Sin Hiap Hin Bar, Java Lane, Melaka

A rare example of living heritage can be found at Sin Hiap Hin, a drinking hole at No.5 Jalan Jawa (Java Lane) in the Kampung Jawa area of Melaka.

Doris the landlady.

I went there recently (Feb 2019) and had a couple of drinks served by the friendly and chatty landlady, Doris Lee, who told me a bit about its history.

Sin Hiap Hin – ‘100 years of the best tasting medicine in Malaysia’ according to a recent Australian customer.

This bar has been around for a century and is a hangover (excuse the pun!) from the days when this was a seedy part of town with opium dens, gambling joints and brothels. Indeed, Doris told me that this place used to be an opium den before it became a bar, pointing up the stairs where the opium smokers would puff their way to oblivion.

The area is much quieter now and the bar’s neighbours include an old fashioned barber shop, where you can have a cut-throat shave and your ear wax removed, and a pet shop selling songbirds in elaborate bamboo cages.

The antique license notice is hard to make out but probably says ‘ Licensed to sell intoxicating liquor for consumption on the premises’.

This a bar for hardened drinkers. For a start it opens at 9 o’clock in the morning and is often closed by 6pm. The interior is rather Spartan. This is not the place to catch a Premier League match while munching grilled buffalo wings and surfing the web. All there are here are half a dozen wooden stools, an ashtray (remember those?) and a vintage wooden bar which has been polished by countless elbows and beer slops. The shelves you see in the photo are the originals from when the bar opened and contain Chinese herbal liquor, rice wine, Indian whisky, cheap hard spirits and beers.

No Wave & PIN Here – Cash Only Please

The bar used to be popular with boatmen working on the Melaka river which is just a stone’s throw away. During colonial times it had many British officials among its clientele. It’s the sort of place that you could imagine Nabby Adams, the boozy policeman in Anthony Burgess’ novel Time for a Tiger, would like to frequent for an early morning beer to quench his insatiable thirst.

Japanese soldiers frequented this bar too during their brief but brutal occupation of Melaka in the 1940s. Swigging rice wine in Sin Hiap Hin’s somewhat dingy atmosphere no doubt brought home nostalgic memories of those tiny bars in cities like Tokyo or Osaka

Since there are no boatmen anymore and the Brits and Japs have long gone, patrons are more likely to be those down on their luck or low income workers tanking up on strong drinks for just a few Ringgit per shot.

Business from local workers is not what it used to be but thanks to blogs like mine, a steady stream of tourists, both local and foreigners, have discovered this place and drop in to soak up the atmosphere of days gone by. A wall calendar serving as a visitors’ book records comments left by tourists from Australia, UK, France, Germany, Poland, Canada and Malaysia, all praising the atmosphere, the local rice wine and the ‘cute aunty’ (Doris).

Pandan-Flavoured Malacca Rice Wine

At Doris’s suggestion I tried a glass of Pandan flavoured Malacca rice wine which she sells for RM 7 per half-peg. It has been made by a local firm in Melaka since 1908 which must make it one of the longest established booze manufacturers in Malaysia, much older than Tiger or Anchor beer for example. The taste is powerful, like Korean soju, with a smoky pandan aroma. The alcohol content is 27%. Doris said you’ll only find this drink at her bar. Other flavours include lychee. You can buy a bottle for only RM 15 which is a nice souvenir to take home.

I’m sure Doris and her husband, who is the great grandson of the founder, would welcome your business if you are in the area.

Knocknock Home, Kampung Jawa, Melaka

Bathroom area, Knocknock Home

On our recent trip to Melaka we stayed at Knocknock Home, a boutique guest house in Java Lane, close to historic heart of this UNESCO World Heritage city.

Java Lane (Jalan Jawa) is part of Kampung Jawa named after the Javanese community who settled this area from the 1600s onwards. The original kampung was redeveloped in the 1880s in what was probably the first planned housing project in Malacca. Today it comprises a few narrow lanes of plain whitewashed residential houses and shophouses, close to the iron pedestrian bridge crossing the Melaka River (Jambatan Kampung Jawa).

Like much of Melaka, the area was in decline for many decades but now the buildings are protected and are slowly being gentrified.

Knocknock Home is in one of these old two-storey buildings. The entrance foyer and owner’s apartment are on the ground floor while upstairs is one huge room for the guests.

The original exterior of the building has not been changed and the owners have done a good job of retaining many of the architectural period features while providing guests with a contemporary and stylish interior which is visually appealing and homely.

The living/sleeping space at Knocknock Home

One word comes to mind regarding this place and that is ‘generous’.  Firstly the space is generous. The room is 1000 sq.ft. (bigger than many homes in this part of the world!). The owner could easily have divided the space into two or more rooms but decided to retain the whole floor for single occupancy. The sleeping area is at the far end on a raised wooden platform behind sliding glass doors and air-conditioned. The sleeping configuration is one king-size mattress and one queen size mattress. Since we are 5 in our family we had an extra single mattress between the two doubles. Obviously with such cosy sleeping arrangements, this place is only suitable for families, couples or very close friends.

Bathroom at Knocknock Home

The cavernous shower area is at the other end of the room. Those bamboo blinds above unroll to provide privacy. There is a rain shower head or, if preferred, guests can bathe Japanese style sitting on a wooden stool in front of the ornate water jar with a hand-held shower tap. The toilet is in a separate cubicle.

Japanese style bathing

Also generous are the room amenities such as the home movie system which projects onto the wall. A stock of Chinese and Western DVDs are provided. There is also cable TV for those who cannot be without the news or Cartoon Network. There is a fridge with beers and soft drinks sold almost at cost price (RM7 and RM2 respectively). We were also given six large bottles of mineral water free of charge during our 2 night stay.  Complementary bicycles are available as well as more typical facilities such as tea and coffee making facilities in the room, a safe deposit box, hair dryer and WiFi. 

Lastly, the owner Gus was most generous with his time and attention. He took us for a guided night walk to Jonker Street, pointing out interesting shops along the way. He even bought us a delicious late-night oyster omelette from one of Malacca’s most famous street food vendors.

Oyster Omelette Man

Knocknock does not provide breakfast but Gus suggested various places we could try such as Dutch House Cafe, Limau-Limau Cafe, Baboon House and various dim-sum shops.

Breakfast at Baboon House

The second night we ended up having a nightcap with Gus at The Bridge Street Cafe which is run by a friend of his in Lorong Jambatan, the dark alleyway leading to the iron bridge.

The Bridge Street Cafe, Lorong Jambatan

We got the impression that for Gus, running Knocknock Home is not about making money but more a labour of love. He certainly makes his guests feel at home and we enjoyed listening to his old records on the vintage Australian radio/gramophone player.

He charges RM400 per night which for our family size is reasonable as we would have to pay for 2 rooms if we were staying in a hotel. The extra mattress costs RM50. Knocknock has a website if you want to find out more.