Colombo’s vast underbelly of dodgy bar goes deep. Very deep. One post was never going to cover it all. So for your drinking pleasure, we give you part deux in the YAMU Guide to Colombo’s Dodgy Bars.
But before the complaints begin to bubble, let me clarify why we whittled down that ever growing list to just three. These bars are among of the city’s finest, and if you’ve got limited time in Colombo, these are the ones you need to visit. And so we call them the Essentials. The Trinity, the Triumvirate, whatever you like – if you’ve got just one night on the dodgy bar crawl, this is the trio you need to stroll into – and stumble out of.
Behind the broad courtyards of Dutch Hospital and beyond the rising twin towers of the World Trade Centre lies a crosshatched network of roads and a knot of sometimes colourful, often crumbling colonial buildings that constitute Colombo’s Fort. A collection of faded colonial grandeur interspersed with streams of dusty traffic and milling crowds, this the heart of the old city, and it’s stirring to life once again.
And so we discovered ‘Brown’s’ – at least, that’s what we’re told it’s called. A crumbling bar located beyond an arched doorway stuck down the side of one of Fort’s narrower, duskier alleyways with no name or discernible indication of its existence, this is classic dodgy bar material: a bastion of beer, bites and booze, completely devoid of women. Men scatter around plastic sheeted tables, knocking back the devilled pork was as much gusto as the arrack, the lights are bright and lurid and the service is unfailingly excellent – this is what dodgy bars, as we’ve coined them, are like, and this is why we love them.
Serving delicious deep fried bites (devilled pork (Rs 320), handallo, fried rice, etc.) and chilli sprinkled fries (Rs. 200) – excellent, lean crispy strips, crackling with salt – Browns provides a great alternative to the expensive Dutch Hospital wares. You can purchase a tall Lion for Rs. 210 and devour a plate of bites for about the same. Our total bill for three came to Rs. 1140 (included two tall Lions, two plates of chips and a pork – ok so maybe not quite as cheap as say Government Service, but still not bad).
Government Service’s Sports Club
One of Colombo’s best dodgy bars is, without a doubt, the Government Service Sports Club. Hidden behind the Baseline Road, a large crumbling building opens out onto a ramshackle garden scattered with a handful of metal chairs, plastic tables and a few melancholy cats looking to scrounge the crumbs off some fallen handallo. A teetering wall of stacked soda bottles lines the edge of the plot. Indoors are two rooms – one, a dim oblong drinking space with a blinking, static television, the other, a ‘pool room’ with low and lurid overhanging lights, an old pool table and, in our opinion the star of the club, a fantastically dusty, achingly antique snooker desk.
We don’t know how long the Government Service Club has been around for – but this no star place offers absolutely five star service, hinting at a time before the birth of bouncer-guarded bastions like Kama and a nightclub culture that seems to ignore all aspects of good service.
If you’re tired of waiting to be served or being asked to leave for inappropriate attire, try the GSSC. It’s chilled out, the drinks are cheap, and they treat you like kings. And the bites are delicious – crispy little fillets of handallo encased in shining, golden batter – delicious when salted with the juice of a lime – long crunchy fries sprinkled with scarlet chilli powder, and a ‘special’ meat that we’ll say no more about… Go here if you want a relaxed drink in a large, breezy garden with waiters who are actually nice and genuinely seem to want you to have a good time.
The Castle Hotel
The Castle Hotel is the finest of dodgy bars. It is housed in a beautifully ageing on Castle Street, near the Slave Island railway station. The windows have colored glass tiles and everything is a beautiful Matrix green or fading orange. Drinks, also, are cheap and the bites are usually excellent.
This is our favorite dodgy bar. It has low prices, nice people and the building itself is remarkable. There’s a great history to the space. It’s been around for ages and numerous films have been shot here, local and foreign. The architecture is classic and airy, from the ascending staircase to the arches above the windows. This plus a stop at the nearby Dreamland Bar and then Burgers King for a bite makes for quite a nice night out in Slave Island.