In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Lifestyle Asia KL and Chivas Regal join forces with four illustrious female bartenders in town. We spend the day with Megan Lim of BAC, coffee connoisseur turned cocktail crafter, as we discuss her foray into the local bar scene; her favourite flavour profiles; and inclusivity within the field of bartending.
Together with Lifestyle Asia KL, Chivas Regal celebrates International Women’s Day with the country’s most celebrated female bartenders. Mark your calendars on 8th March 2023 for a special Guest Shift at BAR TERUMI, featuring Caden Chua and Shirmy Chan from BAR TERUMI; Maria Escobia from Penrose KL; and Megan Lim from BAC. Find out more HERE.
On the surface, Megan Lim seems the quintessential ‘tough gal’ — strong, silent and self-contained. She has a beanie on as she greets us (which we later learn hides a shaved head, yet another hint at her rebellious streak) and tattoos dotting her left arm, yet her smile is friendly and warm. Underneath the edge, Megan is a self-proclaimed introvert, taking time to cherish the moments in between.
“I’m usually one of the first ones to get here,” she tells me as she guides me toward the bar at BAC, her hands already reaching for her ‘work tools’, “‘cause I like to have some quiet time while I set up. I check on the premixes needed for the day, and then get ready for service. There are days when it’s super slow, and some days it’s unexpectedly super busy. I just like to make sure I’m prepared for either one.”
BAC is your regular hidden bar tucked away in Damansara Heights — ‘cosy chic’ with an exclusive feel — but unlike your regular speakeasy, it is quite the casual and low-key affair. Picture a friend’s house party, relaxed on the weekdays and all-around good vibes once the week ends. There’s an easy, unpretentious air about the space and in the way Megan navigates from one end to the other. She flicks a switch and the shelves of bottles behind the bar are backlit, letting her literally shine as she gets to work. BAC’s specialty is the classic highball and this is what Megan presents us with: a bottle of Chivas Regal and soda, a zesty wake-up call for our shoot on a Wednesday morning.
“I’m a rum and tonic girl,” Megan admits with a smile. Her favourite flavour profiles lean towards the fruity and the sourish. But if she’s feeling a particularly boozy profile, she’ll drink it neat. “Rum and tonic have that little zing to it. It’s not too heavy and it’s refreshing at the same time. Plus, it’s easy to make. I mean, the ‘creating’ process behind the bar is always fun; but for me, if it’s an easy pour, that makes it my favourite.”
Megan is no stranger to pour-overs. Prior to joining BAC, she took up a stint as a barista. Getting into the coffee scene had been a spur-of-the-moment decision (much like her shaved head, as she shares) after she decided to leave her corporate job. It was the height of the pandemic, a time when everything felt fleeting and temporary. “At the time, I felt like, ‘Oh, I’m still so young,’” she adds, “I might as well get all the life experience I could, and try out something new while I’m still energetic and super motivated.”
The craft’s the thing
“Definitely the work ethic,” Megan tells me when I ask her about the one unchanging factor between coffee making and cocktail mixing. “You need to have that passionate kind of feeling to do well. But I suppose that applies to all jobs,” she laughs. “Oh! Tasting and flavour palates — another thing that overlaps between the two. Also, getting that ratio just right. When you create a cocktail, you want people to be able to taste all the ingredients, to find a balance in everything. The same goes for coffee.”
It’s refreshing to see that in a field so often deemed ‘unpredictable’, Megan is someone who embraces its ever-changing nature, letting the free flow of life carry her wherever she goes. Fresh out of the corporate world, Megan was ready to take on anything as long as it offered her a change of environment.
“I reached out to a fellow barista friend of mine who planned to open a café,” Megan shares. “I’d never done anything like that, so it was very much a leap of faith. One of the owners at the time was also an investor in BAC, and he had this goal of creating a café with a cocktail vibe. As soon the pandemic hit and business got slow, he approached me and asked, ‘Do you want to try bartending?’ I was feeling a bit stagnant from the pandemic, so I was like, ‘why not?’”
