Lounge for the ages at Siem Reap’s Menaka

The interior of Menaka, a hidden-away new lounge in Siem Reap.
The interior of Menaka, a hidden-away new lounge in Siem Reap. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Lounge for the ages at Siem Reap’s Menaka

Between Pub Street venues serving liquor-filled buckets and cheap beers, and mobile tuk-tuk bars slinging cheap cocktails, there is no shortage of drinking options in Siem Reap – unless you’re looking for an upscale-but-hip ambience with craft cocktails.

Filling that niche was the impetus for 27-year-old Vissoth Nam to open Menaka earlier this year, a self-described “speakeasy bar” around the corner from Pub Street.

“I was wondering why Siem Reap, one of the biggest touristic spots in Cambodia, doesn’t have a proper place to drink and relax,” he said, noting the exception of a few places, like Miss Wong’s and high-end hotels.

The bar is masked from the street by a storefront, an idea Nam says is inspired by America’s Prohibition Era.

Menaka is also a functioning coffee shop open all day and serving straightforward food offerings. But behind two sets of double-mirrored doors and up a flight of stairs is a warmly lit lounge with a Khmer-accented cocktail selection.

“I wanted something that belongs to Cambodia,” Nam says.

To that end, he incorporated stylistic elements from three of the Kingdom’s defined cultural eras: Angkorian, Sangkum and the present day.

Wall columns have stone motifs inspired by the nearby temples, and the name Menaka – a mythical Apsara renowned for her unparalleled beauty – harkens back to the ancient past. Much of the structure’s architecture, in particular the street-level café, as well as paintings of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea, evoke the 1960s Sangkum period, often referred to as Cambodia’s golden era.

The Rhum Duol cocktail (left) and the Monsoon Perfume (right).
The Rhum Duol cocktail (left) and the Monsoon Perfume (right). Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Nam was born in Cambodia but moved to France when he was 11. He came back just two years ago, and the modern French design is also apparent at Menaka.

The house cocktails ($6) are also divided into these three “historical” categories – with the present labelled “The Great Era” – on cloth menus meant to look like royal decrees of the past. He recruited Annemarie Sagoi, the mixologist behind Phnom Penh’s Le Boutier, for some cocktail consultancy.

“So what we want to do is create a cocktail that really belongs in Cambodia and in the landscape, with continuity from the temples,” he says.

Cocktails from the “Angkor Era” tend to have classic Cambodian ingredients such as jackfruit, and also inspire a certain nostalgia. For instance, the Monsoon Perfume – a gin and tonic enhanced by Kampot pepper, lime and mint – is meant to evoke the feeling of being in a rice-field right before a monsoon rain is unleashed, he explains.

Moving into the 1960s, the cocktails are named for famous songs, such as Yuvakjon Khoj Jit (“Youth’s broken heart”) – a Yol Aularong classic and now a bitter cocktail, riffing on the idea of an old fashioned, but with walnut bitters.

“We bring the classic cocktails that we can find in a basic place, but we make it our own and inject our own signature – that is to say infuse Cambodian flavour into our cocktails,” Nam says.

Menaka Speakeasy Lounge is located on 2 Thnao Street facing the Old Market in Siem Reap and is open every day from 6pm-late.

MOST VIEWED

  • Stock photo agencies cash in on Khmer Rouge tragedy
    Stock-photo companies selling images from S-21 raises ethics concerns

    A woman with short-cropped hair stares directly into the camera, her head cocked slightly to the side. On her lap is a sleeping infant just barely in the frame. The woman was the wife of a Khmer Rouge officer who fell out of favour, and

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Prime Minister: Take back islands from inactive developers

    The government will “take back” land on roughly 30 islands from private companies that have not made progress on planned developments, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech on Monday that also targeted land-grabbing villagers and idle provincial governors. Speaking at the inauguration of the

  • Land on capital’s riverfront is opened up for investment

    The government has signed off on a proposal to designate more than 9 hectares of land along Phnom Penh’s riverfront as state-private land, opening it up for private investment or long-term leasing. The 9.25-hectare stretch of riverfront from the capital’s Night Market to the