RANGOON — At its peak, it was among the most famous gentlemen’s clubs in Asia, where Rudyard Kipling was inspired to write one of his most famous poems. But today, Rangoon’s Pegu Club is totally deserted and few people even know the building exists.
It is hard to find the Pegu Club, hidden behind a tall concrete fence close to the Russian embassy near downtown Rangoon. The Victorian-style teak structure was built in the late 1880s to serve as a watering hole for British army officers and civilian administrators in colonial days, and was considered on a par with the famed Royal Selangor Club of Kuala Lumpur and Tanglin Club in Singapore.
Kipling spent an evening there in 1889 and was inspired to write the poem “Mandalay” after listening to accounts of British officers who had been posted in Upper Burma following the British conquest of Burma’s second city in 1885.
Although the “Pegu Club Cocktail” (Gin and Rose’s lime juice) can be still be found in bars around the world, the building that gave it its name has fallen into a sorry state, like so many other colonial-era structures in the city. It was last used as a military audit office and dormitory for government staff in the 1990s.
The inner courtyard is wildly overgrown with weeds. Ceilings are broken, and floors are littered with animal droppings left by the stray dogs who wander around inside. The staircases feel like they may collapse under the slightest pressure.
The building is visibly derelict and crying out for renovation, but it has not been ignored completely. Under the portico, a written notice has been placed under a piece of brick to stop it blowing away. The notice reads: “The Pegu Club has been designated as a heritage building by the government so help preserve it.” It seems no one is paying attention.