Back at the end of 2015 I wrote a post on the lost bars of Phnom Penh. A few days ago I wrote a similar post on the lost massage parlors of Phnom Penh. Today I will follow up with a post on other legendary bars that have closed in the capital city of Cambodia.
Not long after the original post on the lost bars of Phnom Penh went online the infamous Walkabout on Street 51 closed its doors. The bar was well known to visitors and expats alike as a real representative of the old style bar scene in the city.
Back in 2012 a writer from VICE even did an article about the place calling it “Cambodia’s Sleaziest Bar“. The title in and of itself showed how far the bars had come in Phnom Penh. Only a few years earlier there were bars in town where customers could get a blowjob on their stools for $1 while drinking a beer that cost even less than that.
The Walkabout was open around the clock even on national holidays like Khmer New Years and Pchum Ben when the city seemed to turn into a ghost town. It had cheap drinks, pool tables and the constant presence of freelance prostitutes looking for customers. Many of the freelancers were older and a few had drug addictions or other problems. As time went on the crowds got thinner and some would say a little worse for wear. The place also had a big jackpot based on a card pull every week. At times the amount of money would become pretty significant considering the surroundings.
The bar eventually fell to the same fate that many others like it suffered in Southeast Asia. The lease ran out and the landlord upped the rent significantly. Not seeing any way to remain profitable, the bar owners simply closed up shop.
When the Walkabout went out of business in 2016 the Phnom Penh Post wrote an obituary to the bar that was fittingly titled “Goodbye to Phnom Penh’s Sleaziest Bar“.
Sharky Bar owner and founder Big Mike died just weeks after the Walkabout shut down. Big Mike established “Indochina’s oldest rock n roll bar” way back in 1995 and it quickly became a mandatory stop for a lot of men visiting or living in Phnom Penh.
Sharky’s was a hybrid live music venue, pool hall and freelancer haunt in the upstairs of an old building in an old part of town not far off of the riverside. The entrance was marked by a large illuminated sign and an armed guard or two.
Years ago the bar was frequented by lots of ladies from Cambodia and Vietnam looking to make money. Later it became less popular for freelancers though some local veterans stuck around and were occasionally joined by well dressed and attractive Khmer ladies checking for customers before looking for cashed up foreigners at Naga World.
The last time I checked the bar was going through a complete remodel. Apparently someone shelled out the $60,000 the space was listed for earlier and is going to attempt to get the place going again. It appears that the new bar is already in the news in its first days of operation.
Rock Hard Cafe
A commenter on my first post about closed cantinas mentioned the Rock Hard Cafe. The name sounded familiar but I couldn’t remember the place well if at all. After doing some research that included asking around I learned more.
The Rock Hard Cafe was popular with the limited expat and tourist crowd at the time. Most of the customers came from UNTAC and it is indeed these customers that helped give the place its wild reputation.
Ultimately Rock Hard Cafe was only open for a few years. An inability to extend the lease for more than a year apparently prompted the owners to call it quits in 1994.
Simone’s was another bar I forgot to include in my original write up. It may have been the closest thing Phnom Penh ever had to a go go bar. The Vietnamese owner who unsurprisingly was named Simone spoke French, Vietnamese, English and Khmer. The women on staff would occasionally dance in the bar and at some point they even installed a shower stall right in the middle of the action.
And action there sometimes was right inside of the bar even though it was visited by respectable French expats who even came with their ladies from time to time. In those days such service wasn’t uncommon in Cambodia but it was rare in the rest of the world. With the exception of some places like Rose’s in Bangkok it remains rare today even though Chez Simone is long gone.
In other news a new Nay Nay Star Bar opened in Sihanoukville. It is apparently run by a woman who worked at the old Nay Nay Star Bar but the new pub has no other relation to the original of the same name that was covered in my first post on shuttered speakeasies.