Words and Photos by John Chin
It was used as a prison and an Opium den in the 1800s.
After a recent makeover, this pre-war heritage building has been given a new lease of life serving as a living museum on conservation and historical preservation using sustainable green techniques.
Now restored to its former glory, it has since bagged a Silver award in the Conservation Category at the PAM Awards 2017 for architecture and interior design.
The arty bistro that is operating within has modern trappings, an enviable wall filled with photographs of the personalities including the Kedah Royalty and a dedicated Tunku Room, filled with memorabilia in memory of the Malaysia’s founding father, the first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.
The potent combination of heritage and a café serving good coffee is a sure attention grabber.
In the past two years since its opening, Caffé Diem located at Prison Street has caused a buzz on the internet and is a place for heritage building buffs.
Caffé Diem was first started by coffee enthusiast and barista Jackie Loo, who incidentally was a journalism graduate, a few doors down the road.
The vibrant café attracted the attention of developer Datuk Rick Cheng, the Kedah chapter chairman of the Real Estate Housing Developers Association, who was renovating the heritage building at that time. Chen was quick to offer Jackie to use the building to operate the café and be a business partner.
It is along the old prison road near to the river and along a row of pre-war shop houses which are 120 years old steep with its British Colonial past.
By the 1950s, the prison and Opium den were gone, and today, the vicinity exudes a ‘old world charm’ that is drawing tourists to sample the distant past and enjoy the present.
Jackie said ground floor of the restored double-storey shophouse is where the kitchen, a coffee bar, and the “perahu” room that featured three sampans hanging from the high ceiling.
“We bought the sampans at RM150 each but to erect it; it costs us RM8,000,” said Loo when detailing the features within the café.
Upstairs is the Tunku Room, a dining area, and next to it the China Room lit with red lanterns.
Caffé Diem is a place that provides space to nurture local talents; it has a slot for acoustic buskers who only have to bring themselves to play without any fee and gets to keep all takings from the guests.