BattBong provides an indulgent escape – with sweet or sour drinks to match – from the outside world. Writing by Joanna Mayhew. Photography by Lucas Veuve.
Smartly hidden behind a small, custom-made Coca Cola dispenser door, BattBong opens up into a cavernous, windowless and swanky speakeasy, serving up house cocktails and reinvented classics to an electro swing playlist.
Translating to ‘my lost friend,’ the bar’s name is a reference to its clandestine motif. With secret bars a new concept for many in Cambodia, the owners have relished watching patrons fumble around the alley before being delighted to solve the puzzle of the door.
“We reached the reaction we wanted,” says French-Khmer co-owner Klanetra Ching, who started BattBong with his two partners early this year.
Modeled inside to look like an abandoned house, the 1920s-style bar takes in a copper bar atop rough planks of wood, plush brown and black leather seats, bare bulb pendants, distressed walls with patchy sections of exposed brick, a dusty fireplace and even a collection of neglected jackets.
With the air conditioning cranked low, BattBong feels like it belongs in another country, and era. This was the owners’ ultimate goal, who encourage imbibers with a sign that reads: “The world will never find you here. Escape realities and lose yourself… Do something crazy. No one will know.”
The Prohibition-era cocktails ($5.90), designed with a consultant mixologist, incorporate everything from violet to Thai basil, and cater to those hankering after the sweet, sour or straight-up stiff. The Old Fashioned is a no-nonsense winner, with Rebel Yell Kentucky bourbon, orange rind, and aromatic bitters.The biting bourbon is nicely rounded out by the orange, which is rubbed around the glass rim. The Chicago blends Bombay Sapphire, raspberry sorbet, basil, lemon juice and sugar poured through a small sieve for a sweet yet herbal finishing, served high.
Similar to a Moscow Mule, the Melrose is served in a copper mug, and incorporates Jim Bean, elderflowers, grapefruit, lime and rose, for perhaps the most unique yet balanced drink on offer. The most expensive, however, is the Master 1000, with Hennessey X.O., cardamom and vanilla sugar golden powder served in Baccarat Crystal (which the customer can keep) for $1,000 per pitcher.
An acoustic band performs Monday to Wednesday (7pm to9pm), featuring songs in Thai, Chinese, Khmer and English. This is a good reflection of the venue, which has successfully managed to get a mix of customers, in a city where Khmers and expats often frequent separate bars. “Our door is open to everyone,” says Ching. But, of course, that depends on whether you can find it.