Backyard Keeps It Fresh

It’s 8pm on a Friday evening and The Backyard Pub & Grill located in Sri Hartamas is already running out of seats for the steady flow of customers who make their way in and around because this is truly a place where everybody knows your name. Midway through the interview, owner Jerry Chong has disappeared from our borrowed “Reserved” table to say his Hellos.

Having lived in England for 8 years, Jerry Chong returned to his motherland with the aspiration to open  up a pub of his own in his 50s (if at all) as part of his plans for retirement. Fast-forward some 30 years later, Backyard Pub is celebrating its 25th anniversary and there appears to be no plans for retirement in the horizon. The pub, which started off as 2 floors in one shop lot, has since expanded into three shop lots – seamlessly partitioned into the music, pool and dining sections, to offer the best ambience for your evening out.

Their menu, which is as diverse as its patrons, offers some of the best pairings with your choice of poison. Whether you’re looking for a full meal of mutton fried rice that goes down as smooth as their selection of single malt whiskies to a sizzling barbeque every Saturday, the Backyard Pub is definitely one of the few watering holes that can boast about their kitchen as much as they can about their bar. 

But the Backyard Pub has not earned its reputation for its fried rice nor it’s perfectly crafted Long Island Teas (next time you’re in, ask Jerry for the Really Long Island Tea – not on the menu - and be prepared for a pleasant surprise). Instead, Backyard is reputed for setting the benchmark for live music. If you’ve made it on the Backyard stage, you can rest assured you’re on the right track.

Chong had always been a music fan and he was aware of the benefits of having a live act on stage; music veterans Sam and (the late) Paul Ponnudurai were one of the first few acts to grace the Backyard stage. The growing music scene would soon bring in Music Director, Edmund Anthony who used to frequent the joint with his brother Jairus, who was the first solo act to play in Backyard. Jairus soon became a popular feature at Backyard and would appear recurrently until his untimely passing in 2004.

Gone but not forgotten, Jairus’ legacy lives on through the acclaimed annual Jairus Anthony Music Festival (JAMFest) held every year from October to November.

 “The JAMFest is definitely one of our biggest accomplishments. During the festival, we showcase young talents and give them a chance to showcase their skills to a well-versed audience while also giving them the opportunity to share the stage with some of the more seasoned outfits and musicians in the industry. More than that, this is also a great way for us to keep an eye (and an ear) out for what’s fresh in the music scene, he said, “We’re glad to say that some the bands that are currently making waves like rock band Blister and Indie singer Reza Salleh, had their breakout performances during JAMFest”

Coming up to 25 years, one can’t help but wonder what is their secret to their longevity?

“The truth is that Jerry is one of the best business owners in town,” confides Edmund as Jerry once again makes his rounds to entertain the regulars, “Jerry always says he’s the poorest publican around town and that’s because he’s not in it for the profit.” The proof is seen on the tab at the end of the night because even after 25 years of success Backyard has yet to impose the 10% service tax on its customers. “What most don’t know either is, that no matter what the day, before Jerry leaves for the night he always leaves aside a cash float to be used to pay the musicians for the night IF, by some mischance, there isn’t enough in the till. No matter what happens, he always ensures that the musicians are paid.”

There aren’t too many music directors who can say that they’ve hired almost everyone on their wishlist of performers, but Anthony can. From Indian fusion out AkashA to the famed Alleycats and Ponnudorai, Anthony shares with just the right hint of triumph that he never has to worry about hiring the “wrong band” for the night because the he feels the patrons of this neighborhood haunt have matured with the pub in terms of appreciating a variety of musical genres and styles.

As for the younger generation, who are currently more inclined towards the EDM and Trance genre, Anthony has no qualms as he responds with a chuckle, “They’ll grow older soon.”

Aside from music and grub, Backyard pub is also a favorite for pool enthusiasts, who come by regularly for friendly matches and for the occasional competition hosted by the pub. Sports fans are also catered to with screenings of BPL football matches to match the football paraphernalia that don the walls of the pool room.

For their 25th anniversary, Chong and Anthony are pulling out all the stops to cater to both regulars and newcomers. Every Wednesday during their 25-day celebration, there will be someone different on stage, the last three weeks featured the Bluesgang, the Alleycats and Jamie Wilson Trio featuring Hillary Ang. Tonight ASEANA Percussion Unit is set to get the crowd rockin’ as they wrap up their month-long celebrations.

There are also weekly promos on other drinks during the period. Patrons can pick up two shots of Bombay Gin, two shots of Singleton (12 years) or two glasses of house wine for RM25nett.

Backyard Pub & Grill is located at 28, Jalan Sri Hartamas 8, Kuala Lumpur.

Up and coming journo, Kathleen de Cruz grew up and has spent countless evenings hobnobbing at the Backyard Pub & Grill … and if anyone dared jibe, “Your father’s pub, ah?” Well, kinda ….

This article was published in The Malay Mail on September 6, 2014.