Just about any long-term resident of the Penh has a decent back catalogue of stories about finding themselves, often inexplicably, on Rue Pasteur in the early hours of a weekday morning.
Should anyone find themselves in this neighbourhood at this ungodly hour, it’s safe to say they’re usually in no frame of mind to quit knocking back the G&Ts, cut their losses, and try for a couple of hours sleep before the duties of the next day beckon.
Even late at night, arrivals to Street 51 are rarely lacking in choice for entertainment, with several of the city’s biggest nightclubs within walking distance of each other and a host of sidewalk restaurants open almost as long as the venues. The Drunken Sponge caters to those who yearn to keep their evening chugging along in good company, without the overbearing music and untoward propositions of some of the nightspots around the corner.
On outward appearances, the Sponge feels like some bizarre parallel dimension of Cheers: the tight-knit, motley collection of English teachers, journalists and NGO staffers all know each other’s names and share the casual bond that comes from countless months of shared after hours recreation. Beaming over the bar are the cathode lights of a TV permanently set to Premier League matches, amid the cacophony of clinking beer glasses on the tables and the clacking of the foosball table in the rear.
Holding up the bar on most nights is Martin, the amiable six-year resident of Cambodia, who greets new arrivals with a firm handshake, a welcoming spray of Yorkshire brogue and a set of introductions to the seated, single-file assembly of one dollar Anchor draught sippers. Martin previously earned his crust by overseeing the Magic Sponge guesthouse down in Kampot, before taking the opportunity to return to the capital by managing the now-defunct Drunken Frog in the former Lakeside.
On the Sponge’s opening night last June, Martin found that most of the Frog’s regulars had followed him and the sound system he inherited from his old haunt.
Herein lies one of the Sponge’s best features: a computer mounted on one end of the bar with a music catalogue spanning Bowie, Blur and Bloc Party, with everything in between.
One would think that inviting a group of hard-drinking patrons to meddle with the stereo would invite trouble. Strangely enough, it seems to work well, with a certain unspoken etiquette leading to that manner of shambolic grace that mirrors the traffic on the city streets outside. So long as everyone waits their turn and keeps their cool, no one will die in a horrific accident. Of course, the analogy is stretched a little thin on the occasions when one of the female patrons starts dancing to Pulp’s Common People on top of the bar.
“The music is very rarely a problem,” Martin says, presumably alluding to the refined musical tastes of his regulars. Of course, he retains the right of veto: “Unless one of them tries to put on Final Countdown, or Level 42, or something by Simply Red. Then, we have a problem!”
Address: #66, St 51 (near the corner of St 178)
Hours: Tue-Sun 7:00pm – Late, Fri-Sat 7:00pm – Obscenely Late