What do you do when you’re in a city that offers a whisky sour (made with local whisky) for about AUD$1.30 – or one made with Johnnie Walker Black Label for just AUD$2.10? You drink them, naturally. Several of them. And even though – or perhaps because – they’re served sans showmanship on plastic tables on the street, they taste pretty good. Welcome to Yangon, my friends, where Downtown’s 19th street is well on the way to becoming Myanmar’s answer to Bangkok’s Khao San Road, complete with cheap but tasty barbecue restaurants and cocktails that are so wallet-friendly you’re practically saving money by drinking. But after a few nights of this ridiculously cheap indulgence, you start to get a hankering for a proper bar. One where there’s a bit more variety on the menu. One where there’s a bit more care taken in making your drink. One where there is actually a bar. And that’s where Gekko comes in.
Housed in a beautiful historic building, this is the kind of place where you’d be happy to spend a night on the tiles – because the floor tiles were shipped out from Manchester, England, in the early 1900s and their mosaic-like pattern still looks pretty after all these years. Gekko is a Japanese-influenced bar and restaurant (the name means ‘moon-shine’ in Japanese) and so it’s no surprise to see umeshu, sake and even Calpis (a Japanese soft drink) popping up on the cocktail menu. Apparently, the cocktail menu was created by the team at Singapore’s 28 Hong Kong St, which is ranked as one of the world’s 50 best bars and which, sadly, we didn’t get a chance to visit when we were there last week (which gives us all the more reason for another holiday, right?)
We started with a horse’s neck (Scotch, sake and housemade ginger beer) and a hanami old-fashioned (Japanese whisky, tea syrup and bitters). Curiously, the horse’s neck was missing its namesake horse’s neck (the drink is named after the long curl of lemon peel that is supposed to tumble down the side of the glass and resemble a horse’s neck), but what it lacked in garnish it made up for in flavour: sharp and zesty with a good fiery kick from the fresh ginger, it was an enlivening way to start the night. I’m going to assume it was a new take on a classic drink and thus did not need the old-school garnish. Likewise, the old-fashioned was a twist on a classic; the hamani tea (that’s green tea with cherry blossoms in it) syrup added a subtle herbaceous note and the drink was as elegant as our surroundings.
Perhaps it was fairly obvious that we liked whisky-based drinks but it was still a joy that our bartender, Puia (pictured above), picked up on this and recommended a few other drinks based on what we’d already tried. Naturally, we tried them too – cocktails here were of course more expensive than on the street (hovering around the AUD$8 mark), but still so cheap we could have drunk everything on the menu and come out with enough cash for a cab home. What was even better than his recommendations, though, was going off-menu to try one of his own creations – The Way to Burma (pictured above right). This sophisticated cocktail was the best we’d had all night, in fact it was the best cocktail we had in Yangon, which makes it all the more embarrassing that I now can’t remember a single thing that was in it except Calpis. If you want to try it, you’ll have to find your own way to Burma – and if you find your way to Gekko, it will have been worth the trip.
PS For an entertaining read about more bars in Yangon, check out this article.