Happy hour in Reading: Chez Mal Bar at the Malmaison

Claire Slobodian
Malmaison Happy hour

This is the first of our Happy Hour of the Month posts, where Explore Reading tries out the drinks deals on offer at bars around town (it’s a hard life). We’ll hunt down genuinely good bars with happy hours in Reading, so you can find out which deals and cheap drinks are worth daydreaming about as you wait for the work day to end.

This month, our team gets merry at Malmaison Hotel’s Chez Mal Bar, for a happy hour they like to call ‘Thank Mal it’s Friday’.

What’s the deal?

All cocktails are £5 between 5-8pm every Friday. Glasses of Maison Champagne are £6. If you’re looking for a beer, Heineken is £3 a pint.

How are the drinks?

In one word: quality. The menu features a relatively slim list of seven classic cocktails such as a Manhattan, negroni, cosmpolitan or mojito. They are balanced with seven contrasting Malchemy Twist cocktails – quirky signature takes on each traditional drink. The Pina Colada for example, goes toe to toe with the Painkiller (Pussers Navy rum, coconut cream, orange juice and nutmug).

From the classics list, my Manhattan is expertly made with premium Woodford Reserve bourbon, Martini Rosso and bitters. After a couple of quick questions from the bartender on how I prefer a martini (gin and dry enough to dehydrate, since you asked) that too comes out crisp and just to order. That’s harder than it would appear in Reading – at one bar I was once served a martini that came out green.

A cosmopolitan is lighter, but still delicious, with just the right mix of sweet and tart. It’s a refreshing choice after a long day in the office.

Cocktail happy hour at the mal
The white negroni and a cosmopolitan. 

From the Malchemy Twists, the white negroni comes with a warning from the waiter that it’s quite strong and aromatic. He’s right. Made with Bombay Sapphire gin, Lillet Blanc and Suze (Swiss plant-based bitters), it’s potent with an unusually floral note, but goes down a treat.

The gin gin mule (gin, ginger beer, mint leaves and lime juice) is the take on a mojito and a great spin on the norm. The light mix of gin and mint make it one of those dangerous drinks that you forget is alcoholic – it’s a good choice for someone who is unsure of what to order, or doesn’t do strong cocktails.

The Maison Champagne option is also quite smooth, proving popular as the first order for most of the other drinkers in the bar on our visit. 

And the service?

Sharp-shirted waiters take your order tableside and bring drinks to you, so there’s no interminable wait at the bar. They are all efficient, smiley and quick, with well-judged drink recommendations.

What’s the vibe?

Our first visit was on a payday weekend. The bar filled up early with a lively post-work crowd, before flowing into a mix of couples and girl groups getting in early on weekend drinks from around 7pm. On our second mid-month visit things are slightly quieter, but still get busy from 7pm. With neon signs, plushy chairs and low lighting, the decor feels a little dated, but the bar is cosy and has a chill, date night vibe regardless. 

Is it worth it?

Yes. These well-made cocktails would be a draw at their full price (£9). At a fiver, they’re a bargain. Especially for three hours on a Friday night.

The details

Every Friday,  5-8pm | Chez Mal Bar, The Malmaison Hotel, 18-20 Station Road, Reading.

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