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The view from the bar looking out onto Russian Market.
The view from the bar looking out onto Russian Market. Eliah Lillis

A hideout above the bustle of Russian Market

To get to Nissai Bar requires some unusual directions. “Street 163 and Street 450: just look for the red light,” manager Gino Lopez told Post Weekend before visiting. Even after spotting the little red bulb hanging above this busy street corner, finding the bar itself is a challenge.

It requires walking down a short but dark alley and then up a residential staircase, past a salon on the second floor, and then climbing one of the city’s steeper stairwells. Here, on the third floor, is Nissai, a truly “hidden” bar that, until recently, was just a studio apartment.

Although a “speakeasy” style cocktail bar, Nissai is more laid-back and less self-consciously hip than its hidden competitors around town. “It’s a residential place, so we don’t cater to large crowds,” Lopez says. “We want our clients to have some privacy. After work, no more hustle, no more noise around them, [to have a place] to relax and to be with friends.” The menu reflects this low-key vibe.

The cocktails are mostly classics like daiquiris, mojitos and spicy bloody marys and, at $3.5 to $4, they are reasonably priced. (A glass of wine is $3.5 and beers range from $1.5 to $2.5). In the next few months, Lopez hopes to have simple snacks like sandwiches on offer, made on a little grill behind the bar.

Bar manager Gino Lopez with a house daiquiri.
Bar manager Gino Lopez with a house daiquiri. Eliah Lillis

Lopez, who is Filipino, and the anonymous bar owner have created a sleek but cosy space, decked out with screen prints celebrating the country’s “golden era” of rock ’n’ roll,with a 1960s-meets-industrial-chic theme throughout.

Recycled objects, like tables made from spare tyres and tin window shutters, make up much of the décor. Perhaps the bar’s biggest selling point is what is outside: Open screen doors lead to a balcony overlooking Russian Market’s food court and one of the city’s most vibrant blocks.

The idea for the theme came from the owner’s travels to Japan, “where there are hundreds of hidden bars”, Lopez says. He wanted to build a space with an air of secrecy but where friends could relax in a comfortable place. He chose the name Nissai because it is the Khmer word for destiny. For foreigners to converge from across the world in Cambodia, and then to find themselves together in a hidden bar, is a stroke of fate.

“The concept is somehow to give a vibe that we are here to connect from different places,” Lopez says. “It’s destiny. It’s Nissai.”

Nissai Bar is located on the corner of Street 163 and Street 450, across from Russian Market. Its hours are 6pm-11pm Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 6-midnight on Friday and Saturday. Tel: 088 743 2681

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