He’s an American expat of Armenian heritage who’s been operating in the Southeast Asian region for nigh on twenty years and, for the last 18 months or so, he’s been running his own establishment, Kevin’s Vagabond Pub, in the bustling night market area of downtown Siem Reap.
He’s Kevin Sysyn, and his bar is especially popular with Aussie expats and travellers because it gives off an Aussie vibe.
Which seems to be news to Kevin. He says, “I didn’t know we had an Aussie vibe.”
But Kevin, a Seppo* expat hailing originally from New Hampshire, quickly redeems himself by adding, “Aussies are awesome passionate people, a great audience and a big presence in Siem Reap.”
Indeed they bloody well are**, and they’re attracted to the bar because of the distinct antipodean vibe that’s imparted by a number of things.
Mainly, Kevin’s partner Darren Weymes is a former miner from Leonora (population 556) deep in the heart of West Australia’s water-challenged interior, and because of him the bar stocks a small collection of stubby holders, an Aussie drinking accoutrement in the form of a round soft container for stubbies – small squat Aussie beer bottles – to keep them cool despite the wicked heat encountered in outback Australia, and Cambodia.
Aussie signs and paraphernalia are also liberally scattered around the bar. The bar’s logo has a distinct outback Aussie feel, and until recently the bar was selling genuine outback Aussie tucker (food).
Kevin himself has an Australian connection in that he stars in a YouTube video of the marvellous song, The Man with the Didgeridoo, that he wrote himself and then performed with regular visitor to Siem Reap and itinerant Aussie didgeridoo maestro, Leroy Sharrock.
Kevin himself is a first-rate country music singer with a Johnny Cash timbre and his bar is host to a fascinating array of guest singers from all over, including Khmers.
Aussie expat Robert Walters, a lift engineer and boxing champ, is a typical patron.
“As an Aussie, I enjoy the wide range of music Kev and his guests play,” he says. “It takes me back to Australia growing up in 70s ,80s and 90s, from rock, blues, country including Khmer guest singers who bring Khmer songs to Kev’s bar.
“I like the chilled out crowd that come there and not talk s***, like most other bars in town . He puts on special events like Australia Day and ANZAC Day. It’s the only place for me. Plus Kev’s a good bloke.”
To welcome Good Times2, Kev stands in the middle of the bar strumming his guitar and singing the all-time Aussie country music classic, The Pub with No Beer, originally sung by the legendary Aussie warbler, Slim Dusty who also sings a ditty which includes the line, “I love to have a drink with Kevin, coz Kevin’s me mate.”
And Siem Reap’s Kevin does indeed confess that he has a connection with Australian country musicians that dates way back to his early days as a young lad when he tried to make it in Nashville.
Johnny Horton wrote the classic song, The Battle of New Orleans, but Kevin’s song about a famous battle in Nashville 154 years ago is still promoted by the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society. Not that Nashville welcomed him.
“I went to Nashville to explore songwriting. It’s an interesting story,” he says. “I’d written a country song ‘Goin Down to Nashville’ and I wrote ‘Nashville 1864’ the very night I arrived. At the time I was co-writing songs with a Nashville musician, and we registered several songs in both our names.
“But I was shunned by the good-ole-boy redneck Nash-villians. My only friends were a bunch of Aussie country musicians and songwriters. We were all pretty much shat on.
“We played mostly out of an Aussie club that was owned by the LeGarde Twins, who I think were Australia’s first C&W stars. These Aussies were the best songwriters.”
Hangin’ out with the LeGardes does make Kevin a bit of a legend in Aussie eyes: the LeGarde’s were identical twins who hit the Aussie outback rodeo circuit as performers aged 15, and in the 60s and 70s became successful entertainers on the US circuit, opening the LeGarde Twins Country Music Theatre in Nashville and in 1967 starring in Star Trek: The Original Series.
But back to our mate Kevin, who, after spending several years bumming around the US and the world as the traveling troubadour, settled in Thailand where he lived for 13 years and worked at the famed Suttangrak Restaurant in Pattaya .
There he says he hung out with some rich and powerful names and four years ago, and hinting ominously of darkness in the wake of the Thaksin Shinawtra overthrow he felt it prudent to leave Thailand and four years ago settled in Cambodia, working for two years in the Island Bar before setting up his Vagabond Pub.
Kevin also runs a charity, thekidsonthebridge.org, in Siem Reap where early most evenings he performs on the downtown bridge, getting donations from tourists to then feed a gaggle of street kids back at his pub.
And once again he dips his lid to Aussies.
“Aussies are also very generous to my charity,” he says. “We feed the street children of Siem Reap right at the pub every night. I have seen some big tough Aussies brought to tears by the downside of Khmer living.”
*Australian Rhyming slang for American: Seppo equals Septic Tank equals Yank equals American, and is an affectionate term, most of the time anyway.
**The writer is an Aussie despite the Polish moniker.