Look Elsewhere for a Saturday afternoon’s poolside decadence over a strong cocktail

Elsewhere’s pool stayed the same in the year that Aqua Restaurant occupied the space.
Elsewhere’s pool stayed the same in the year that Aqua Restaurant occupied the space. Bennett Murray

Look Elsewhere for a Saturday afternoon’s poolside decadence over a strong cocktail

Renowned for its strong drinks and elaborate parties, expat haunt Elsewhere is back after a year-long hiatus. The days of late-night boozing may be over but, happily, the daytime drinks come as powerful as they ever were.

“So strong, too strong!” said the barman as he served a masterfully prepared Long Island Iced Tea ($3) by the pool at lunchtime earlier this week. He came back a few minutes later with a club sandwich ($5) which completed the tastefully indulgent atmosphere. It was a guilty lazy Monday afternoon, and a couple were the only other customers in the building.

Elsewhere’s history stretches back a decade when it became one of the capital’s first boutique hotels and restaurants in 2004, set in an elegant 1920s house on Street 51. After the landlord sold the building in 2009, Alexis de Suremain, the developer of the brand, was forced to swap colonial chic for a more contemporary vibe on Street 278. Massive parties became a monthly ritual, including an all-night dance party at the railway station. But as Street 278’s hospitality industry grew, the parties became less frequent due to noise complaints and the bar was scrapped in 2012.

Strictly speaking, Elsewhere never went away. The small boutique hotel on the premises kept the name and management, as did the Elsewhere clothing shop on Street 240. But for those who knew Elsewhere as the original setting of the city’s “First Friday” parties, an old favourite had closed its doors. In its place was Aqua Restaurant, which was known for its flirtations with molecular gastronomy, and lasted until August 2013. With the downstairs bar and restaurant vacant, Elsewhere was reborn the same month.

A club sandwich and Long Island iced tea by the poolside.
A club sandwich and Long Island iced tea by the poolside. Bennett Murray

Fans of the old Elsewhere will notice a few changes – the kiddie pool has been filled in and some of the lounge space on the first floor has been converted to rooms. But the general flavour of the place remains intact: it is still a cozy, sophisticated spot that works as well for a first date as a place to bring the kids. But don’t expect to see the parties that once made the place famous.

“I am still looking for a nice location where we could carry on the outdoor big parties of the early days, but such space is not easy to find in the middle of the city,” Suremain told 7Days.

The food menu is similar to what it once was, with old favourites such as pasta and quiche ($5), raviolis champignons ($5) and salads ($5-6) on offer. While beer is a bit pricey at $2 to $4 a bottle, the cocktails are uniformly set at a low $3 without sacrificing strength or quality of ingredients. But options are far fewer than what they once were and the menu lacks the creative concoctions that were once popular.

The new pool policy is also disappointing. Elsewhere, which once offered free use of the pool with purchases of $5 or more, now charges a $5 flat fee that only includes a free Coca-Cola or Fanta. In a city where pool use is generally free for customers at bars and restaurants (big hotels notwithstanding), it seems an unwise managerial decision to charge an additional fee.

Nonetheless, it’s good to see the return of a Phnom Penh favourite. It has been a subdued rebirth with little publicity and minimal development, but with a little effort, no doubt the crowds will follow. For many, a high-powered Long Island at $3 should be more than enough enticement.

Elsewhere is located at #2 Street 278.

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