Familiar faces and fantastic food at Bert's Keller

Full bar at Bert's Keller
From its façade, you can’t tell what’s behind those double wooden doors.  Once inside, your eyes will be riveted to a long bar that lines an entire wall.  The opposite wall is designed with quaint glass-paneled windows and the floor is paved with slate tiles.  Bathed in subtle lighting, the cosy ambience has an air of warm camaraderie, reminiscent of a familiar place where everyone knows your name.

Few pubs in the city can boast of being around for 24 years and Bert’s Keller has earned its reputation as quite an establishment in Johor Baru.  Since 1986, Bert’s has been the favourite watering-hole for regulars who know how to enjoy a few laughs in good company.  Bert’s, named after its owner, Bertrand Pau, first opened in Holiday Plaza and moved to its present location in 1995.  Loyal customers followed his trail there while a new generation of customers has now made Bert’s their usual hang-out.

Teresa Ling working behind the bar at Bert's
A drink will quench a thirst but there’s something special about unwinding at Bert’s after a long day.  Maybe it’s the charming lived-in ambience and friendly faces at the bar and one familiar face behind the bar is Teresa Ling.  Ling is almost synonymous with Bert’s because she has been with the pub since 1992 and is involved with every aspect of the business.  She is the proverbial bartender who’s not only skilled in whipping up your choice of drink but is also a good listener to share a joke or hear your woes!

“Customers can talk here,” said Ling about how regulars, especially lawyers and their clients prefer Bert’s because they have privacy for their conversations.  Customers appreciate their unobtrusive service and the choice of music is just right for quiet chats. 

You can choose to sit on wrought iron chairs at the tables or at the bar and in the rear hall, a pool table and dart board completes the deco.  If you sat at the bar, you will notice how the original sheen on the wooden bar top is now scratched and has been re-painted several times.  But this is what gives Bert’s its character.  Countless mugs and pegs have been served over this counter and throngs of people have passed many happy hours here.

Bert's signature Oxtail Stew served with a side of toast
While most pubs serve finger food and munchies, Bert’s has a small menu but is big on quality and portions.  Besides the usual snacks, regulars are familiar with their stir-fried noodles that come with a side of sambal belacan.  Fans of this zinger condiment often ask for more and Ling will oblige and even give a take-away portion upon request!

You will be delighted with the Lamb Chop and Chicken Chop because it’s served with an unusually generous portion of vegetables.  But you must taste their signature Oxtail Stew that comes with a side of toast.  This special stew is served a day old when the meat is steeped in its sauces and so tender, it’s ready to fall off the bones.  Prepared from an old German recipe, its flavour has remained consistent over the years and has kept regulars coming back for more.

Wall of beer cans collected since 1992
“The Europeans will eat with their fingers,” laughed Ling as she recalled how expatriate customers preferred to use their hands and would wipe the stew plate clean of every drop of gravy!  Regulars often order takeaways to enjoy at home and every now and then, one of her regular customers would leave instructions for her to send takeaway meals to several priests who live in the nearby parish.

Bert’s also caters for celebrations like wedding receptions, anniversaries and birthdays.  On special occasions, “live” music will be organized for entertainment.  The annual Beer Fest in October is a highlight on Bert’s calendar while their anniversary celebration in November always attracts a host of regulars.  Bert’s has a tradition to commemorate their anniversary with a fund-raiser to donate to a charitable cause and this year the beneficiary is iM Prihatin, a Non-Governmental Organization that’s working to combat social issues like abandoned babies, child abuse, and immoral activities like incest and drug trafficking.

Tucked at the end of a row of shops at No. 23 Jalan Pelandok in Taman Century, Johor Bahru, Bert’s Keller is open daily from 4pm to 1am and from 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.  For enquiries and catering, Tel: 07 – 335 8788.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in October 2010

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