Parked in the evenings at the intersection between streets 51 and 288 is a tuk-tuk, but this one is different from the many others parked along the road. On one side is a rack of fully-stocked liquor bottles, while a bar has been constructed that wraps around the other three sides. A small crowd of backpackers, locals, and expats pile onto barstools.
This is Phnom Penh’s first “tuk-tuk bar” - the concept of Roeun Rathana, 25, manager at Top Banana, and Chhai Sopheakdey, 26, manager at Mini Banana, who are known by patrons and friends as Sna and Pheakdey, respectively.
Inspired by the rows of roadside bars along Pub Street in Siem Reap, Pheakdey thought to set up his own by refurbishing an existing tuk-tuk he had. Sna too had the idea of launching a mobile bar in a van, but was stumped by the high costs. The two friends, who met while working together at popular bar Show Box, decided to team up to fix up the tuk-tuk.
Both have at least five years of bartending experience under their belt. Sna learned how to mix cocktails from Mao Hong Kry, the pioneer of Siem Reap’s tuk-tuk bars. At their Phnom Penh rendition, a can of beer costs $1, cocktails from $2, and shots range from $1.50 to $2.
The intimate space seats up to 12, and the duo plans to add two tables on the side of the street to accommodate more. In the future, Pheakdey says that they plan to launch a mobile catering service for parties.
What differentiates the bar from Siem Reap’s offerings is the low-key, relaxed atmosphere. According to Sna, Pub Street is overcrowded with tuk-tuk bars, each striving to make themselves seen and heard. “Now it’s ten tuk-tuks in the same area, with very loud speakers, playing ten [songs] at the same time … it sounds annoying,” she said. “When I go there I cannot hear anything.”
They hope to provide a space for those looking for a place to chill out, meet new people over cheap drinks along the street and wind down the night with quiet music, as well as to attract backpackers after a night out on Street 278.
“You don’t have to think that this is a bar [where] you don’t know anyone. If you come to us, you have family. We want people to come, talk to each other and have fun together … We want to make the world closer,” Sna says.
Phnom Penh’s first tuk-tuk bar is located along Street 51, opposite the intersection of Street 288, and is open from 11pm-3am every day.