BAC is befitting Megan’s technical expertise, especially since the bar just recently introduced a ‘boozy brunch’ concept alongside the bubbly. But she affirms that she still has a lot to learn. It’s what drew her into this world in the first place: as long as there are new things for her to learn in this life, it keeps her moving forward.
It’s really cool because I’ve never actually thought about all this until I got into the industry,” Megan opens up. “‘Cause as an outsider, you don’t really see cocktails as something very special. Only when you get behind the scenes of it all do you start to appreciate it. It’s like, ‘Wow, people really put their hearts into this.’ Bartenders put a lot of thought into their craft, and I think that’s a pretty admirable thing.”
A houseful of people, a house full of voices
As we circle back to Megan’s unconventional approach to life, she tells me that she actually pursued a degree in psychology, which honestly took me by surprise — more so than finding out that her flowing blonde hair is actually a weave.
“I had this thought of becoming a therapist, but it didn’t really work out,” she says. “And I thought maybe I could try out service jobs, like as a barista or a bartender, where I’d still get to talk to people. You know, not many people would willingly go to therapy, but they would go to bars — whether to share their stories or to vent about their problems. And even if I can’t solve those problems, I can at least whip something up to make them feel a little bit better and remind them that they’re not alone. Likewise on our end too — it’s good to know there’s someone who’s eager and happy to see you.”
Megan hails from the small town of Kaki Bukit in Perlis — “not much of a cocktail scene, I tell you,” she quips — in a fairly religious family, with a rather conservative childhood. “My parents were always like, ‘Don’t drink, don’t go to clubs, it’s super dangerous,’” she recounts, laughing at the memory now. “It’s funny; you’d think they would disapprove of where I am now. But I rebelled at an earlier age, so they have, more or less, expected I would be doing such a thing. As long as I’m not putting myself in too much danger, it’s fine.”
Perhaps one of the only ‘dangers’ Megan faces in bartending, as she has come to observe, is the misconception that comes with the job. For some time now, both bars and cafés are deemed to be male-dominated places. It is not for lack of trying so much as the circumstances and long-standing tradition call for it.
“Sometimes you do notice that people pay more attention to what the male bartenders are talking about,” Megan muses. “Or if they want something specific, they usually prefer to ask for it from a male bartender — even though there may be a more senior female bartender there. I feel like it might have to do with confidence. A lot of male bartenders I know are super funny and goofy; they like to joke around so people tend to trust them more. They’re probably more approachable in that sense. But there are some older-gen customers who actually do prefer to have a male bartender serving them, because they think, ‘Oh, he knows what he’s talking about.’ That can be a little, hmm…” here, she casts a cheeky little side-eye, “but we try not to let that get to us, ‘cause we can’t change people’s perspectives. But we can change how we approach it.”
Adjusting to the bar scene also means attuning oneself to the kind of crowd that comes in. As a barista, Megan could simply hide her introverted self behind the coffee machine most of the time, avoiding lengthy conversations. It’s a very fast-moving, come-and-go business. “People just want to get their coffee and leave. Very rarely do you get people sitting at a coffee bar and chatting with the barista — it depends on the café. But for bars, we’re encouraged to talk to customers. It helps to enhance the whole experience.” In the beginning, Megan struggled to adapt to the starkly different environment: the hazy, unrushed vibe of a bar, encouraging her to linger in conversation — but evidently, she has risen up to the challenge.
Over the course of our conversation, I hadn’t noticed the quiet stillness of the room beyond our voices. We’re in one of the private rooms at the far end of BAC, where no sound filters in besides the soft jazzy music through the speakers — perfect for a more intimate dinner and drinks with a small group of friends or, in this case, a few words of wisdom. Megan’s approach to getting to where she is today may not be explosive or splashy, but there is a clear-cut confidence in her attitude; something she has built over the course of her career — an irrepressible spirit that reveals itself when she is in her element.
“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into this job, both physically and mentally,” she tells me by way of conclusion. “You’ve really got to focus on what you want. People might think you’re not good enough, but at the end of the day, you know that you’re doing it for yourself. So, eyes on the prize.”
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