Importers and distributors of fine alcoholic beverages La Familia took the wraps off their flagship bar, Elbow Room, on Street 308 last month. Singaporean owner Andre Chalson gave Will Jackson the rundown on the hip-hop flavoured joint this week.
Can you just give us a brief overview of your concept for the place and why you decided to open in Phnom Penh?
My first visit to Cambodia was about six years ago. Not long after my first visit to the Kingdom of Wonder, I fell in love with the people, the culture and the place. This kept me coming back for more. I started with promoting comedy shows and music events in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Having witnessed the cocktail revolution in Singapore firsthand with bars like the Cufflink Club and 28HKS at the forefront, I was inspired. Given the potential for growth that the country had to offer, I was confident that the same could be done here with the right concept and business acumen.
What do you think Elbow Room brings that Phnom Penh’s bar scene doesn’t already have?
As a team, we have a strong focus on quality, service, attention to detail and consistency. Our evolving menus reflect this same philosophy. The use of craft spirits, fresh seasonal ingredients and fundamental techniques allow us to offer unique flavour profiles, our own creative expressions and local hip hop-inspired twists. Jen Queen, our head bartender/shot caller, is behind the bar every night to make sure that our cocktails are on point and that everyone leaves, coming back for more. Something that I feel is non-existent in Phnom Penh’s bar scene is an industry-friendly bar. We have a budget set aside for complimentary shots and discounts for people in the industry.
Obviously the drinks are a major focus. Could you tell us a bit about your approach to designing the cocktail menu?
Hip hop music always tells a story, highlights experience and is a culture of its own. Our menu tells our story, and highlights connections to lyrics that are meaningful to us. We want to share that experience and connect with our community through the glass.
Are there any cool innovative techniques or flavours you guys are utilising?
We have foams and house-made sodas on the menu, powdered fats in the works (yes, bacon and olive oil), and we are currently formulating a house made “blue” syrup using a local butterfly pea flower. We like to have fun with aromas and textures, but the most important result is a great tasting cocktail. We will never compromise flavour, just to play with our toys.
What’s your favourite of the drinks and why?
Jen’s pick is “The Next Episode”, because mescal [distilled Mexican agave spirit]. [“Boss lady”] Louisa D’Orazio drinks the “Can dew Bong”, and I love the “Yuz Ya Head”. I think that speaks to the “something for everyone” feel we are trying to bring to the neighbourhood. People often ask us, “What’s good?”, so much so that we named a cheeky cocktail after the question. We find the truest service to be finding what’s good for you.
Who did the interior design? Are there any aspects that you’re particularly proud of?
The interior design was done by a company based in Singapore called Grey Matters. Alan Barr, who runs the design agency, is a partner in the venture. The brief was to create a craft cocktail bar that paralleled the growth of the city. An approachable yet refined establishment at the forefront of the cocktail scene. We were eager to make a strong statement with our flagship bar, and in order to do so, we pulled out all the stops. I’m particularly proud of the graffiti on the walls and the antique mirror panels suspended from our ceiling. The graffiti was done by Mathieu Augereau, an artist and friend based in Singapore, who was more than happy to make the trip over to work on the piece.
What’s your music policy?
Urban music with a strong focus on hip hop.
Are you going to have any events, themes or regular specials to get people in?
When it rains, we pour - $3 “Dark and Stormy” or “Hurricane” cocktails while you hide out from the rain, and we’ll play tunes from the quiet storm. Tuesdays we go Tiki, and on Saturdays we will soon release a live DJ schedule, highlighting the evolution of hip hop and creating cocktails inspired by the music.