Old is Gold: Why You Need To Visit REXKL Now
Ah, Petaling Street. It’s the place you bring your overseas friends to gawk at the chaotic mess that is rows of stalls selling the latest Supreme, Gucci & Louis Vuitton collections, some not even seen on the runway or stores. Fashion Week who? More like wife-beater wearing, fanny pack touting uncles with their early all-exclusive access.
It’s also the place you go to when you want to feel connected to your “historical roots” (because Central Market with its hiked up tourist prices and air-conditioners is the very definition of Malayan history) or sweat your ass off (dozens of tourists in a small space of stalls just equals bad, sweat-stained underarms news).
But the beauty and historical value of Petaling Street is still there. It’s seen on every crack of the untouched buildings that’s been around since the 1800s and this once Chinese dominated part of Kuala Lumpur (Shoutouts to Yap Ah Loy, the tin mining OG) now sees a diverse crowd of races interacting with each other every day (which sometimes don’t even include Malaysia’s main races)
And REXKL is embracing these many qualities & quirks of Petaling Street by opening up a cultural hub/marketplace for artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and events right in the middle of it.
Previously a cinema that burned down in the 1970s, the building of REXKL has seen many changes about itself. After being rebuilt after the fire, the cinema continued on until finally closing down after 25 years. Then it became a backpacker’s hostel, a housing for migrants and even a karaoke den. I guess after being tired of all its multiple personalities (and fires. Yes, it wasn’t just the one) that never seemed to stick, the building took “a vow of silence” for many years until now, that is.
Refurbishing and revamping REXKL are the co-founders Shin Chang and Shin Tseng, a pair of architects. Also a part of their team, manager Farah Alhabshi who was kind enough to answer a few questions about REXKL and who also showed us the many vendors they have in the building (which we also managed to interview as well!)
Getting to Know a Little More about REXKL
The Cool Bears: We’re curious, why refurbish and restore this building?
Farah: The landlord needed a team of suitable individuals to help revive this beautiful & historical place back to its former glory after being abandoned & neglected for so long. That’s when Shin Chang and Shin Tseng (the co-founders of REXKL) came in. For them, the most important thing was preserving the building to maintain its history and iconic aesthetic but making it appealing to the current generation. Hence if you were to compare photos of the building back then to now, you’ll notice the structure has been left untouched, just the interior has been changed.
The Cool Bears: What’s the reason behind starting a cultural hub?
Farah: Obviously, KL has many culturally-related spots but we find those mainly serve one purpose. Usually you’d have to go to a place to eat then having to go to another place to see art, now, you can do all of these in one place! Also, most typical Malaysians prefer to aimlessly spend their day walking around in shopping malls and we want to break that mold and encourage spending a day somewhere creative instead.
The Cool Bears: What are the upsides of running a business like this?
Farah: Personally, it’s seeing the different kinds of people who come in. We see school kids and aunties and uncles. The general misconception is that the older generation is still stuck in the past and aren’t open-minded about these new ideas but honestly, I personally find that to be untrue. Some of them come in every week just to look around and even ask us questions about the current events & whatnot.
Besides that, the vast variety of events that REXKL has hosted too. We’ve seen cultural performances, a wine-tasting and corporate events hosted by major companies such as Samsung and recently Kancil Awards. This really helps fortify the fact that we’re slowly moving away from the corporate heavy world of yesterday to a more creatively opened industry.
The Cool Bears: What are the downsides then?
Farah: Realistically, it’s an old building which will obviously bring alongside its own limitations, especially when still maintaining its original state. So, a comfortable air-conditioned shopping mall, it is not but we’re trying our best to make REXKL as comfortable as possible for all our visitors. Also, we realized how running multiple events (at the same time) nonstop has prevented our team in giving their 100% into each event which we think defeats the whole purpose of REXKL. But we’ve solved that issue by partnering up with content companies to help us with creating events and so on.
The Cool Bears: What can we expect next from REXKL?
