for the awesome interior decor like other KL sky bars—it’s a helipad for fuck’s sake—or for intricately designed drinks,” says Iskandar. “Instead, you’re here for the complete aerial view of Kuala Lumpur as the sun is setting all around you and the metropolis slowly comes alive in a ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ moment.”
On a clear day, he says, visitors can see all the way to the fringes of the city, suburbia on one end and the Titiwangsa Range, which forms the spine of Peninsular Malaysia, on the other. Visitors would be wise to avoid it on a stormy day, prioritize weeknight trips to skip the crowds and get there before 9 p.m., when the dress code kicks in and casual clothing is less welcome.