All the 40 wines at Bouchon are French, but the clientele of the unlikely hotspot on Street 246 is a mixed crowd of businesspeople, NGO staff, interns, royals and embassy folk. It’s only been open for five months, does not have a website and has yet to advertise; but some weekend nights it is so packed it takes longer to order a drink than it does to drink one. And the odd thing is that you don’t mind waiting.
Owner Cedric Gertgen puts Bouchon’s quick success down to the uniqueness of its clientele. “People create the atmosphere,” he says, adding that the strategy was to open in a location that was a little bit hard to find. “We wanted people to have to go a little bit out of the way to find us.”
While near the Riverside, Bouchon does not attract the same crowd. “Bouchon is for people who enjoy talking as much as drinking. Our customers are sophisticated but not pretentious,” Gertgen says.
An eclectic design – exposed brick, industrial lights, concrete floor, cabaret-style mirrors with cheap-red curtains – and seating options that encourage conversation were the first steps. “It had to be something different,” Gertgen says over espresso.
“I was going out to the same five bars and they all looked the same,” the four-year resident of Phnom Penh explains.
An advertising executive, he relied on word-of-mouth, starting by impressing people he knew, and encouraging them to get the news out. He also made wine, primarily Bordeaux, the main attraction. Only two of the 40 he offers can be purchased at shops in Phnom Penh, he says. Twelve can be bought by the glass – from US$3.50 to $9 each – while bottles range from $17 to $95.
“I love wine and there was a growing thirst for it here,” Gertgen says. The cocktail list leans heavily towards martinis ($4 to $5 each with a two for one happy hour between 9pm and 10pm), but includes most of the regulars and shots.
Bouchon can be spontaneous. Even though there is no dance floor, customers dance to the left of the bar, and sometimes on top of it. “The dancing started in January,” Bouchon recalls. Business has surged since then, but it still remains uneven: some weekend nights the bar is less than one-quarter full. DJs arrive twice a month, and the menu is being expanded from finger food to French home cooking, with a menu focused on five dishes.
Gertgen describes Phnom Penh’s nightlife as “volatile” – with customers constantly shifting between venues, as well as in and out of the county. Spontaneous people add energy but it’s a step-by-step process to gain and keep such a clientele, Gertgen says.
Bouchon is open from 4pm Tuesday to Sunday. During the week it closes between midnight and 1am, but stays open an hour or so later on Fridays and Saturdays.
Staff said they were paid double what they received at previous jobs and that their tips were more than five times higher than what they received at bars along the Riverside.
They also described the customers as more polite.
Address: No 3, St 246
Tel: 077 88 11 03