“Penang’s nightlife is slow and there’s nothing much to do”, I often hear Penang first-time visitors say. Really? Well, we’ve lived here long enough to know that these naysayers may have come to see the famous Penang street art, but definitely don’t know where to look for nightlife in Penang and George Town.
This article, possibly the best resource on the internet for the best places to visit in Penang at night, is going to set things straight. We are going to show you that there are at least 31 things to do in Penang at night, from loud live music clubs to all kinds of bars and fun activities. Penang nightlife is actually the opposite of boring… if you just know where to go.
We have already written about the best time to visit Penang, the best things to do in Penang during the day — such as visiting Kek Lok Si, one of Southeast Asia’s biggest Buddhist temples, basking on one of Penang’s 20-odd beaches, catching the iconic Penang Ferry — and what families can do in Penang with kids, including the 13 best places to bring kids at The Top Penang in Komtar. But when the sun goes down — and that’s pretty late, around 7.20 pm to 7.45 pm year-round — you’ll obviously get a completely different Penang experience.
And no, “Penang nightlife” doesn’t mean you are limited to visiting the stalls and restaurants of Chulia Street, gorging on delicious Penang food such as Penang laksa, and rubbing elbows with other Western tourists (nothing wrong with being one, really. But if you need help, we have a fantastic guide for backpackers in Penang, a low-down of the best Western Food outlets in Penang, and a list of first-timer mistakes). For your convenience, we have broken down the choices for nightlife in Penang in these handy sections.
Places to visit in Penang at night
LIVE MUSIC CLUBS
One of our favourite ways to spend a night in George Town, Penang is going to see live music. You didn’t know that George Town has a few live houses? Read on.
This is Penang’s, and northern Malaysia’s, most prominent alternative music club, and definitely the most peculiar place in all of George Town’s nightlife. Yes, because Soundmaker hosts underground music and ideas: it operated for 10 years from another location along Weld Quay, and just moved to this new shophouse in Bishop Street — only a 5-minute walk from Chulia Street, in the northern end of Penang Little India.
Forget the lame cover bands you’ll find anywhere else across Asia, for this is a real underground venue cum recording studio and bar. On weekends, local and international bands spanning the gamut from heavy metal to hardcore punk, alternative-rock to hip hop, skinhead punk to reggae, perform on this stage. When there are no shows, it’s still cool to drop by and look for Cole Yew, one of Penang’s prominent musicians and sound-man, and learn a bit of Malaysia’s incredible rock and roll history from him.
Starting March 2019, the Friday Rebel Gigs are a good way to meet local musicians and try your hand at an electric or acoustic jam. Check their website to know the latest calendar of gigs and events.
Address: 18 Lebuh Bishop, 1st Floor
Opening Hours: 6 pm – late
Cover charge on gig nights, usually RM15/20
2The Canteen @ Chinahouse
The nemesis of Soundmaker, in the sense that here you won’t find the loud amplifiers and screeching guitars, but more of electro-acoustic duos, jazz bands, singers, one-man bands, and other less “noisy” groups — paired with a much more hipster crowd. The Canteen is at the back of popular China House, on its Victoria Street side, and has been going for many years. Drop by for a beer, bring a date that loves some good music and dim-lights, or just come down here to chase some other creative souls. Sunday is open mic and jam session night.
Address: 183 Lebuh Victoria
Opening Hours: 9am–2am
Free entry, buy drinks
This restaurant, guesthouse and bistro/coffee shop has a full-fledged live music bar on the first floor. It’s definitely mid-range, with drinks costing between RM15–20, and live bands and performers who stray in the more melodic/cover-band range of tunes. There is also some interesting stand-up comedy nights. What we love about Kim Haus the most is the balcony, which towers above one of the most art-deco stretches of Campbell Street, a great place to sip a cocktail and enjoy some live music and fresh night breeze.
Address: 9 & 11 Campbell Street, 1st Floor
Opening Hours: 6 pm–1 am
No Cover charge but drinks are required
GEORGE TOWN HIPSTER BARS
This long, narrow bar has carved a reputation as “the place” to be for all Penang artists and hipsters (and related wannabes). It’s a good place to meet up with George Town-based and other international creatives while having western-styled coffee and scrumptious cakes. Don’t forget to try Narrow’s interesting twists on international cocktails, like their mojito made with toddy, the local rice wine. Occasionally, Narrow Marrow also organizes small events like DJ nights, small gigs, and movie screenings. The music is rigorously independent-hip-cool, from oldies to disco and alternative rock, often played on crackling vinyl. Perfect spot for an alternative date.
