Tucked out of sight on Bristol Street, now named Sir Razik Fareed Mawatha, the Ex-Servicemen's Institute Bar is easy to miss. If you're looking for a cheap drink around Fort, however, it's worth seeking out. Note that they close at 9 PM, so best for pre-drinks.
It's not as visually striking as Castle Hotel, and doesn't lend itself to Wes Anderson style photoshoots, but it's got its own charm and better value for money, as far as the dodgy bars go.
A quarter of Old Arrack sells for Rs 360, and Lion Lager (625ml) is priced at Rs 260, making this bar one of the most affordable places to drink in the area. We started off with a quarter, that eventually grew to three quarters... then another half, coming to a total of Rs 1080. We weren't expecting to spend our whole Friday night at this bar, but the general atmosphere kept us quite happy and jovial, so we kept at it. They don't serve ice, so we had to do with Soda (Rs 40).
Given that Government Service Sports Club had such an amazing fried handallo, we thought we'd try out the same at Ex-Servicemen's. With a darker brown colour, we were immediately disappointed that the oil wasn't fresh, but the quantity was quite fair. The handallo had just a light breadcrumb coating that didn't provide enough of that crunchy texture, so it was mostly a soft, fleshy bite. A plate costs Rs 330.
The others decided to have a go at the devilled pork, which, also compared to GSSC, actually turned out to be the better bite. Priced at Rs 330, there's a fair 60/40 split between the fatty bits and the meat, with mostly fat.
Unlike GSSC, this isn't a sweet and sour dish, it's got a darker curry mix going on, with black pepper and a distinct chili heat. If you like capsicum, this is the dish.
The waiters are usually quite busy, but if you grab their attention once, they'll attend to you through the night. If you ask them what's good for bites, they'll tell you that everything's good.
The vibe, for lack of a better word, is quite energetic and everyone seemed to be having a good time while we were there. By around 9PM, we noticed one of the tables had a fairly inebriated fellow start to sing a few lines in Sinhala, only to be shushed by the rest of the table, and they were actually nice enough to apologize to us of any disturbance. By far, this was the most comfortable 'dodgy bar' experience we've had.
Oh, and there's this moody blue painting at the indoor seating area that's quite intense, apart from all the lovely Elephant House Soda ads that paint the rest of the walls. It's like these ads were made for this place.
The outdoorsy area, secured from the rain by takarang, is quite brightly lit and even has a row of fish tanks running alongside the wall if you're into that kind of thing.
Ex-Servicemen's Insitute Bar is a great place to start off a Friday night, but they close up at 9PM, so this is definitely a pre-drinks option, and not a place to waste away your weekend.
They've got little to no crowd over the weekend, and are most busy during the week. We recommend the devilled pork or even the kadala (Rs 60) for bites. Go here if you're around Fort and plan to class up your night at Dutch.
Cheap booze, decent clientele, and good vibes till 9 PM. Ideal for pre-drinks if you're around the Fort area.
At 190 bucks (20 rupees above retail), the Ex-Serviceman's Club (open to all) is as cheap as beer gets. Minus marks for its all male clientele and grottiness, but beggars can't be choosers.
සිංහල රු. 190ට ඔබට සේවාමුක්ත භටයන්ගේ සමාජයේදී Ex-Serviceman's Clubහිදී බීර තොලගාන්න පුළුවන. එය සැමට විවෘතයි. තනිකරම පිරිමි වූ පාරිභෝගික ප්රජාව හා එහි ඇති ගුහා ගතිය හොඳ නැහැ. ඒත්, මෙතන සිඟන්නන්ට නම් තැනක් නොවෙයි.