One of the best things to do in Phnom Penh is to visit The Elephant Bar of the Raffles Hotel Le Royal. The Raffles Hotel is the most historic hotel in Cambodia and The Elephant Bar is one of the top places for Instagram photos in the city. This is the place to enjoy cocktails, a gin and tonic or champagne.
Wicker chairs and leather sofas bask behind high French windows and arched colonnades in true colonial style. This east wing of the old Hotel Le Royal has been hosting the rich and the royal since 1929. It definitely is one of the most unique bars in the world, with a hundred tales to tell.
Charlie Chaplin and Somerset Maugham at the Elephant Bar
You can almost catch a passing glimpse of Charlie Chaplin and his entourage, who frolicked here in 1936. The writer Somerset Maugham also once pensively pacing the squeaky panelled floor.
Jackie Kennedy and the Femme Fatale cocktail in Cambodia
Perhaps the most mythical visitor to Cambodia was former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. She visited Cambodia in 1967 at the invitation of King Sihanouk.
In her honour, they created a signature cocktail called the Femme Fatale. It’s a concoction of champagne, cognac and creme fraise. Legend has it that the wine glass Jackie Kennedy drank from is still on display. You can even check out that smudge of pink lipstick left behind on the rim by the former US First Lady.
The best cocktails in Phnom Penh
Ordering the Femme Fatale cocktail at the Elephant Bar in Phnom Penh conjures up the same magic as drinking the Singapore Sling at the Raffles Singapore.
This is coincidence either, since Raffles Hotel came to Cambodia at the invitation of King Sihanouk. So they took over the old Le Royal in 1997.
The best cocktails in Siem Reap
The Raffles also took its sister heritage property, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor, in Siem Reap. Incidentally, the Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap also has an Elephant Bar that some say is even more legendary than the Elephant Bar in Phnom Penh.
If the Femme Fatale doesn’t take you back to the 60’s and 7’0s, then surely a Negroni will. The Negroni is one part gin, Vermouth and Campari. It’s served with a slither of orange peel and succeeds the gin and tonic of bygone times.
The Ginventory at the Raffles Le Royal in Phom Penh
The Elephant Bar stocks no less than 100 brands of gin. It is arguably the largest collection of gin in the country. Its menu lists a gin inventory of “Gin-fusions” that include Earl Grey Tea Gin, Kaffir Gin, and Kampot Pepper Gin.
The Elephant Bar Gin
Seekers, a local gin distillery, is working on a concoction of local ingredients such as lemongrass, pomelo, pandan leaves, and galangal. The company plans to blend and bottle this as “Elephant Bar Gin” in the near future.
If you’re spoilt for choice at The Elephant Bar, you can ask head bartender Pisai for his recommendations. Pisai can separate the “delicate, fruity and refreshing” drinks from the “full body and dry” drinks. However his personal masterpiece at the Raffles Le Royal is the Rose Martini.
Tapas and Afternoon Tea
But it’s not all imbibery and skullduggery at the Elephant Bar of the Raffles Hotel in Phnom Penh. The hotel also serves the best afternoon tea in Phnom Penh. It also is the only bar in Cambodia to offer an experience with the art of sabrage.
In the evening, you can order meats from a grill station or a selection of tapas. You might also catch sight of Cambodia’s Princess Sita, who works as an ambassador for Raffles. She usually pops into the hotel two or three times a week.
Champagne and the art of sabrage at the Raffles Hotel
Something else to look out for is sabrage. Sabrage is the slicing of the cork out of a champagne bottle with a sword. This practice dates back from a fraternity from the Napoleonic wars. Guests wishing to try this might be invited to a quick lesson before attempting the swish with a champagne saber.
A night of champagne and cocktails at The Elephant Bar is not inexpensive. But they do run a half-price Happy Hour every evening.
Le Royal is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. If you happen to be in Phnom Penh, visit The Elephant Bar and try your hand at the art of sabrage.