Farah: Actually, REXKL’s a part of Urbanscapes Festival (a music & city festival happening from 16th until 24th November) and we will be the place to catch all the winning films of BMW Shorties (a prestigious short film competition held by BMW). There will be one film screening on the weekdays and three of them on the weekends. After that, we’re hosting an Ibizan music festival called CircoLoco on the 30th of November. That’s all I can reveal for now but of course our social media is constantly updated with current events going on.
The Many Faces of REXKL
Stepping in through the large glass doors, you get the best of both worlds (old and modern) with the building still maintaining its dilapidated walls and old signage from the cinema days.
Today, it hosts multiple vendors: ranging from a taco stall to a used bookstore, you truly can spend a whole day here (Shopping malls, be gone!)
1. Destination: GOOD by AirAsia Foundation
A part of AirAsia’s group, AirAsia Foundation is the philanthropist division of the well-known company. Before this, they had a few popup stores in numerous locations such as klia2. But now they have finally found a permanent home in REXKL.
Not just a mere shop, Destination: GOOD aims to be a cultural hub for ASEAN social entrepreneurs & community-based enterprises to showcase their goods.
Keeping with the philanthropist vision, every good (which totals to about 400) is ethically & responsibly sourced from over 30 social enterprises from the region.
So why not pop over to the store whenever you’re at REXKL and (maybe) purchase a thing or two. It’s all for a good cause!
Opening hours: Monday closed
Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 7pm
2. Stellar Coffee
The first vendor you’ll come upon once entering REXKL, Stellar Coffee is a coffee shop inspired by the intimate & personable service a bar provides to its customers. Owner, Chyenne Si realized the lack of customer interaction in the majority of coffee shops today whereby after receiving their order, no customer interaction will occur between customer & barista, truly preventing a barista in improving their coffee and customer service skills.
Hence why she designed the shop to seat customers only in a round circle (akin to a real bar) so customers can easily personalize their coffee to their tastes or get educated by Chyenne or her baristas about coffee without having to leave their seats even once.
Holding their soft launch on the 23rd of November 2019, Stellar Coffee will have a wide menu consisting of non-caffeine drinks (for you hyperactives out there), kombucha (for you health freaks) and yes, even some cocktails too (to go with the bar theme, of course!)
Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday – Sunday: 12pm – 8pm
Officially opening on the 23rd of November
3. Babar & Co.
Just take a few steps forward away from Stellar and you’ll get hit with an aromatic waft. Welcome to Babar & Co., a modest food stall which predominantly serves tacos because “well, it’s a fun food to eat” (in the words of owner, Beatrice).
Fun might be their main objective but biting into one of their tacos, it’s serious business with how tasty Babar & Co.’s tacos are. Made with only the freshest ingredients, this stall really rings true about the quality of the dishes it serves rather than relying on any hype surrounding it as Babar has zero social media presence.
So next time you and your friends are looking for some good ol’ tacos in Chinatown, don’t need to google “Mexican places near me”, impress them with your top secret culinary knowledge and pop on over to be satiated with some lamb or chicken tacos.
Opening hours: Monday – Wednesday closed, Thursday – Sunday: 12pm – 10pm
And another great thing about Babar & Co.?
There’s a craft beer bar next to it which leads us to:
4. Modern Madness
Long gone were the days of Malaysians’ only access to beer being through convenience stores, supermarkets or the occasional cheap liquor store (ahem as a broke college student, I’m sure you can relate). And the beer we get only being the big three brands (not naming them, sorry not #sponsored).
But with the rise of craft beers, Kennhyn Ang decided to start his own set of craft beers named Modern Madness and you can taste all his specialty flavours right at REXKL. Not content with the typical craft beer brands which taste caters to a more Western palate, Modern Madness aims to serve beers with localized flavours for an affordable price (RM15 a glass)
For those localized flavours? Kennyhn wasn’t playing around, they have flavours like Dim Sum, Bak Kut Teh and Soba and these are just the current seasonal picks. Previous flavours consisted of Durian and Teh Tarik so head on over there regularly to see their newest concoctions.
Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday – Sunday: 3pm – 11pm
5. Bunn Choon
If you’re a connoisseur of Chinese pastries, this name will definitely piqued your culinary interests.
With its original shop also opened in Petaling Street, Bunn Choon has established itself as a legendary place to try even more legendary egg tarts. Seriously, if you can’t take our word for it just go on any weekend morning and be prepared to be greeted with a looooong line.
Fortunately now you don’t have to wait in line to try out one of their famous pastries because they have opened a stall right in REXKL! And yes, those legendary egg tarts are sold here.
6. Ticklish Ribs and ‘Wiches
Located further in the back of REXKL’s ground level, lies a delicious hidden secret that is Ticklish Ribs and ‘Wiches.
Ticklish specializes in BBQ pork ribs and you might be thinking “Another one???” but don’t worry the owners have done their research. After trying over a 100 BBQ pork ribs in Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, America to Japan, they came to a satisfying conclusion that their recipe could definitely give these other competitor’s a run for their money.
Containing 30 herbs & spices while cooked in a traditionally Asian way, TTicklish Ribs will definitely blow you away.
The small storefront might not be impressive but just like how Panda Express in America started as a simple food kiosk selling Asian cuisine but soon turned into a F&B empire, don’t let this stall you from trying out the delights Ticklish has to offer.
If ribs aren’t your thing, try Ticklish’s other popular menu item that is their salted egg fried rice/noodle combo with a pork chop to top it all off.
Opening hours: Monday closed
Tuesday – Thursday: 12pm – 9pm
Friday – Sunday: 12pm – 10pm
1. Mentor Bookstore
Mentor Bookstore is no amateur when it comes to the book selling game. Operating for almost 10 years, you can find their first outlet in Kampung Attap. But if that’s too much of a treck, there’s always the revised version with a popup stall in REXKL.
Mentor’s main priority is to enlighten readers about Malaysian’s local Mandarin authors instead of constantly turning to books from Taiwan because hey, there’s a few good ones that deserve all the recognition. However do not despair, Mandarin-illiterate folks as Mentor Bookstore has a pretty sweet collection of used English books for sale.
Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday to Sunday: 10am – 10pm
Right next to Mentor, and a precarious step one has to take (we’re not elaborating further, you just have to experience it for yourself), leads you to the whimsical world of Shier.co. A collector’s heaven, Shier is a Mandarin word which translates to “picker”, basically a type of hobbyist who collects antiques & vintage items to trade or sell. From old record vinyls to Star War figurines to typewriters, owner, Lee Hai Oh makes certain that each item in his store is unique and has a story of its own to tell.
3. Beck & Charm
Coming from a multiracial background of Indian and Chinese, Triffany Leo, the owner of Beck & Charm incorporates those two characteristics into her brand. Judging by the name, one will probably think it’s either just a home décor or jewelry brand but in actuality, it’s more than that.
Its products are split into three categories: Home Décor, Rarities and Lifestyle. Selling Indian oil lamps, handmade candles & bath bombs, handmade earrings and even refurbished furniture pieces, Beck & Charm truly ties in with the whole purpose of REXKL with their products embracing a fusion of tradition with modernity.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that despite its high quality feel, the prices won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday – Sunday: 11am – 9pm
4. Blackmarket Preloved Store
Before the conception of REXKL’s Blackmarket, there was its Singaporean predecessor (of the same name). From 2008 – 2013, owner Jasmine Tuan made Blackmarket the concept store where the best Asian designers & creatives congregated to sell their art, designs & fashion.
Fast forward to 2019, Blackmarket is now a preloved store aligning with the founder’s journey of zero waste (that started in 2018). In the world of fashion (especially fast fashion), wastage of a considerable amount have slowly polluted our environment due to the fashion perception of “Wear once & never again”.