Address: 252A Carnarvon Street
Opening Hours: 10 am – midnight
The most attractive thing at this central, hipster cafe is literally the stuff hanging from its walls. A barrage of vintage, old objects and memorabilia that make for one of George Town’s most interesting bars. Beers are plentiful, and you should try their burgers, a notch above the competition. On some nights, you may get lucky and see impromptu live music, including Australian didgeridoo and Chinese flute performances.
Address: 401 Chulia Street
Opening Hours: 12 pm – 2 am
What was once considered a dangerous corner bar that spilled stools and drunken Indians on the road behind the God of Mercy Temple has morphed into George Town’s cheapest, most happening beer joint. Unfortunately, it’s very popular with Penang backpackers these days, and it’s easy to see why: you can have a beer for as low as RM4 here. The downside is, you’ll be sitting among a mixed population of know-it-all backpackers, young and naive locals, and all the others who want their booze cheap may not be the experience of a lifetime though.
Absolutely not bad, but a ghost of what it once used to be — a local dive filled with interesting Penang street characters, which now is also listed on TripAdvisor (and I even mentioned it in the Rough Guide to Malaysia I updated). However, if Chulia Street’s boisterous, cookie-cutter backpacker bars are not your fancy, there’s always an empty stool at Antarabangsa. Just prepare to exercise some zen and patience if you are over 35.
Address: 21 Lorong Stewart
Opening Hours: 3 pm- 2 am
Unofficial FB page
PENANG BEST BARS FOR NIGHTLIFE
George Town Speakeasies
In the past couple of years, George Town has seen a proliferation of speakeasies — think “hidden bars” that use clever camouflages for their entrances, from golden and pink bathrooms to fridges and hidden wood panels. Keep in mind that most of these bars are on the upper end of the cost scale, are mostly Chinese-operated, and see principally a Chinese clientele — which oftentimes also use them as locations for their pre-wedding photography. This said they are also some of the most attractive bars and places to go to Penang at night. But exactly like the dozens of cookie-cutter cafes that have sprung up everywhere in town, even speakeasies can end up being quite stereotypical (hey hey Penang entrepreneurs… try to think a bit more out of the box lah). The following are, in our opinion, the best speakeasy bars in Penang.
The one bar that initiated the speakeasy trend in Penang is also one of the best. Housed inside a shophouse along Magazine Road (at number 63, that is), this exposed brick-walled, dimly-lit bar that nods at old China — including waiting staff dressed as old world coolies, and spirits served in traditional Chinese porcelain jars — is hidden behind a scruffy, dark ante-room. You must find the way to push a hidden panel, and go through the partition. During the day, an anonymous noodle stall peddles bowls on the sidewalk. At night, expect a good combination of well-heeled Penang Chinese youth, some expats, and mostly trance music and DJ sets.
Address: 63 Magazine Road
Opening Hours: 8 pm- late
Drinks from RM20
“The less you know, the better you sleep,” is their motto. This place is very cool and intimate, and really lives up to the “secret bar” reputation: here you don’t buy drinks, you buy pins. With pins, you can get drinks. We like the way it’s hidden at the back of Good Friends Club and yet has a completely different vibe — orange-lit, jam-packed, small, homely and yet super exclusive — that inspires patrons to get their hair down, mingle and chill together with ease. Drinks infuse local Penang tastes, such as pandan and nutmeg, with classic spirits. A real cool haunt for a quirky cocktail.
Address: 37 Jalan Gurdwara
Opening Hours: Thurs, Fri, Sat 10 pm — 1 am
9Out of Nowhere
This is another interesting speakeasy that you can access through… a fridge! The first, small room you’ll find is cozy and air-conditioned, but the best, we believe, is the space at the back. An open patio with dim lights, potted plants, and low wooden tables and shutters make for the perfect spot for a cocktail and meeting other locals.
Address: 73 Jalan Kuala Kangsar
Opening Hours: 7 pm – late
Drinks from RM20
This is another Old-China inspired Speakeasy. There are two things we like here more than most other hidden bars of Penang: first, the camouflage. You’ll enter in a cosy ante-room with beautiful Chinese vintage furnishings and… a painting of Bruce Lee perched up on the left wall. The door next to it is closed stuck… and there’s a wing chun dummy between the two. Don’t let me spoil it more or go watch Ip Man. Very cool idea. The second thing we like is the Chinese Opera girl painting towering over the bar. Bring a date here, as it’s quite cool, and they have some live music and DJ sets.
