Charlie’s: Siem Reap’s Hottest Bar Goes Eco-Friendly

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The entrance to Charlie’s, which celebrated its third birthday last month. Supplied

Charlie Kumar is a big man who doesn’t like to muck around: just over three years ago he married his now-wife Zoe and five days later opened his own bar, Charlie’s.
This June, he celebrated the bar’s third birthday with a big bash and now he’s hell-bent on setting up some green initiatives to help fight climate change as well as appease his many customers.

“We are taking small steps to reduce our impact on the environment here at Charlie’s,” he said. “We have always recycled food waste, bottles and cans. But now we are also using non-plastic ‘plant bags’ and biodegradable boxes for takeaway food items.”

Cleanbodia designed the eco-friendly takeaway bags and Ecosense Cambodia made the biodegradable boxes.

“We are also proud supporters of Naga Earth and donate all of our used cooking oil to them. Naga Earth produces clean fuel from this used oil and uses its by-products to make soap that benefits Cambodian communities,” Charlie added. 

Yet even with their efforts to save the environment, the hallmark of a good bar is a crowded bar. And Charlie’s Bar, smack in the middle of the pumping Pub Street precinct, is often packed when others are quiet.

Cheap drinks, a convivial atmosphere and a welcoming host are part of the reason the bar gets the big nod from many travel outfits. TripAdvisor named Charlie’s as the number 1 nightlife spot in Siem Reap, and Lonely Planet gave it the editor’s choice Top Pick for bars in town, saying: “This is the missing link between the more sophisticated bars around the alleyways and the madness unfolding nightly on Pub St.”

But Charlie says the real reason for the bar’s success is simple.  

“It’s because we are an actual bar,” he explains, “We don’t claim to be a restaurant, we don’t claim to be a nightclub, we don’t claim to be anything but a bar.”

As well as a great array of alcohol, the bar also serves food in the style that Brits and Aussies describe as “pub grub” – no pink linen tablecloths and carnations, but good solid fare such as the rainy season specials of pumpkin soup with a baguette for $3 and chicken schnitzel with pumpkin mash and beans for $5.75.

Sports coverage is the big crowd-puller and the bar is well appointed with four TV sets, which are usually switched on to live sporting events from somewhere around the globe. During the Euro championship, when some matches were played at 2am local time, the bar stayed open to cater to enthusiasts.

Charlie’s is decked out in a comfortable retro-American style with lots of conversation-inducing memorabilia and two motorbikes, a custom Honda Steed graces the first floor and a fully restored Benly is in the back area.

The bikes belong to Charlie who, at first glance, could be mistaken for a biker. But biker is not a word to be used in the immediate vicinity of Kumar, who prefers to be labeled as a biking enthusiast belonging to a club, the Dirty Cups, whose members are likewise biking enthusiasts.

Charlie is a big part of his eponymous bar’s popularity, with numerous references to him in online reviews saying what a “beaut bloke” he is and what a pleasure it was to meet him.

Charlie is indisputably Siem Reap’s most experienced bartender and one of Pub Street precinct’s most colorful characters.

Kumar, an Indian who was schooled in Britain, arrived in Siem Reap back in 2004 as part of his travels on the Southeast Asian loop.

He liked the feel of the place and stayed, getting a job as a bartender in one of Siem Reap’s most iconic bars. After a year, he became manager of the bar, a position he retained until 2013, and also worked in and consulted on a series of other bars in the area.

Charlie’s patch is Pub Street and whenever there’s a parade or celebration in the vicinity, he can be spotted decked out in costumed finery, leading the pack firmly toward the good times. 

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