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Ushering in a ‘golden age’ of cocktails

Annemarie Sagoi honed her cocktail making skills in Chicago.
Annemarie Sagoi honed her cocktail making skills in Chicago.

Ushering in a ‘golden age’ of cocktails

While the burgeoning nightlife district around Street 308 has already been established as the place to go in Phnom Penh for a fine mixed drink, the owners of the street’s newest addition say they want to take the cocktail scene to the next level.

Le Boutier is a collaboration between seasoned Chicago mixologist Anne-marie Sagoi and her business partner David Chhay, a Parisian who owns the highly acclaimed bar Pouring Ribbons in New York. 

The pair came to Cambodia nearly a year ago as consultants on someone else’s planned hotel bar. Though the bar never happened, Chhay and Sagoi fell in love with the city and decided to open their own.  

“David called me and said: ‘Hey you know that Street 308 we were hanging out on a lot? There’s a DVD store for sale. We should open a bar [there],’” said Sagoi, whose CV includes managing the cocktail department at the ritzy Dawson restaurant in Chicago, as well as working on bar and brand consulting in Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong. She is also working on opening a vermouth bar in Chicago called Artemisia. 

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Le Boutier has a breezy upstairs balcony area.

The new three-storey Street 308 cocktail bar, which is named after the maiden name of Chhay’s mother, who as a child lived only a few blocks away, is about more then simply churning out well-crafted libations or “making tons of money”.

Sagoi said that she hoped above all else to “elevate” the drinking culture of the Cambodian capital, a booze scene the bartender figures still has a long way to go. 

“Basically, it’s what the ’90s was in the US,” said Sagoi last week, while sitting at her small bar inside Le Boutier. “Blue drinks, green drinks, sweet drinks – most people don’t quite get it yet.”. 

Helping raise the cocktail scene here to the level of Shanghai and Singapore is exciting, Sagoi said. 

Sagoi plans to host workshops and classes on cocktail crafting – proper usage of bitters, bartender hospitality, the subtleties of her much-loved vermouth – as well as collaborating with other figures who are pushing the boundaries of cocktail making in Cambodia, such as the owners of the Samai Distillery bar and upmarket spirit importers La Familia. 

Sagoi’s desire to bring Phnom Penh’s drinking culture into a new “golden age” is reflected in the theme of her sharply designed bar – the golden age of Khmer music in the ’60s and ’70s. 

The custom cocktails come with names like Monkey Dance (pisco, rhum agricole, sherry, lime, egg white), the title of a Pen Ron song, and Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten (vodka, sticky rice syrup, ginger, longan, lime), named after a recent documentary about Cambodia’s lost rock ’n’roll era. 

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Le Boutier’s La Vie En Ros Sereysothea cocktail is named after Cambodia’s most famous female singer.

But they are not all golden age-related – another, Bura the Explora (cognac, luxarod apricot, dry vermouth, angostura), is named after her regular tuk-tuk driver.

While Sagoi certainly had fun with the drink naming, she also had fun with the drink making and made sure to include an array of local ingredients in her cocktail selection.

The 10 unique cocktails ($6 each) at Le Boutier include such regional additions as kaffir lime, sticky rice syrup, longan and even fish sauce. There is also one food item (and only one), saraman curry, prepared by Chhay’s mom off-site.  
But the focus at Le Boutier is on the drinks – and rightly so. For Sagoi, that remains priority number one. 

“We truly believe we can help restructure the cocktail canvas here,” said Sagoi. “Or at least get the ball rolling for other bars to come.”  

Le Boutier is located at #32 Street 308. The bar is set to open to the public this week.

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