Address: 12 Lebuh Presgrave
Opening Hours: 4 pm–2 am, closed on Sundays
Drinks from RM20
11Good Friends Club
Not a speakeasy per se but a fantastic, chilled local bar next door to the popular Hin Bus Depot (one of Penang’s best art galleries and alternative pop-up markets). It packs a local crowd of good friends who “never bojio” and is decked out like an old-school Chinese kopitiam, with metal tables and chairs spilling on the kerb. But if you walk inside, you’ll find a cosier, dark room with a pool table, perfect to sit and sip one of their nutmeg-infused cocktails — and maybe make out with your date. If you are single, well, you can still enjoy the booze and bar food with the boys out front.
Address: 39 Jalan Gurdwara
Opening Hours: 6pm-late
Drinks from RM12
Penang Nightlife in George Town
Being the focus of George Town’s tourist area, it’s obvious that most of Penang bars are scattered along and around Chulia Street. The small lanes right beyond it, primarily Love Lane and Muntri Street, are the places to go find foreign tourists, backpackers, and a growing number of bars and bistros catering to them. But there are also other more local options, such as Nagore Road, that you may want to check out.
Once the lane where local tycoons used to keep their mistress and concubines, Love Lane has gradually transformed, for better or for worse, into Penang’s micro version of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Come the evening, and the backpackers descend upon the tables of a number of frankly cookie-cutter bars, of which the best may be Mike’s Place, with some live music and the musings of a hundred travellers scribbled on its walls. What to say: we are not fans of backpacker banter and gap-year nomadic blokes, but if you are, this is possibly the spot you need to visit in Penang every night.
Address: Love Lane
Opening Hours: 5 pm – late
Drinks start at around RM12
Often referred to as a “speakeasy” but actually a full-fledged, proper bar with a normal entrance accessed from street level (a rarity in Penang’s bar scene, these days), Mish Mash has been at the forefront of George Town’s drinking scene since 2014. It has mean cocktails, an impressive international selection of whiskeys, and also sells good tobacco and cigars. It is, for sure, for the well-heeled and it doesn’t come cheap. And yet, it offers a very homely and casual ambiance, with high tables and high stools set along a traditional bar. Head down here if your date likes her drinks strong and her bar well-lit and populated by other drinking connoisseurs.
Address: 24 Jalan Muntri
Opening Hours: 6 pm – late
Cover charge on gig nights
When Antarabangsa started cashing in, its clever Chinese owner decided to open another place that could appeal to the increasing numbers of flashpacker and tourists in Chulia Street and Love Lane… and the Pokok was born. Set under a huge tree (”pokok” means “tree” in Malay), this open-air American-style bar has an attractive open patio filled with tables and an elevated terrace. They both fill up with young locals who come here for the cheap beers (a draft costs only about RM10, while the rest of the cocktails are a bit more overpriced) and to enjoy the open-air surroundings. Expatriates and backpackers pop by, for sure, but the main focus here is local kids in their 20s and 30s — take note, Tinder champions, for this is the place to come strike a real conversation. They have live music nightly, too… of the soft, melancholic type, I’m afraid.
Address: 227 Chulia Street
Opening Hours: 6 pm – 3 am
Drinks from RM10
The nemesis of Love Lane is this other cluster of roads centred around Jalan Nagore and Jalan Bawasah, on the opposite side of Penang Road. It’s a 10-minute walk from Chulia Street up Hutton Lane, and yet it just feels like a world away. The area is divided between Nagore Square and Chime Heritage, that’s another row of shophouses housing restaurants. The food choice here is wide, from the popular duck-only What the Duck to Thai food at Nine Thai. You can also get Chinese vegetarian and steamboat restaurants (but we still think the best Penang steamboat is another one).
Nagore Road’s nightlife, however, more than the restaurants, lays in tiny Nagore Square, literally a street art-covered alley that opens up into a tiny square peppered with bars like Ardor, a vintage-style barbershop, one vape shop, and an open-air bar at the back. You can come to Nagore Road and find yourself very much outside of Banana Pancake Land: no white travellers, mostly young Penangites, or people over 30 who come here for the wine bars.
Opening Hours: 4 pm – 3 am
Drinks from RM10
This place technically belongs to the Nagore Street area, but we believe it deserves a special mention. It is here, indeed, that the art scene of creatives behind Penang original street murals (yes, I am talking Ernest Zacharevic and his group) used to hang out. Today, the place has switched to a more young-adult clientele, particularly Chinese and Malay, and yet, it’s a very homely hipster bistro that offers some great waffles and other comfort foods, besides fast WiFi and good coffee. Not a real bar per se, but one of the first “artsy” places in Penang that’s still worth spending a chilled night.