So to keep with her newfound outlook, Blackmarket underwent a metamorphosis into what it is today: a curated preloved store that aims to save exquisite fashion pieces and continue their usage in a cyclical format of passing it around friends, family or even strangers. So no need for landfill dumping, it’s only upcycling for Blackmarket!
Every piece you find at the store has been carefully curated & chosen by the owner herself. This is to ensure Blackmarket offers the most unique, high-quality thrifted pieces out there. From designer coats (we saw a really cute Burberry one!), intricate dinner dresses and dapper men shirts, you’ll definitely find something that would have cost hundreds but for a steal.
At first glance, the store seems vacant and it is! But don’t fret, Jasmine has left her number (as seen written on a paperbag on top of the table in the photo above) so take a photo of any items you like and send it to her.
This is personally my most favourite interaction you can get with any storekeeper. Not only will Jasmine provide you with the price, but she’ll also include a little backstory about your selected piece, making it more personable. You’ll definitely not get this kind of experience while shopping at a mall.
Opening hours: Mondays: closed, Tuesday-Sunday: 2pm – 8pm
5. PURO KL
No culture hub will be complete if there wasn’t a wine bar in place. But Puro KL is no ordinary wine bar.
Founders, Meng How & Gerald were working as local wine importers & distributors when they realized how Malaysia’s wine scene was lacking something: organic, biodynamic, sustainable and ‘natural’ wines.
Thus, the idea of PURO KL was born, a “natural” wine bar that serves wine that are not only environmentally conscious but are left at their most natural state with minimal intervention.
Throw away any snobby preconceptions of what wine is about when you take a seat at their bar. As they so aptly put it “Rather than serving wines that are rich, flawless and correct, we seek out wines that are expressive, that are earthy, that comes with visible sediments, that taste ALIVE!”
Not just selling bottles, PURO KL utilizes an extensive wine-by-the-glass program: Through a dispensary, wine is poured into glasses through Coravin technology to ensure a fresh & balanced wine.
So if you’re looking to experience wine in a whole new revolutionary way, PURO KL is definitely the place for you to visit.
But that’s not it for PURO KL, keep a lookout for next year as they plan to start a wine club. Also to add to their already impressive roster, wine workshops will be hosted by Gerald, DipWSET, CSW and Certified Sommelier. The goal is for guests to leave with a teased palate & a greater understanding of wines.
Opening hours: Monday closed
Tuesday to Friday, 5.00 p.m. to 11.30 p.m.
Saturday, 3.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m.
Sunday, 3.00 p.m. to 11.30 p.m.
1. Fred Perry
And when you think REXKL has it all, they also include a high-end retail concept space with the honour being given to Fred Perry, an iconic brand among the British streetwear subculture.
Designed like an art exhibit with a modern industrial touch, this Fred Perry store only carries the higher-end collections which include collaborations with Raf Simons, Akane Utsunomiya, Nicolas Daley and Made In Japan.
Perfect for the seasoned Fred Perry fan, this is THE place to go to if you can’t find their premium collaborations elsewhere.
Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday – Sunday: 11am – 9pm
What WE Missed but You Don’t Have To
So, that’s it for the many unique faces of REXKL. Do note that there will two vendors we were unable to meet with but they’re definitely worth checking out and for a good cause too! First, MAB Shopee, a massage parlor run by the Malaysian Association for the Blind which employs the visually-impaired. Next, Asli Barbers, a barber that not only pays homage to old school traditional barber shops but provides opportunities to underprivileged Orang Asli youths to learn the skill of barbering and earn a living (breaking the cycle of poverty)!
Don’t Wreck Yourself Before You REX Yourself!
What are you waiting for? Head on over to REXKL this weekend (or a weekday if you’re not slaving away at a 9-5 like the rest of us) and check out these treasures for yourself!
Also, don’t miss the chance to watch the award-winning short films of BMW Shorties (in conjunction with this year’s Urbanscapes Festival) which REXKL will be screening every day!
Address: 80, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Opening hours: Monday closed, Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 11pm