Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, I walked into theirs, and found the watering hole of my dreams. Tucked away at the end of an alleyway off of Phnom Penh’s trendy Street 240, Bar.sito is the “little bar” that could. And still does. Spectacularly.
It’s not just that it’s a beautifully designed space, or that the cocktails are among the best I’ve ever had, generous with the alcohol at only $5 each, and perfectly presented in fine glassware. Or that the service is impeccable with the best-trained bar staff in town, who will remember your name after only a few visits.
It’s that every time I return to Bar.sito, I feel even more welcome than my last visit. And for an expat a million miles from home who came to Phnom Penh knowing next to nobody, such impressions are certainly not taken for granted.
The masterminds behind this 21st century speakeasy are brothers William and George Norbert-Munns, two strapping young lads who make you want to know them as soon as you see them, and happy that you met them as soon as you do. With William as the brains behind the bar and George as the brains behind the design, they are personable, dedicated, hard-working, full of life, and the centre of an atmosphere in which anyone at Bar.sito is almost sure to have a unexpectedly unforgettable time. Whether it begins with meeting someone new (bound to happen in such a small space), or proceeds with someone walking in with a fish balloon (it wasn’t me), or ends with your custom-made motorcycle being impounded in the bar (this has been known to happen), there is rarely a story not to be told after a night at Bar.sito.
Maybe it’s the cocktails. Their most popular cocktail is the Malongotini, made of Malongo espresso, Kahlua and Absolut Vanilla Vodka. The fact that it’s served in a martini glass and garnished with three little coffee beans won’t stop even the most robust testosterone filled rugby player from carrying it around, it’s that good. For those with a sweeter tooth, the French Martini (best described as “posh”) or the Cherry Ripe (best described as “candy”) will tickle your fancy. For those who prefer to avoid the taste of alcohol while still reaping the benefits thereof, the citrus vodka with lime and fresh watermelon juice based Suzie Wong will do the trick. The Mint Julep does quite the opposite, using fresh mint and sugar to showcase the fundamental flavour of Jim Beam bourbon, and will kick your ass before you know it. Campari-based drinks No. 8 and Negroni will appeal to those with a penchant for the bitter, and can be described as an acquired taste well worth the effort to acquire. The gin-based Salty Dog and the tequila-based Citrus Angel take a his-and-hers (respectively) twist on the traditional margarita. The Peach Sito Mojito and the Lychee Caipiroska beg to be eaten, with generous chunks of peaches and lychees in them that no one can resist digging for using straws that abysmally but ultimately successfully double as chopsticks (where there’s a will, there’s a way). And then there’s my favourite: the Bloody Sito, a spicier and heartier version of the classic bloody mary. Full of flavour and kick, it’s like having a gazpacho in Russia. Just don’t underestimate its power by entering into the folly (as I have) of thinking it could count as dinner. You’ve been warned.
But with or without a cocktail, a stop at Bar.sito will never disappoint, and whether you’re a resident expat or a transient tourist, you would be remiss not to drop by one of Phnom Penh’s brightest hidden nightlife gems and to see for yourself George working the room and/or William behind the bar, pouring, shaking, and stirring the night away.
The 240 ½ Alleyway, Phnom Penh
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30pm til late