Address: 15 Jalan Nagor
Opening Hours: 3 pm – 12 am
Drinks and Food from RM15
17Beach Blanket Babylon
A part of 32 Mansion, this upscale beachfront bar wins thanks to its main hall, decked out with a wooden floor, couches, and encased by a line of trees facing the beach. Yes, you read it right: you can come here and have a drink while you enjoy one of Penang’s last remaining stretches of sand and a definitely hipster-chic ambience. Sunset is a good time to come for a sundowner, and later at night, when the dim lights are on, Beach Blanket Babylon is perfect for a casual and yet romantic date.
Address: 32, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah
Opening Hours: 12 pm – 12 am
Drinks from RM20
18Bora Bora by Sunset
An island without a beach bar where one can actually tuck toes into real sand and hear the sound of crashing waves is kind of like Vin Diesel without testicles. Thankfully, Bora Bora by Sunset has been Penang’s long-standing beach bar in Batu Ferringhi, hidden by the resorts and the development, and spilling wooden tables on the sand. It’s halfway between a Thai beach bar and something a bit more upscale and sees a good mix of locals and tourists. A must try for a Penang night out that actually feels like you are on a tropical island.
Address: Lot 415, Jalan Batu Ferringhi
Opening Hours: 12 pm – 3 am
Drinks from RM15
19Soho Free House
One of the longest-standing Penang pubs is not necessarily the best these days, but if you are looking for pool tables and an Irish bar atmosphere, it’s still a popular option. It used to be frequented by young local Penangites, who now mostly go elsewhere, and sees more of an international, older crowd. Alas, there’s Guiness beer, a sports bar, and the upstairs room has, besides the billiards, some quieter corners with couches that feel alright for a casual date.
Address: 50 Jalan Penang
Opening Hours: 12 pm – 3 am
Drinks from RM15
GEORGE TOWN CAFEs and BISTROS
Renovated from an old storage hall (this is what “gudang” means in Malay), this industrial-chic cafe has long, attractive wooden tables and a series of drinks, coffees and cakes that attract droves of young Penangites. It’s often full on most nights, and on Fridays, some of the Couchsurfing meetings (see below) are held here. To be honest, it’s a bit of a run of the mill Penang bistro, but the winning point here is the young clientele, and the chance to make some interesting local encounters.
Address: 5 Gat Lebuh Armenian
Opening Hours: 11 am – 12 pm
Drinks from RM10
Like it or hate it, this long, decadent shophouse has not only kick-started the gentrification of George Town, but still dominates it after years. Run by Australian entrepreneur Narelle McMurtrie, who also manages the excellent Bon Ton Resort in Langkawi (read our complete guide on how to get from Penang to Langkawi), is probably George Town’s most famous Western-styled bistro. Every night, you can come to Chinahouse for dinner or indulging in real coffee and their very impressive selection of mouthwatering signature cakes (from RM15), from Tiramisu to passion fruit and many other local concoctions. Chinahouse always hosts art and photo exhibits, has live music at the Canteen (see above), and is a perfect place to come and while away the hours reading a book and observing generations of Penangites who come together to bask in Western comfort foods, coffee and arts.
Address: 153 Beach Street
Opening Hours: 9 am – 1 am
Drinks from RM15
PENANG DANCE CLUBS
If you are looking for a regular disco club night, Ozoo may be the best place to go in George Town these days, after the closure of many other famous clubs in Upper Penang Road. Ozoo packs quite a crowd of mostly well-heeled Chinese clubbers, who come here to dance to thumping beats, drink themselves silly, and dance until the wee hours. We are not sure if we can consider Penang as a great clubbing experience, but if you are willing to try, at the moment Ozoo seems to be the place to be and be seen. Remember that each Wednesday is the popular “Ladies Night”, and girls get free flow of drinks.
Address: 150 Beach Street
Opening Hours: 7 pm – late
Cover charge on most nights
MOVIE NIGHTS IN GEORGE TOWN
23KakiKino @ Hikayat
The cosy Blue Room on the first floor of Hikayat, a book shop cum art space and residence opened in late 2018, has become the place to go see cinema d’essai in Penang. KakiKino’s selection is curated by Gareth Richards, a writer, editor and pivotal figure in Penang’s literary scene, who also curates the huge book shop downstairs (and also Gerak Budaya book shop on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling). The movie screenings here are familiar, intimate affairs, preceded and often followed by discussion, and come with a free flow of coffee, tea, and pastries. Definitely a great way to meet cinema aficionados and catch some interesting films that you won’t ever be able to see in a Malaysian cinema.
