Wall Street, the bar where drinkers call the shots and wait for a crash

Matthew Chance ventures into Kuala Lumpur's Wall Street bar, where the cost of a round fluctuates as drink prices rise and fall according to the laws of supply and demand.
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The Independent Online
Walk into a noisy room filled with sharp suits, wide red braces and eyes fixed on television screens, and you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stepped back 10 years on to the bustling trading floor of a bullish stock exchange. But although prices here rise and fall according to demand, this is no financial market.

Wall Street, the "latest concept in greed", according to one happy drinker, is a bar in the heart of Kuala Lumpur's business district which for many encapsulates the country's growing culture of western-style materialism and distance from the Islamic faith of its majority. Its drinks, like shares listed on a stock market, fluctuate in price every few seconds: when demand for a certain beer increases, so does its price; when vodka is not selling too well, the cost of a shot comes down.

"I just wanted to create the atmosphere, the buzz of a market," said Mark Walter, a British merchant banker-turned entrepreneur who part-owns Wall Street. "From personal experience I know just how exciting the trading floor can be, and here the gambling bug is in people's blood, and everyone likes a drink," he added. The success of this first bar, in profit after only a few months, has given rise to plans to open a second venue in London early next year.

On Fridays, hordes of red-eyed bankers gather, to drink in the kind of atmosphere they have been familiar with all week. "We get lots of different kinds of customers, but bankers, local and expatriate, appear most comfortable is this environment," Mr Walter said. Omar Yusoff, a young professional with paisley braces and steel-rimmed spectacles, places his order after a lengthy mental calculation: eight bottles of Carlsberg priced at 6.28 ringgits (pounds 1.25) each. Seconds later, the price of the beer on the screens above the bar rises to 7.50 ringgits, prompting laughter from others about to buy a round.

"It's basically a free market in here, but with some boundaries," explained Joanna Chee, the bar's marketing manager. "We never let the prices get too high so they are unaffordable. Nor do we let the cost of a drink slip below our basic profit margin, except perhaps during a market crash," she said. A few times a night, prices of certain drinks, as if they were unpopular shares on the diving Malaysian stock exchange, plummet to record lows, prompting what Mohamad Khalil, a would-be banker, calls "a surge of buying activity".