The iconic Elephant Bar at Raffles Hotel Le Royal is known for its bygone-era sense of sophistication, although a recent refurbishment has brought the bar up to the modern age while retaining its classical dimensions and retro feel.
The hotel itself was built in 1929, and was once the only place that the Cambodian Royal Family would place their foreign guests, including the former American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The Femme Fatale cocktail, a heady mix of creme de frais de bois, Cognac and sparkling wine, was developed specifically for Kennedy by the royal household’s own barman, and is still served at the Elephant Bar. It makes for a perfectly glamorous start to an evening.
The bar is adorned with old photographs celebrating the hotel’s role in Cambodian history. It was a hub for journalists, photographers and many more in the dangerous days leading up to the take-over of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. At that time, the hotel bar, then known as the Writer’s Bar was actually upstairs overlooking the lobby — where Eric Raisina’s shop is now.
With the refurbishment, completed in June 2015, the hotel was keen to retain, and acknowledge, its colonial history but wanted to make the setting more inclusive than perhaps it was perceived to be in the past. The result is a long, brass-flanked bar lit up from above by beautiful black shot silk shades. It makes for a great spot to get lost in long conversations over negronis. The comfy sofas have given way to stylish lounge chairs that bridge the gap between old and new.
Proving that tradition isn’t just a look but also a sensibility, the bar has been brought closer to the modern world but still retains its ‘old world’ feel not just in the styling but also in the service, attention to details, and a simple desire to be the best. This is where even a glass of water is delivered with panache, and a silver tray.
This is where you can choose from a selection of 40 carefully crafted cocktails, or request your favourite tipple from the talented bar tenders. There are currently 23 gins to choose from — including the world-leading Broker’s. They’re planning on expanding that to 30/35 in the near future. For hardier souls, there are almost 20 of Scotland’s best single malts, as well as Japan’s legendary Suntory Yamazaki.
Cocktails start at $12++, but with Cambodia’s longest-running Happy Hour, they are half-price between 16:00 and 21:00 every day, which is an amazing deal. The Happy Hour applies to cocktails and selected beers and spirits.
In a new touch, they now serve lunch in the bar, and you can choose from some classic dishes including a puy lentil soup ($12++), braised lamb shanks ($19++) or a baby gem Caesar salad ($15++). There is also a selection of tapas dishes at $9++ each, including cured Iberian Peninsula chargrilled chorizo, goat cheese croquettes, or Kampot pepper blinis with fresh dill sour cream, and many more.
And Raffles Elephant Bar is of course the home of Cambodia’s most iconic afternoon tea, a tradition that goes back to the hotel’s 1920s origins. Designed to bring people together, these are sumptuous feasts of sweet and savoury bites. For just $14++, you can pick your way through (for example) a selection of European or Khmer style cakes, scones, fruit and sandwiches made with bread baked in hotel’s own bakery, all washed down with a free-flow of tea and coffee. If we were you though, we’d do it with a classic martini, or two.
Address: 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 981 888
Coordinates (for GPS): 104º55'6" E, 11º34'34.61" N
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Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
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