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Easy drinking, listening at new bar

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An impromptu band jams on some John Scofield tunes at the Thursday night open mic. Kimberley McCosker

Easy drinking, listening at new bar

With its focus on live music, the Eluvium Lounge is a welcome addition to Phnom Penh’s growing list of socialite hangouts

To reach the rooftop Eluvium Lounge, a stylish new open-air bar behind the Royal Palace on Street 19, you have to slog up two steep, narrow staircases.

It’s something to bear in mind because descending back to street level can become precarious after one too many of their tasty cocktails (especially during the 5pm to 8pm happy hour, when they cost a mere $2).

The place possesses the salubrious aesthetic of a Manhattan terrace, dotted with potted and hanging plants, candles and several raised tables as well as plush couches.

According to marketing coordinator Cade Conkle, designers Johanna Sahl and Tchan Sin hoped to strike a balance between the chic and the casual.  

“It’s not pretentious or too exclusive. But it is still for the expat who likes something a little bit nicer than a dive bar but doesn’t want to go to some super-fancy wine bar,” he said.

After opening in May, the bar has made live music its calling card with two gigs a week. Conkle, 26, doubles as the sound technician and host of the popular Thursday open mic night (he also sits in on drums when requested).

Saturday nights are reserved for two-hour live sets from local bands and solo acts.

“It’s been a lot of fun to run the music here,” said the bespectacled San Francisco native, who has a degree in audio production from San Francisco State University. His technical know-how has paid off.

The quality of the acoustics are top-notch – no feedback or pesky distortion here. The musical offerings, said Conkle, was a way for Eluvium to politely distance itself from Phnom Penh’s backpacker scene.

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The Thursday open mic night features full bands and solo acts. Kimberley McCosker

“The idea is that this is an expat spot. Expats come and see the bands that they like. I think that one of the main ideas here is that you have nice quality stuff with quality design,” he said.

Indeed top quality does seem to be valued there, especially in the live music. The stage, set-up near the long, black-stoned bar in the centre of the rooftop lounge, is inviting but not overbearing.

And the lights built into the floor of the stage and the water-droplet lights behind it add a tasteful, professional touch to the performances, whether they be from local songwriters like Joshua Chiang and Lisa Concepcion or amateur open mic-ers.

Much of the music gear, including the stage, was bought from Equinox, a celebrated music venue that shut its doors earlier this year.

The bar doesn’t have a chef yet (ordering in is encouraged) but there’s plenty to drink.

Standard cocktails cost $3.75, while house specialty recipes run $4.75 each, including the refreshing passion fruit mojito. An icy mug of Angkor costs $1, with the house red and white wine $3.

And handily, if you don’t want to venture to the street after a few drinks, you can just stay in the attached Aura Thematic Hostel, where a single dorm bed in one of their 12 themed rooms will set you back $10.

Conkle said that along with the music, they planned on hosting other events in the rooftop lounge, such as comedy nights, movie screenings and discussion panels.

He said he was particularly keen to host a Nerd Night panel, namely a segment explaining the nuances of the esoteric Christopher Nolan film Inception. 

“The fact that they didn’t explain it was the point!” he said.

Eluvium Lounge and Aura Thematic Hostel is located at #205A Street 19. Tel: 023 986 211.

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