50th Street Café Escape the Madding Crowd

By Steve Tickner 30 December 2012

The heat, odor and noise of downtown Yangon can get on anyone’s nerves. But thankfully there’s a bastion of tranquility where one can escape the mêlée for a while and regain composure in air-conditioned luxury.

The 50th Street Café, Restaurant and Bar is one of a pitifully small number of entertainment venues in the former capital which would not look out of place anywhere in the world. Not surprisingly found on 50th Street, a stone’s throw east of the bustling city center, the two-floor sports bar offers friendly and attentive staff, plush leather couches and an eclectic international menu.

The haunt of Yangon’s growing throng of affluent locals and foreign expats—businessmen as well as various embassy and NGO workers—50th Street is practically unrivaled as the most popular bar in the city.

The restaurant can happily cater to the needs of the homesick backpacker—perhaps one craving comfort food such as a Western-style burger, meat-filled pie or authentic thin-crust pizza—or equally a wealthy industrialist.

The building itself has an interesting history. A two-story building made entirely of bricks imported from Britain and top quality local teak timber, it was constructed in 1906 originally as a trader’s house by the waterfront. And to this day, various businesses associated with the rich shipping history of the port occupy the surrounding lanes.

The spacious venue opened in its current form in March 1997 and was then extensively renovated in 2009. The ground floor features a bar, private alcoves, pool table and multiple TV screens for sports fans—the bare masonry finish gives the restaurant an earthy and welcoming natural ambience.

Most importantly of all, the menu is nicely varied, catering to Western tastes but also providing examples of classic Myanmar cuisine. There are light meals such as salads, sandwiches and tapas as well as more substantial options including juicy burgers, imported Australian steaks, pasta, pizza, full-bodied curries and some imaginative vegetarian choices.

A central feature is a broad, polished teak staircase which spirals up to the second floor bar and dining area. A suitably wide range of cocktails are on offer, including a local Wingaba Bloody Mary boasting organic credentials and concocted using homemade tomato juice.

On the wine list you will find imported Australian, New Zealand and French labels—enough variety to complement the diverse menu. There is also a Myanmar offering, Red Mountain Estate from Shan State, along with real champagne for those celebrating special occasions.

In addition, a large number of the most famous domestic and international beer brands are represented along with fresh smoothies and real coffee. And after dark, the dance floor fills with Yangon’s bright young things who gather to shake a tailfeather.

50th Street is undoubtedly a much-needed sanctuary in a city that has a great deal to learn about top class hospitality. Bills can be paid in dollars or the local kyat, there is free WiFi Internet and daily specials including happy hour all day Sunday.

This story first appeared in the December 2012 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.