Allen Haire from Northern Ireland was almost speechless after his bar, the Green Vespa on Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay, won the Cambodia Pocket Guide’s award for “Best Bar of the Year” Sunday.
“If you ever come to my bar, I can talk,” was all the 39-year-old could say after winning the award in a ceremony at Open Wine on Street 19. “I am at a loss for words.”
The second annual Cambodia Pocket Guide awards were based on customer voting and feedback and were presented to one bar and one restaurant in four categories: best atmosphere, service, value for money and best overall establishment.
The contest drew 2,800 votes—almost double last year’s number—for 33 bars and restaurants, which each paid $20 to participate and received a ballot box to put on their premises, said Tim Gibbons, a British national who co-owns Cambodia Pocket Guide.
Giorgio Arcasi, 38, whose Italian restaurant Pop Cafe on Sisowath Quay won “Best Restaurant of the Year,” said he entered the contest because he thought it would force him to improve his business tactics.
“Competition is healthy,” he said. “It helps improve business and quality.”
Cambodian Sok Dara, 33, owner of the gay-friendly Salt Lounge on Street 136, which won the bar with the best value for money, said he enjoyed the camaraderie of the awards.
“It’s nice to feel a part of the bar and restaurant community,” he said.
Freebird on Street 240, last year’s overall restaurant winner, returned Sunday to take the award for best value for money restaurant.
Winners in the atmosphere category were Equinox, a bar on Street 278, and the Spanish restaurant Pacharan on Sisowath Quay. Best service awards went to the bar Talkin to a Stranger on Street 294 and The Shop restaurant on Street 240.
Steve Haywood, British co-owner of Pacharan, said there is a “gastronomic awakening in Asia” in which Phnom Penh is leading the way.
“People are surprised by the quality, variety, price, decor and style. [Restaurants in Phnom Penh] kick ass, they’re much better than in Hanoi and Saigon,” he said.
Last year was the first competition, but this year marked the first with corporate sponsors, Gibbons said.
Auditing company Cosmos went through the ballots to determine winners, while Yellow Pages gave $1,000 of free advertising space to be used over the next year by winning bars and restaurants.
Dean Cleland, CEO of the ANZ Royal bank which contributed free advertising on its automated teller machines’ receipts, said he sponsored the event to show solidarity among the service industry.
“We recruit for customer service,” he said. “Only 20 percent of ANZ’s current employees came from existing banks…most came from the restaurant industry.”