After a year or so in the doldrums Phnom Penh bars are back in business, and nowhere more so than in the laneways around Street 308 between Norodom and Sothearos Boulevards not far from the Independence Monument. Not only has this idiosyncratic nightlife destination regained its mojo, it’s even acquired a new name. Welcome to the Bassac Quarter, one of the capital’s best-loved after-dark hotspots where punters are genuinely spoilt for choice when it comes to beer, cocktails and a bite to eat.
While it’s been hard to watch business owners struggle — and sometimes, sadly, fail — to maintain their livelihoods during the Covid-enforced closures, it’s reassuring to see so many bouncing back, and a raft of new bars and eateries opening in readiness for a post-pandemic influx of expats and visitors. The neighborhood comes alive after five with happy hours at many venues. At the latest count it’s home to some thirty (really!) mostly small drinking and eating establishments, in styles that range from sleek to dive, all sardined into what is little more than one, lively block.
Long time patrons of Red Bar, the first bar to open on Street 308 a decade or so ago, were dismayed when a ‘for sale’ sign appeared late last year. Happily this old favorite has been rescued by the owners of Tuol Tum Poung’s Amnasia bar, and, apart from a lick of paint and the addition of several new beers to the menu, remains unchanged, including the easy-on-the-pocket prices.
Backstreet Bar has upped its game with a quirky facelift and a new, raised deck over the empty swimming pool. The bar’s pizza menu allowed it to stay open when other, non-food venues were forced to close; it now hosts regular DJ and quiz nights, drinks promotions, and the occasional live music. With an entrance that looks more like that of a private members’ club, Abode Bar and Lounge is easy to miss, but as one of Street 308’s smartest watering holes with an imaginative menu and a private room for events and small parties, it’s not one to miss out on, particularly the occasional Supper Club evenings with special food and wine pairings.
New neighbors include Mars Bar and Can Can — a good choice for groups with its ample outdoor courtyard and balcony, a full food menu plus DJs and live music at weekends — and the pop up Nomad Burger food truck and beer garden.
Accessed between Phnom Penh Yacht Club (freshly shucked oysters every Thursday) and the new Spanish cantina, Casa Diego (specializing in tapas, rum and cigars), Bassac Lane’s cluster of micro bars — which include the truly diminutive Welsh Embassy sports bar — spill out into the surrounding alleys.
H Club is the Bassac Quarter’s after hours go-to for regular DJs and live music. Bassac Social Club, Margarita cocktail bar, and Cay Bar also host DJs till late most weekends. For more live music, amble over to Street 9 where cafe bar/arts space Cloud has band nights most weekends and a Thursday evening open mic.
One of the happier side effects of the dearth of tourists and decline in expat population over the last year or two is the growing number of locals frequenting the area’s bars and eateries, with the effect it feels much less of a barang enclave and all the better for it. A good many more Khmer-owned bars have opened up too, particularly on the corner of Streets 308 and 21 where a new, buzzy parade of casual outdoor drinking spots has gradually taken shape opposite the longer-established Hub — kudos to its entrepreneurial young Khmer owner who started out selling cocktails from a cart by Wat Botum Park and traded up to this attractive bar that lives up to its name — and the newer Kute Bar.
Even if you weren’t planning to eat, you’ll likely be tempted by the array of food around the neighborhood, including pizzas at the perennially popular Piccolo Italia da Luigi; Greek dishes at a great new branch of Elia; Chinese dumplings and noodles at Mama Wong’s; a taste of France at Little Wine Bistro; French tacos at Electric Kitchen; the (prominently located!) Khmer Secret BBQ; and an Indian restaurant, Namaste. For remarkably good value Khmer and western food and drinks in a leafy, garden setting, stroll down Street 308 beyond Street 9 to 63 Street Bassac Restaurant, still rather confusingly named after its original location.
Pick a bar, grab a seat, and raise a glass of something cold and refreshing to nightlife in the Kingdom of Wonder. Chul mouy, Bongs!