Colonialism was actually a terrible thing. It involved, among countless other ills, the subjugation of entire nations, peoples, continents, slavery, massacres, absolute racism, derasination and the degradation of ancient cultures. Now Sri Lankans know all about colonialism thanks to the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Given our extensive first hand experience I always find it somewhat surprising how keen we still seem to be on our ‘colonial heritage’. I suppose it does draw in the tourists and there’s a rich material legacy – various many columned and white washed structures- though look closely and you’ll notice that some of these much vaunted colonial buildings are actually quite kitsch, utterly impractical and consist of a weird and and ostentatious melange of architectural styles.
Still one thing the British Colonialists did get right was bars. These were people who knew how to drink and they knew where to drink. Somewhere with a large open verandah, a great view, wooden pillars, low lighting, light cane and plush leather seating- a snooker table. What ever gimickeries and concepts Colombo’s current crop of aspiring lounge bars might import in terms of a place to have a drink nothing is ever going to beat those old colonial watering holes and nothing will ever beat the Rowing Club.
Sitting in a super-prime location in the heart of the city since the very height of the Ceylon-Raj (it was established in 1864) non-European names only begin to only to appear on the clubs lovingly preserved boards emblazoned with the names of skulling champions and Madras Vs Colombo rowing competitions winners, in the 40s. Still 70 years after independence the place has been localized somewhat and they do have great bites (maybe the best club bites in the city), inexpensive drinks and a fabulous setting. While atmospheric colonial drinking holes are common in Colombo this one is a class above. An elevated antique wood clubhouse, built above their boathouse right on the bank of the Beira lake.
The place is an absolute oasis on a weekday evening its perfect for an intimate chats. There’s a stack of dated Newsweeks at the back and usually a gang of old ‘rowing club type’ uncles getting drunk by the bar. Most importantly the kitchen turns out archetype forms of classic Colombo bites – light batter fried cuttlefish, fiery deviled pork, chill laden cheese toast. Their mains – mixed grills, baked crab, chicken cordon bleu type things all usually very good and at club prices ie. cheap. On the Friday and Saturday nights the place is usually more lively with club members and guests out in force.
Old without being musty and fossilized, colonial without being stuffy I’d venture this is the most pleasant sports club in the city.