Back-street booze on ‘Kabko Lane’

Thida opened the Back Street Bar despite her family’s opposition.
Thida opened the Back Street Bar despite her family’s opposition. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Back-street booze on ‘Kabko Lane’

Driving down Sothearos Boulevard, if you catch a glimpse of a black painted basket wreathed in fairy lights with the words “Back Street Bar”, take a turn down the alleyway for a casual drink sheltered from the dust and noise of the street.

Kampong Cham native 29-year-old Keo Chenda, who goes by “Thida”, opened the bar last month for a simple reason: “My feeling was just like that,” she says.

She originally set up shop with a Khmer food café, selling coffee and Cambodian breakfast foods like somlor macheu kreung (a meat sour soup with celery) or lok lak (stir fried peppered beef over lettuce) as well as fresh fruit. But Thida decided to re-decorate and extend the opening hours into the evening, and so a bar was born on what she jokingly calls “Kabko Lane”, in reference to the nearby market.

For the furnishings, fixtures and artwork on the walls, Thida drew upon her years of experience at an art gallery, recruiting Siem Reap-based mixed-media artist Monisi Long Riem.

He spent the past few weeks turning salvaged tyres, wooden pallets and other recycled materials into bar-tables, chairs and wall fixings. His unconvential artwork also adorns the walls, made from materials like coconut bark, fish scales, leaves and egg shells, and his paintings and collages depict rural Cambodian scenes.

Look for the basket sign on Sothearos Boulevard.
Look for the basket sign on Sothearos Boulevard. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

“Six months ago I went to his exhibition near Wat Phnom . . . I was selling the frames for the paintings,” Thida says. Riem for his part sees this as an opportunity to display and sell his work, which is available for customers, beyond Siem Reap.

But while she’s turned a forgettable storefront into a cosy alleyway watering hole, attracting a small following of loyal customers, she faced fallout from her conservative family.

“They think that it’s not good for a woman to open a bar . . . I tried to explain to my mum, but she did not understand,” she says, adding that her mother refuses to even come see the bar for what it is.

“She wanted me to open a beauty salon,” she says. Even her older brother Sokha, 31, was sceptical at first but now he’s employed as her bartender.

“When he saw that I’m happy with my business he came to help.”

Back Street Bar is located at #43 Sothearos Boulevard, in the nameless alleyway by the VIP Bakery and is open every day from 5pm-12am. It no longer serves food during the day. Tel: 097 31 44 019

This article has been updated with new business hours and information.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ethnic group ‘disappointed’ to be denied French visas to attend court

    Eleven people at the centre of a case involving seven indigenous Bunong villages in Mondulkiri province pursuing legal action in France have expressed disappointment after the French embassy in Phnom Penh denied their visa applications to attend court. A press release said the 11 included a

  • Cambodia nabs 12th place in best retirement destinations

    Cambodia is an expatriate hotspot for those dreaming of living a more luxurious lifestyle at an affordable cost, according to International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2019. For the fourth year in a row, Cambodia took the top spot in the Cost of Living category.

  • EU starts EBA withdrawal

    The EU on Monday announced that it has begun the 18-month process of withdrawing the Kingdom’s access to its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement over “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights”. However, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) said

  • PM: War result of foreign meddling

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday that Cambodia’s recent history of conflict was caused by foreign interference. “The wars that happened were caused by provocation, incitement, support, smearing and interference from foreign powers, and the group of ignorant people who pushed Cambodia to