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.
This bar has been around since the 1920s 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. It’s 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.
Photos Courtesy of Gus Lye and Augustus Chai Chua Khiong of Knocknock Home
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 a couple of plastic chairs and 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 contain Chinese herbal liquor, rice wine, Indian whisky, cheap hard spirits and beers.
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.
Since there are no boatmen anymore and the Brits have long gone, patrons are more likely to be those down on their luck or low income workers tanking up on strong drinks for as low as RM1.50 per shot.
There are a few tourists though, both local and foreigners, who drop in from time to time to soak up the atmosphere of days gone by. I’m sure the landlord, who is the great grandson of the founder, would welcome your business if you are in the area.