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Kota Kinabalu, for not being all that big, has quite the offering of night life. From the pulsating to the sedate, whatever you feel like, is on offer.
Starting at your hotel is, of course, always an 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 - taxi driver knowledge is dubios at best.
Alcohol in Malaysia carries a heavy Sin Tax and is quite expensive. Jugs of beer, for instance, can fetch upwards of RM55, 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). Random samplings of international brands and even the odd craft beer might be spotted, but it's rarely consistent and often a ridiculous premium. 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 RM12 (give or take a Ringgit). In Nov 2016 Customs cracked down on illegal imports, throwing KK's eateries into a frenzy. Prizes shot up to RM18 for 3 and as of October 2016 have not yet recovered. This situation, in the past, didn't last long. At many 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.
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.
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.
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.
Prone to raids. Part of the Asia City Complex, located opposite 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.
Located next to Cititel Express and near the not-yet-completed Hilton KK in Asia City. Check FaceBook for specific location details and latest event info.
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.
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.
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.
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