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

  • Cambodia’s image problem

    In opening remarks at a recent event, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luy David said information can be a double-edged sword. He told a European Institute of Asian Studies (EIAS) briefing seminar that the media has unfairly presented

  • PM Hun Sen says dangers averted

    Delivering a campaign speech from his home via Facebook Live on Thursday, caretaker Prime Minister Hun Sen said his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had carried the country through danger in its latest mandate. He was specifically referring to the threat of a “colour revolution”

  • Kingdom's trade deal with EU questioned before poll

    A European Union (EU) mission met with senior government officials at the Ministry of Interior on Tuesday as the 28-member bloc monitors an agreement under which Cambodian goods reach the crucial European market tariff-free. Some 10 commissioners are in the Kingdom as part of a seven-day

  • A new carrier takes off in capital

    Cambodia Airways, the latest passenger airline to enter the Kingdom, launched its first domestic flight on Tuesday. Flight KR801, carrying 145 passengers, left the Phnom Penh International Airport at 9:50am and landed in Siem Reap at 10:35am in an Airbus A319. Cambodia Airways marketing and branding