Colombo isn’t exactly New York City. While this is fairly obvious what this means in practice is that there is no East Village or Meatpacking district – no area of the city crammed with bars and restaurants which allow you to make quick and easy work of a night out.
So, if you’re wandering around with little general direction it’s very easy to think there’s nothing going on and that there’s little more to the place than a few hotels, a bunch of roadside kades and some sleepy half-suburbs sprawling at random along the coast.
Actually there’s a lot more to the city than that, but everything is rather scattered and some of the better places seem to have been almost deliberately hidden away. The war induced paralysis of Fort (the city’s actual centre) also makes the place seem poorly formed; this is a temporary aberration though and Fort is on its way back. Till it makes a full return, though, Colombo will remains an insider’s city. However, if you know how to navigate the collections of beach side shacks, and roadside kades, aspiring trendy bars, actually trendy bars, boutique hotels and five star behemoths you’ll find can have yourself a rather good time, on any day of the week.
Like everything though its all about curation- filtering the good from the bad and then putting it all together to make a good night out.
As YAMU attempts to document, facilitate and advance life in Colombo progress we’ll be throwing out itineraries; lists of places to try and routes to follow to make for a good evening/day/weekend out.
I tried this particular route on weekday evening and it seemed to work well for a mixed group of foreign visitors and seasoned Colomboians.
The Disco Route
Sunset at the Galle Face Hotel (6:00 pm) – OK pretty default choice but you can’t really go wrong with a gin and tonic on the terrace. And the location between Fort and Kollupitiya marks the edge of where Colombo turns into a real urban space. You can point to the clutch of highrises, the smattering of bars and explain to visitors that there’s more to the country than beautiful, bucolic villages.
Linger on the checkerboard for an hour or more and then in order to avoid the overpriced mediocrity of Galle Face Hotel dining grab some real food at Nana’s on the Galle Face Green.
PRICES: Rs. 400 for 25ml gin.
Rauf Nana’s (7:30 PM) – Now there are rather a lot of half-covered eateries called Nanas crammed against the sea front. While they all specialize in kebabs, kottus and curries I’m a partisan of the third one down, (it’s the largest) which I believe is the original.
It’s street food but with a great location, and the stuff is really pretty good. The sort of tandoori chicken is reliable, the devilled squid is tasty and the chicken and prawn (ask for this combo) kottu is usually a hit.
Try the chicken and prawn Kottu with a serving of devilled squid piled on top for surefire success. Sit on the plastic chairs dig in with your hands (though you can ask for plastic spoons) and watch the Galle Face go by –a hectic blur of kites, food carts and promenading families.
PRICES: Combo kottu is Rs. 350, deviled cuttlefish is Rs. 550.
Once you’ve had your fill you can move the evening along with a trip to the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH). Too many people have forgotten this venerable and wonderful institution but it remains the heart of Fort.
Harbour Room, Grand Oriental Hotel (9:00 PM) – The GOH’s views rival those from Galle Face and, since it’s so neglected, it still counts as insider information. Head up the lift and to the immortal Harbour Room. While sipping arrack and ginger ale you can watch the ships float in and out of Colombo’s port. This is a wonderful place to relax and chat and you could linger for hours but if you want a properly rounded evening its time to head off.
Optional Detour: If at this point people are complaining that they are hungry again just down the road from the GOH is the Harbour Stop a truly excellent eating spot. Inexpensive curries, kottu, strings, on the ground floor of a wonderfully restored colonial building. From here you can look out onto a part of the city where time stopped in the 80s and if you look closely you can see its coming back to life.
PRICES: 50ml of Old Reserve Arrack is Rs. 225 at GOH.
Either immediately after GOH or after dinner no 2, head to the Paradise Road Gallery.
Paradise Road Gallery (11:00 PM) – This is how to end your evening- by choosing from the excellent selection of deserts.
While people are sometimes divided about the management’s faintly snobby attitude it cannot be denied that food here is consistently good. The deserts are particularly yummy.
Make your way past the ponds and coconut pillars sit in the cushioned alcove and get a chocolate nemesis, a lemon meringue pie, and (my favorite) the jaggery crème brule.
Coffee and cocktails here aren’t bad either so you can really finish the evening. It does close by around 12.30 though so if you want to make a real night of it head to the Colombo courtyard which dishes out drinks on a comfortable rooftop setting until late.
PRICES: A usual dessert is is Rs. 600-800.
As always YAMU is just throwing out ideas- there’ll be more coming. See what you think, chop, change and improve. Also let us know your Colombo itineraries – share- so together we can become Master’s of the Universe (or maybe just Colombo).