The sudden discovery of a dubious new drinking hole has always been a source of much joy at the YAMU office. We love dodgy bars – the no frills, no nonsense table and chair booze rooms you find planted around the various alleys and nooks of the city. But why do these frayed and scruffy watering holes hold such a tender place in our hearts? While every country has it its gleaming bar counters and slim swivel stools, our arrack-sodden halls with cheery men belting out the baila belong only to us.
But the dodgy bar experience in Colombo isn’t confined to that particular genre of raucous arrack swells. On a recent visit to Kyung Bok Kung at the Juliana Hotel, we discovered yet another sketchy spot – not at all the typical low-end drinking hall experience, but a hotel lobby bar, frozen somewhere along the early 2000s. Containing garden furniture indoors and no discernible smoking policy, this is a rather interesting place for an evening drink.
The Juliana Lobby is a bizarre wonderland of mismatched kitsch. It’s sheer atrium is filled with a stagnant cloud of smoke, and patio furniture with umbrellas constitute your main seating options. On the far side of the room lies a battered foosball table beneath a TV tuned to a wrestling channel; shiny strips of flowery wall paper line certain sections of the wall. A coin operated massage chair sits by itself near a garden chair.
What is this place, and who stays here? We’re don’t know. But it’s a pretty amazing spot for an evening Lion – the very idea of sitting on garden furniture indoors should be enough of a pull factor. Prices are cheap, and you can smoke inside. This isn’t dodgy in the sense of our other bars, which are quite different in arrack-inflected tone and timbre. The Juliana is more bizarrely dodgy, bordering on a kind of Bangkok seediness. The smell in particular is reminiscent of those budget trips to South-East Asia spent in tacky, over-decorated three-star hotels.
Having a drink at the Juliana lobby is an experience. While you may not want to spend all your weekends here, it’s definitely worth a visit. As is the Korean restaurant next door. It’s like going to Bangkok for a bit.