Nestled behind a tree on a one-way stretch of Street 130, and with no lit signage, Dodo Bar is easy to miss. Only the warm yellow glow of the lighting and perhaps the murmur of patrons inside would lure an unsuspecting customer into one of the more peculiar watering holes Phnom Penh has to offer.
Now in its second location since moving last May, Dodo is often mistakenly thought defunct by past patrons. But a decade since it first opened, owner Rémy Choisy is still serving his infused rum concoctions, content with staying out of the limelight.
For Choisy, 40, a soft-spoken Frenchman who has resided in the Kingdom since 2005, it’s all about infused rums, or rhums arrangés.
“It’s the basis of my bar,” he says. Infused rums are made from mixing flavours and spices that are soaked into the alcohol for a prolonged period of time, with a little sugar added to balance the flavours of the infusions.
For $3 a glass, Choisy’s creations pack a punch, and the range of flavours on offer would make it hard for anyone’s palette to feel left out. There’s the best-selling passion fruit, Choisy’s favourite orange zest, or coconut, coffee, caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, ginger and spice to choose from.
Post Weekend sampled a selection, finding that some flavours, such as coffee or coconut, carried a creamy texture that entirely masked the burn of rum, while others, such as spice and cinnamon, accentuated the underlying taste. Choisy sticks with the recipes that have withstood the test of time.
“At the very start there were some, such as the coffee [rum], that were undrinkable. I needed to make it differently, but for the rest, it’s constant. I’ve never changed my recipes; I’ve kept them the same for 10 years,” he says.
Choisy first opened Dodo in 2006 on Street 178 before moving last year.
“When I came to Cambodia I could not find any rums that I wanted: from the Antilles, 50 degrees [alcohol content], it was impossible to find,” he says. “But then, with a stroke of luck, in 2006 I came upon this rum, and it’s [supplier] Celliers d’Asie that told me that they would be carrying it long-term. So on that beat, I threw myself into infused rums.”
Opening a rum bar was an unlikely venture for Choisy, who had been a steel worker from the Picardie region of France, just north of Paris.
He began to dabble in making his own rum infusions after travelling to French territories in the Caribbean, as well as the island of La Réunion, where rum is the drink of choice.
The idea to open a rum bar came as a matter of course, he says. After visiting Cambodia a few times, he chose to follow a French-Khmer friend who had moved to the Kingdom permanently and opened a restaurant. That friend “motivated” him to try opening a bar.
And for a dozen years Choisy has carved out a niche, relying on a crowd of regulars – mostly French and Franco-Khmer – who fill his cosy space night after night.
Down to the décor, which is in part artwork inherited from a friend who left town, the bar has a casual living room feel to it. On a weeknight you’ll find patrons stirring the pot on society and politics over one of his flavourful concoctions. Ever unconventional, Choisy is content with keeping a low profile.
He’s not on social media at all, and the business’s only Facebook presence is because a client once managed the account for him. “But beyond that, it’s not really my thing,” he says.
Despite its online invisibility the bar is open and welcoming, not just to his regular customers. As the first, if not the only, infused rum bar in town, Choisy entices customers to get experimental. “Try what you don’t know,” he says.
Dodo Bar is located at #133, Street 130, and is open Monday-Saturday from 5pm-late. Tel: 012 549 373
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