There’s live music every night of the week in the capital when you know where to look (and most of it’s still free)
Phnom Penh’s music scene has experienced quite a shake up since I last wrote on the subject. Pandemic-induced restrictions saw venues closing their doors or no longer able to justify the cost of putting bands on, so it’s good to see that the capital’s many accomplished music makers are back in action with a roster of new places to play and audiences eager for some great gigs.
A new destination to know is the vibrant enclave of bars and eateries taking shape in the Wat Botum neighborhood not far from the Royal Palace, with regular live music as a big part of the draw. Popular cocktail and burger joint (and hairdresser!) The Vine has moved from the less salubrious Street 172 to cool new premises on Street 244 next door to Villa Grange. This friendly hangout hosts regular gigs in the bar on Wednesdays and early evening acoustic Sunday Sessions in the small courtyard out front.
Close-by Box Office is an old hand at live entertainment, but the launch of its bijou Speakeasy Theatre opened new opportunities for live music (and live comedy and film screenings) in this relaxed local that already has a loyal clientele courtesy of its good food and extensive craft beer selection. Just around the corner, newcomer Craft is hosting live music several nights a week and revitalizing the street art-adorned alley that winds between Streets 240 and 244, once known as Street 240 1/2 and now officially rebranded Palace Lane.
Long-standing favorite Botanico on Street 29 is almost unrecognizable on approach following a major renovation last year. Fronted by a stylish new cafe and bar it now incorporates the Cerevisia brewhouse, but the shady rear garden has hardly changed apart from a spruce-up, and still hosts live music most Thursday and Saturday evenings.
Street 23’s Little Susie is another relatively new go-to for live acoustic music most nights of the week. The compact bar and eatery has also established itself on the crowded Phnom Penh open mic circuit. The proliferation of open mic evenings and jam sessions makes for a sociable way to check out some of the city’s top musicians and singers.
For those who like to savor live music in more refined surroundings, Raffles Hotel now offers a serving of smooth jazz from some of the capital’s best musicians alongside the cocktails in the understated grandeur of its Elephant Bar, several nights a week. It’s also worth checking out the The Attic and Metropole Underground lounges at the swish new Hyatt Regency Hotel.
On the subject of high end hotels getting in on the act, the Sofitel on Sothearos Boulevard has begun opening up its ‘Secret Garden’ to select, multi-line up music events. If the success to date of these family-friendly festivals — a chilled afternoon/evening’s live entertainment with food and drink stalls — is anything to go by, more should follow.
Over in Tuol Tum Poung, a welcome addition to the live circuit is elegant cocktail bar and music venue, Sunset Boulevard, opened last year on Street 460 by musician-about-town Arone Silverman. Street 135’s Bosphorus is another stand-out destination with a friendly vibe and a nice line in Turkish food. Most music nights in Phnom Penh are free of charge but Bosporus has been bucking the trend by charging a small entrance fee for some bands. It’s a policy that could catch on, and a small price to pay to sustain an active music scene. Denizens of the TTP neighborhood should also check out Sam’s (Street 460) and The Deck (Street 135).
Like the venues, the city’s musicians and singers come and go, but Phnom Penh’s reputation as home to a vibrant, supportive musical community pretty much assures a choice of quality live music. My own recommendations for some of the best new bands and lineups to look out for at the moment include the latest iteration of bluegrass/country outfit, Grass Snake Revival; singer songwriter Scott Bywater’s recently-formed Tamarinda; the welcome return of the Kampot Playboys; and haunting psychwave duo Geography of the Moon, now back from a European break.
Leng Pleng remains your ultimate Cambodian gig guide. Check the website or register to receive the weekly round-up by email.