When Tini opened its doors last week just steps away from Russian Market, it won the race to be the first boutique-style bar to set up shop in the already popular residential neighbourhood.
The space resembles a miniature modern art gallery: with stark white walls and a vaulted ceiling, it feels resolutely planned and conscientiously cool.
Seating – so far – is fairly minimal, just a few sets of wooden tables and chairs sourced from one of the co-owners, an antique furniture dealer.
Over drinks upstairs last week, Daniel Mattes and Thang Sothea, two of Tini’s four co-owners, recounted how the group of friends quickly decided to start business together.
“We had the place and we had the idea… it just checked out,” said Sothea, an artist and architect who also oversaw the three-month remodel of the building.
Mattes said he had lived in the neighbourhood on-and-off for a couple of years, and had noted that while there were a respectable number of restaurants around the market, bars remained few and far between. “The focus [for us] was always the drinks,” he said.
At Tini, speciality coffees go for $2 or $3, and cocktails are a slightly steep $5, although there is a 30 per cent discount during the bar’s opening period.
We sampled a Mai Khmai (white and gold rum, Cointreau, orange and pineapple juice and lime) and a Palmbucha (palm whiskey, honey-ginger kombucha, Martini Rosso and Campari) – both sweet and quite strong.
Tini also serves fresh juices, beer, wine and teas including kombucha – a fermented brew believed by some to have health benefits.
Mattes explained that while he was informed by upscale cafes and bars in his native San Francisco and in Bangkok, he wanted to design a business that takes inspiration – and even some of its menu items – from the streets of Phnom Penh.
“I really liked Tuol Tompong, and I wanted to be drawing on some of the local neighbourhood people,” he said. “On our menu, you can order from the papaya salad lady on the corner. She’s a good example – she has the best papaya salad in the city.”
Part of this model stems from the fact that Tini is, in fact, rather small, and so lacks the kitchen space to make food in-house, save a few snacks and desserts.
But its owners said they had made a conscious effort to support local products and businesses, sourcing coffee beans from Feel Good, ginger beer for its cocktails from Rumblefish in Kampot, and tea and cashew butter from other enterprises in Phnom Penh.
The snug interior also restricts the type of art events the owners envisage hosting. Because the walls won’t hold much, they hope to hold small previews for local artists rather than fully fledged exhibitions.
For the grand opening this weekend, some of Sothea’s own work will be on display. An informal film night is also on the cards once they have set up a projector and screen.
The owners look forward to a space that, ultimately, will be shaped by its clientele. “It’s been interesting meeting people already,” Mattes said. “Everyone who’s come through already appreciates how simple it is.”
Tini is located at #57 Street 450