Address: 226 Lebuh Pantai
Screening Hours: 6pm and 8.30pm
Cover charge RM15 inclusive of coffee/tea
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES, PLACES and NIGHT MARKETS
Close to the sea is a well-manicured open field, Padang Kota Lama, next to some of Penang’s most striking colonial buildings, that now serve as the Town House. Penang residents, especially the outdoor-loving Malays, come here in droves with their kids and families, sit on the kerb next to the sea, and while away their evenings. A bit further up the road are a couple of food courts where it’s quite nice to sit and have a drink or a plate of seafood as you face the sea. A nice place to come for a sundowner or bring your family on a quiet night out, with views stretching as far as Butterworth.
Address: Padang Kota Lama
Opening Hours: all day
Penang’s most popular beachside shopping district has some of the island’s best malls and a famous night food market that’s on every tour group itinerary. Don’t come here to eat, but to walk along the coast — even if, with the current land reclamation project going on here to build a new park, the place is a bit of an eyesore — and indulge in some of Penang’s most upmarket shopping. With franchise eateries in every corner, a Cold Storage supermarket, bookstores and anything else you can buy, this area is very popular with expatriates and a real traffic gridlock on weekends. Try to come here without your own car. There are also two cinemas, both located on the top floors of the two shopping malls Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon, that make for a good night out.
Address: Gurney Drive
26Karpal Singh Drive
Penang’s latest built seafront promenade is not as popular as Gurney Drive, but also has quite a number of eateries, fast foods, branded coffee chains such as Starbucks, and most important, a better stretch of coast to walk past. For all the reasons above it sees more of a local crowd, which can be a good respite after spending time at Gurney Drive. It’s also very popular at sunset when joggers and cyclists come here to enjoy the wide boulevard and exercise. There’s no real beach, but people still come here for fishing, and it packs young people who love to hang out while having a drink outdoors.
Address: Karpal Singh Drive
27Batu Ferringhi Night Market
Possibly one of Penang’s most famous, this long-standing night market is touristy and yet attractive. It fires up Batu Ferringhi’s nights by offering a smorgasbord of tacky souvenirs, more interesting batik and local handicrafts, and the usual beachwear. There are also plenty of pirated DVD stalls for those in dire need of a movie fix. Pleasant enough for a night stroll, with or without ending up at one of the nearby restaurants and bars.
Address: along Batu Ferringhi’s main tourist strip
Opening Hours: 6 pm – late
28The Habitat Sunset Walk
This is a great activity for nature lovers and families with kids. The Habitat, the best nature park on Penang Hill, offers daily guided sunset walks that end on top of Curtis Crest skywalk, Penang Hill’s highest point, filled with endemic Malaysian animals. It’s quite redundant to say that the views from here are supreme — indeed, this side of Penang Hill has seen very few developments, and still offer a glorious view on what Penang island used to be in the eyes of its early settlers. Don’t forget the Flight of the Colugo zipline, a 5-course adventure on top of Penang Hill.
Interested in more nature on Penang Hill? You should try this secret hike to Middle Station, or the hiking trail from Moongate to Station5.
Address: Bukit Bendera
Opening Hours: sunset walks start from 5.30 pm
29WeRun George Town
This is a fun activity for sports enthusiasts, a guided run in George Town. It leaves every Thursday at 8 pm from Hin Bus, and lasts for about an hour. Try to check the website to make sure the group is gathering on the week you decide to go, as it is kind of related to Hin Bus’s busy schedule of events.
MEET UPS, WEEKLY EVENTS & GROUPS
Those who like going out in a group should consider a couple of weekly options in George Town.
30Friday Night Couchsurfing Meet Up
If you want to meet up with Penang’s large community of Couchsurfers, keep in mind that they have a weekly meet-up every Friday. Meetings are often held in a cafe (Gudang is one of their favourites) and pack a good number of locals, foreign residents, and passing backpackers. These events are quite popular, sometimes with more than 30 people attending: get to know new friends and then end the night somewhere else when the gathering disperses in smaller groups. Check out the Penang CS Group page and sign up at this link before participating.
31MY Writers Writing Sessions
Are you a writer in Penang and need some company to bash those words down into a Word file? The Malaysian Writers Society may offer the space you need. The Writing Sessions happen every Monday from 7 to 11 pm at the LUMA space inside of Hin Bus Depot. Come here to meet like-minded local writers, chat about your work, and get that dose of inspiration you may fail to get on your own. You can join the MY Writers Penang Group on their Facebook page and get to know the other writers before joining the sessions.
So, is all of the above enough activities worth spending your time in Penang at night? We think so. If there is anything else you feel we should add to this list, please let us know, and we’ll check it out.