Simple sophistication the draw at new gay-friendly bar

By: Bennett Murray

While Phnom Penh’s newest gay-friendly bar lacks the flamboyance of its rowdier brethren, Strange Fruit’s sleek, cozy vibe makes for a mellow watering hole for an early-evening tipple.

The bar, located in an alley off Street 19 just north of Street 240, keeps things simple with its tiny interior, early closing hours and limited drinks menu – there’s not even a liquor cabinet visible behind the bar.

The minimalist – even elegant – approach was deliberate, said co-owner Un Veasna one evening this week.

“[Customers] pass by for a drink after work, and talk about where they should go for dinner, and after dinner they come here for a drink before they go to bed or somewhere else,” Veasna said.

What Strange Fruit lacks in variety of drinks it makes up for in style. Its first-storey room, no larger than a hotel bedroom, has the feel of a smartly decorated living room, with dark mood lighting filling the barren white walls. The ambient electronic music is kept at a low volume, so it’s easy to make small talk without shouting.

The signature Strange Fruit ($4.50) is the only cocktail on the menu. With its mint, lime and and soda water, the drink is reminiscent of a mojito. But instead of rum and sugar, the cocktail is completed with the subtler flavours of vodka and sugar palm fruit.

Other choices of alcohol beverage include bottled beer ($2), neat spirits ($3) and wine ($4).

Veasna said he had no plans to expand the menu.

Our concept is not cocktails here, just easy drinks that people can order. I don’t want to be messy here,” he said.

The bar, said Veasna, is intended to complement his boutique fashion label Established, which is downstairs from Strange Fruit. Art and design lovers were particularly welcomed, he said.

“Because my skill is in clothing design, I want to entertain people who have related skills,” he said.

Plans are also under way to exhibit art in the bar. The first exhibition, which is to feature a fashion show with seven of Veasna’s models at its opening on Monday, will feature paintings by a local artist who focuses on LGBT issues.

“I want to offer to someone who has talent, but doesn’t have the space to show their talent, to come here and create together an event to show some kind of art,” he said.

Ultimately, Strange Fruit was open for anyone who liked “rainbow flavours”.

“We’re open for everyone who likes the rainbow flavours, who does not discriminate or isolate,” he said.