I’m writing this sitting in one of the large hotel rooms of the Colisuem Café and Bar. It has three and a half meter high ceiling, two large windows into the noisy street outside and furniture that look they’ve been here since it was built. The room is roughly three times the size of a more expensive shoebox double room in the Red Dragon Hostel down in Chinatown and comes with towels, a basin in the room and natural light.
Built in 1921 by the Chua family which still owns it, the Coliseum was aimed at the British administration, government officials and wealthy planters of that period. The same few families who operated the place still operate it to this day.
When I was young, my father used to take us here for dinner. It was one of the very few restaurants in KL that served western food and its sizzling steak was a speciality. I don’t remember the food all that well but I can recall what it looked like and it hasn’t changed. There’re still waiters in white, the tables are still set perfectly and coverred with thick tableclothes and there is still the same sense of occasion.
It’s difficult to describe this sense and it is likely due to my own history with the place but stepping into the Colisuem feels like stepping back into the colonial period in a way tha the my visit to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel in Singapore did not. The Colisuem could have been so easily have been tacky and touristy (like the Raffles hotel) but instead, because of its shabbiness, you get the impression that what you see here is not a recreation but an unrenovated remnant of what it used to be like.
It hasn’t changed either in the last 24 years. Walking into the bar to check in, I see that chinese families are still surveying the huge sizzling t-bone steaks with an element of bemusement, the same tottering waiters still seems to be attending to their guests and the bar still has a couple of die-hard locals starting their drinking early.
Looking at the pace of development outside of the Coliseum, the insanely busy traffic, I wonder how much longer it can survive and if it will make it to its 100th year. It has become a KL institution but I fear that it is an institution only for those who grew up just before or just after independence, who were still affected in some way by the British. Will the younger generation more used to the trendy bars and nightclubs view the Coliseum as anything more than a quaint oddity that their parents occasionally speak of or will the place adapt and find a newer market, either in tourists (it is written up in the Lonely Planet) or elsewhere?