Back in July, Cloud hosted its first event. It was, the organisers cautioned, “A Very Soft Opening” – the downstairs floor was still a construction site, there was no air conditioning and only minimal seating. With guests chatting casually on the balcony and half the attendees wearing fancy dress, it had the feel more of a college party than a commercial venture.
Two months later, the Tonle Bassac bar is edging closer towards completion. Upstairs, the walls are painted a dusty blue, and large glass orbs suspended in a fisherman’s net hang from the ceiling.
It’s clear that time and money is being invested in the detail, such as the floor tiles designed to mimic the venue’s cloud-based logo, and a triangular skylight built into the front wall.
But downstairs, the space still looks chaotic: a mess of exposed brickwork and piles of building materials, with the concrete skeleton of a bar rising from the centre.
“It looks messy, but all the preparation is done. You just need to paint it,” said Frederic Macewicz, one of the bar’s three co-owners.
But the model piloted by Cloud is not one that puts a premium on completeness.
The bar is, to all intents and purposes, already open – it has been welcoming customers on the weekends for the past two months, and hosting a series of successful events in the upstairs space.
Macewicz, like his two business partners, has no background in hospitality.
“It was more like a way to try the place before it really opened – figure out what was working, what wasn’t working, test people’s reactions,” he said.
According to Macewicz, the permissions needed to open a new venue were hardly higher than what it would take to host a party in your own home.
“So far, we only needed to deal with the fact we wanted to start construction work; we just needed permission to do so,” he said.
Apart from that, there’s been little in the way of red tape. “Some of the businesses register after being one year in activity – so far, so good.”
A successful crowd funding campaign on French platform ulule.com, which saw it raise $5,300, has helped with startup costs.
But Macewicz said that bootstrapping remains a dicey business.
“I have to win the game first I guess,” he said.
“The idea is you can do it, I think I can, but every weekend you cannot miss out. You need to pay for the booze and the construction work. If you don’t have enough money, you can’t renew the stock or pay for construction to go forward.”
At the moment, Cloud has limited itself to a fairly run-of-the-mill drinks menu, featuring half a dozen cocktails, beers and soft drinks. Soon, they hope to also be serving snacks.
The idea for Cloud, Macewicz said, is to make it a venue shaped to a large degree by its clientele. With a lounge bar downstairs, the upstairs space will be in constant flux, assisted by the presence of a mobile bar unit.
As well as hosting club nights, Cloud has held yoga classes and will soon be resurrecting Phnom Penh’s long-absent swing dancing sessions. It will double as an art space, with an initial exhibition of works by 10 Battambang artists opening after Pchum Ben.
It’s now been almost exactly a year since Macewicz first started working with his two business partners. All three are hoping that the after the full opening, slated for at some point later this month, their investment will start paying dividends.
“If it’s not enough, we’ll f— crash, but I don’t think we’ll crash,” Macewicz said. “I think we’ll make it.”
Cloud is located at #32EO Street 9.