Phnom Penh’s Riverside Bistro recently marked its 21st anniversary, writes its marketing manager Art Moon.
At its premiere location, Riverside Bistro has crossed the 21-year milestone and expanded the ground floor, offering an array of intercontinental dishes with a classic Asian theme in a well-worn venue.
In an age when new places come and go, what is the secret to Riverside Bistro’s longevity? “We stayed open during the coup [of 1997],” says Andreas “Andy” Stanke, a colourful eccentric, antique collector and owner of the riverside restaurant, bar and music stage.
French nostalgie plays over the JBL speakers, next to the splendid, antique gramophone he has acquired. Walking inside is like returning to a past, glorious time – the place itself is a gigantic antique – artistic, beautiful and reassuring in a Buddhist manner.
The curved bar spans a full quarter of the location, and the mahogany hardwood decorates the interior. Arches reach high above, and fans spin lightly near the wrought iron lamps lighting the occupants below. A Bell-era candlestick telephone from 1892 sits above the bar as bronze Buddhas serenely gaze and Exploration-era map reprints hang on the walls.
Besides being on a prime location, Riverside Bistro sports a long history, having opened in April 1996. The pre-WWI building dates back to about 1905 when it was owned by French trading company, Bureau Dumarest d’Indochine – [The Trading] Offices of Dumarest, Indochina. Upscale apartments situated upstairs. The building, with its French-style shuttered windows, is listed on Khmer Architecture Tours’ map of central Phnom Penh. (KA-Tours.org).
Gently lit by ornate, wrought iron elements, you are served by a lady with a soft voice, “Hello, welcome.” In an interesting dichotomy, large HD TVs hang above and a projector outside, sometimes displaying a Brigitte Bardot or John Wayne classic. Pictures of a bygone era hang above, testimony to the owner’s passion for the beauty of the past. Ming porcelain, encrusted with barnacles from the shipwreck, are stored in curvy art décor-style display cabinets. The venue is like a small antique park for your perusal.
Nowadays, one often sees regulars, tour groups and even mobile road warriors in full accoutrement with tech devices and laptop, and taking advantage of the multiple high-speed networks available. But reassuring reminders still abound in this outstanding landmark of former glory days. The service is still calm, the drinks cold and satisfying, and all is served on well-oiled, aged fine wood. The band strikes up familiar tunes and friendly faces greet you in a warm manner.
At night, things become lively. Regulars and tourists alike drift in, dine and drift out. Party goers, pool players and mixed couples enjoy their time tapping their feet to the beat of a 90s anthem. Good times beckon inside with fanciful, Belgian-inspired cakes made in-house, the aroma of fine Italian coffee and cheerful chatter, all of which makes you feel young again.
The newly renovated expansion provides ample parking out front and a small event area upstairs with a sliding partition, large enough for tour groups and expansions. The terrace entertains more than 30 comfortably under a large, retractable awning and refreshing spray-misters, and the expansion adds 24 as well, bringing total capacity at Riverside Bistro to about 100 celebrating customers.
The arched stage hosts live music every night. The fine outdoor terrace is guarded by numerous lion statues, lit red at night, called soeng in Khmer. Their duty was to guard Khmer kings of past, but the soeng now keep watch over welcome guests and frequent regulars. Riverside Bistro sits atop a fine, proven location, like a well-cared-for antique awaiting the next collector to obtain it.
273A Sisowath Quay (corner of St. 148), Phnom Penh. Open daily from 7am to late.