Baillie Street Merchants
Mudalige Mawatha, Old Fort, Colombo, Sri Lanka
This place is one of Colombo's top bars, but you might have trouble finding it. It's a speakeasy bar, hidden behind Merchants tea and coffee store. The cocktail bar opens at 6pm. When you arrive, you'll either be waved in by the door person, or when booking you will have been given a secret code, which you enter on a keypad. Behind the heavy black door is a stylish speakeasy for those in the know.
The view: No windows to the outside world, but you won't need them – it's lovely inside, and you won't want to be – or see – anywhere else.
Dim-lighting, candles and dark painted walls create a romantic, intimate atmosphere. The bar staff are all well-presented, in old-fashioned aprons and T-shirts. The airconditioning was pleasingly high, and diffusers pumped out a delicious cinnamon fragrance. It was pretty quiet when we arrived at about 10pm, but the place was attracting new punters, even as the last of our group were leaving at 1am.
The chat: The mixologists are all expertly trained and have their own concoctions on the menu. The drinks list was extensive enough that we didn't need to ask too many questions, but there is a note to say the staff will create your favourite drink if it's not listed.
The menu: Allow yourself plenty of time to peruse it because it's detailed and beautifully presented. There's a strong focus on local flavours – tamarind, cinnamon, lemongrass, chilli, pineapple, nutmeg, curry leaves, lychee, vanilla, lime and more – and cold drip coffee from Merchants is also used in a number of drinks. I chose a lemongrass sherbet – a long drink based on a traditional gin fizz, with gin, vermouth, lemongrass, basil and soda – which was a welcome refreshment when it was after 10pm and still 25C outside.
I'd read about this place in
, the annual travel publication from
magazine. Its exclusivity and style really appealed, especially as an alternative to the many cookie-cutter hotel bars and those catering to international tourists.
The reality: This is a must-visit if you're in Colombo for an evening. The drinks are excellent, and the bar feels like the kind of high-end establishment you'd find in world-class cities such as London and New York. Be warned – the prices are high compared to other bars in Sri Lanka, but on par with what you'd pay in a nice bar in Auckland or Wellington. And note, the price listed on the menu is subject to a service charge and local taxes. My 1300 rupee cocktail ended up costing me around 1800 rupee … but that's still less than $15.