Out to Drinks

An Insider’s Guide to Phnom Penh’s Best Cocktail Bars

By Cynthia Rosenfeld  •    •  January 22, 2020

An Insider’s Guide to Phnom Penh’s Best Cocktail Bars

By Cynthia Rosenfeld  •  January 22, 2020

In the Cambodian capital, homegrown ingredients, expat entrepreneurs, and rising prosperity have combined to create a nightlife scene worth seeking out. 

Cocktails and motorcycles make for a decidedly dangerous mix—except at Hangar 44, the pioneering lounge in Phnom Penh. Inside the airy, double-height venue, a custom Honda XL600 nicknamed The Frankenscrambler hangs from thick metal chains just above the heads of bartenders mixing drinks. Mud-dappled helmets, vintage gas canisters, and other motorcycle memorabilia adorn the walls, and the well-worn leather side satchels and weathered motorcycle boots scattered around give the space an Easy Rider–goes-urban-chic ambience.  

The perennially popular five-year-old microbar—part of the nightlife nexus of Bassac Lane in south-central Phnom Penh, about a 15-minute tuk-tuk ride from Rosewood Phnom Penh—doubles as the showroom for Moto Cambodge, a nascent lifestyle brand born out of a love for restoring and reimagining secondhand bikes. Patrick Uong, the only native Cambodian among the motorhead co-owners, helped design Hangar 44’s innovative drinks menu, spotlighting indigenous ingredients like Kampot pepper and cardamom. The cocktails—and the space—resonate with Cambodia’s growing expatriate community as well as the capital’s emergent middle class, flush with previously unseen spending power.

Uong serves as something of an unofficial ambassador for Phnom Penh’s 21st-century renaissance. Born here in 1971, he was evacuated to Thailand along with his mother and siblings by his father, a major in the Royal Cambodian Air Force, one day before Khmer Rouge forces took control of Phnom Penh in April 1975. The family found its way to Southern California, where Uong grew up as “the only Asian kid” playing on the water polo team and riding the surf breaks. Uong admits he was “curious about everything but my parents and our heritage.” 

Eventually, feeding a growing desire to understand his past, Uong left California for his homeland’s still-sleepy capital in 2001, just as Cambodia’s postwar revival began to bloom. Moto Cambodge was born in this heady environment. The goal, as Uong puts it, was “to celebrate the freedom of riding along unpaved roads among Cambodia’s untrammeled countryside of rice paddies and rugged mountains—as  well as our shared love, coming from the West, of skating and surfing and sunshine and pop culture.” Since his arrival, Uong observes, Phnom Penh has evolved into a thriving community open to such quirky entrepreneurship. 

“Cambodian ingenuity breeds an incredibly inspiring creativity,” Uong says of the unique forces responsible for Phnom Penh’s current buzz. What the country lacks in resources,  he explains with heartfelt admiration, Cambodians themselves make up for with clever inventiveness. This is certainly evident on the after-dark Phnom Penh tour Uong shared with Rosewood Conversations, replete with local spirits poured by native mixologists, in spaces made sophisticated by young Khmer architects. Hop on and join the ride:

Samai Distillery

Cambodia’s sugarcane-carpeted landscape inspired a trio of rum enthusiasts from Venezuela and Uruguay to produce a premium spirit using the finest local cane they can source. Demand has outpaced supply from the start, especially for their luscious Kampot pepper–infused version. On Thursday nights, the owners open the private bar inside their Bassac Lane distillery for a bit of a fiesta, sometimes with live music and, on special occasions, freshly rolled cigars to pair with the aged gold rum. “At Hangar 44, I make a spin on the old-fashioned with Samai’s Kampot pepper rum,” says Uong. “Both their white and gold rums feature in our tiki-inspired concoctions, too. It’s all about making magic with what we have.” samaidistillery.com; No. 9b, Street 830, Tonle Bassac; +855 23 212 548.

Seekers Spirits

“Saturdays mean making our way to this distillery near the Russian market,” says Uong. That’s when the Anglo-Catalonian owners open their doors to serve creative cocktails made with their locally produced gin, which infuses spring water from the Kampot Mountains with juniper and regionally sourced botanicals including galangal, kaffir lime, coriander, and pomelo. You’ll find it on the spirits menu at Sora, the rooftop bar at Rosewood Phnom Penh. seekersspirits.com; No. 80, Street 454, Toul Tom Poung; +855 93 998  850. 

Tini Bar 

Also in the Tuol Tom Poung neighborhood, near the Russian Market, hides this under-the-radar, tropical-themed café and bar. “The name actually means here in Khmer, but it also describes the cozy quarters,” says Uong of this insider’s address. facebook.com/TiniPP450/; No. 57, Street 450 (between Sts.135+155), Toul Tom Poung; +855 17 555 450.

Long After Dark Bar

This photogenic lounge offers Phnom Penh’s best whiskey and bourbon list amid upcycled wood interiors, along with an extensive vinyl collection, notable gastropub fare, and exceptionally dapper bartenders. The Australian proprietors also own Sundown Social Club, with its beachcomber bar and island-inspired cocktail menu, overlooking the Russian Market two blocks away. “Each has a distinct vibe, yet all serve the owners’ excellent, just-launched Harvest craft beer, a standout on our nascent but noteworthy craft brew scene,” says Uong. longafterdarkcambodia.com; No. 86, Street 450, Russian Market; +855 93 768 354.

Cerevisia Brewery

“This was one of the first small-production craft breweries in town, remarkable for making beers without wheat—perfect for my gluten-free friends visiting from California,” says Uong. Efforts here lean artisanal, so you may find a chocolate stout on the menu, or beers blended with locally sourced ingredients like raw honey from Mondulkiri province. Recently, the American owner extended his labor of love to Botanico, a wine and beer garden that also serves some of Cambodia’s tastiest sliders and grilled steaks. cerevisiacraftbrewery.com; No. 14, Street 144; +855 89 377 298.

BattBong

Pull the shiny metal handle on an old-fashioned Coca-Cola vending machine to reveal the entrance to this hidden speakeasy near the Independence Monument, its name translating to “disappearing person.” Raw décor with exposed brick and Edison bulbs belie the high-quality spirits, making for a popular destination for Cambodians and visitors alike. battbong.business.site; Corner of Street 51 and Street 28, at end of small alley;  +855 69 291 643.

Visit Rosewood Phnom Penh

DETAILS

Hangar 44, Street 308 at Street 29, Tonlé Bassac; +855 89 666 414

Samai DistilleryNo. 9b, Street 830, Tonlé Bassac; +855 23 212 548

Seekers SpiritsNo. 80, Street 454, Toul Tom Poung; +855 93 998  850

Sora, Rosewood Phnom Penh, 66 Monivong Boulevard, Sangkat Wat Phnom; +855 23 936 866

Tini Bar, No. 57, Street 450 (between Sts.135+155), Toul Tom Poung; +855 17 555 450

Long After Dark Bar, No. 86, Street 450, Russian Market; +855 93 768 354

Cerevisia Brewery, No. 14, Street 144; +855 89 377 298

BattBong, Corner of Street 51 and Street 28, at end of small alley; +855 69 291 643

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Written By: Cynthia Rosenfeld

1.22.20

Locations: Phnom Penh

See more: Food & Drink

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