Getaway at the Gallery Bar

By The Irrawaddy 22 July 2013

From the bustling streets of Yangon’s business district, the cool, dimly lit lounge of the Gallery Bar at Traders Hotel offers an easy escape from the city’s heat and heavy traffic—with decent drink specials during happy hour and reliably fast WiFi.

The upscale Traders Hotel has become somewhat of a landmark in Myanmar’s commercial capital over the years, thanks in part to its convenient location just east of Bogyoke Aung San Market, and the hotel’s Gallery Bar & Restaurant—on the second floor above the lobby—has become popular among businesspeople, travelers, expats and some locals as the city’s tourism sector grows.

The space has a full-service bar and was completely renovated last year, with dark wood paneling and glass windowpanes on the exterior wall that create a more authentic pub feel than the average hotel bar in Yangon. The seating is comfortable, with plush chairs and couches arranged in a café style around small circular tables, while the atmosphere is relaxed, with a pool table in the corner and music that’s quiet enough for conversation.

Happy hour specials run daily from 5-8pm, with two drinks for the price of one. The bar offers a standard selection of beers starting at $3, aperitifs and hard liquors, but if you’re in the mood for something more unique, opt for the Mandalay Sour cocktail ($5). Reminiscent of a whiskey sour with sugar and lemon, the drink is made with a local Mandalay rum. “I haven’t seen it yet anywhere else,” Philip Lemerle, the hotel’s director of food and beverages, said of the drink. The house wine, a smooth Cabernet-Shiraz blend for $5 a glass, comes with crackers topped with raisins and dried papaya.

The tapas menu, a new addition from December, offers basic bar snacks like garlic bread ($3) and more exotic dishes like pan-fried tiger prawns ($12) that can be shared at the table, an option Lemerle says is popular among the bar’s business clientele. Guests can also choose the monthly platter, which has featured Mexican, Italian and Indian dishes in past months. “We’re basically going around the whole world,” he says.

Another option is to order a la carte from the same menu available at the hotel’s café and restaurant, with Western bar favorites like fish and chips or buffalo chicken wings and a mix of Asian cuisine. Try the signature dish, a Myanmar mango and papaya salad with cucumber, dried shrimp and shallots ($9). The staff also recommends the Balti butter chicken ($10)—tender pieces of meat with steamed rice or warm naan and curry that’s enough to share as a light meal between two people. The dish is about 10 times the price of Indian curries available at other nearby eateries, but the delicious blend of spices makes it worth the splurge.

Beyond the food, one of the bar’s biggest draws is its reliable WiFi—the hotel’s Internet connection, among the fastest in the city, can easily support a Skype conversation or music downloads, although the latter is officially discouraged by the management. The waitresses are attentive and knowledgeable of the menu, answering questions about the cocktails and dining options and making careful recommendations.

Other than the paintings of old-time Myanmar adorning the walls and a handful of Myanmar dishes on the menu, don’t expect to find much here in the way of local culture, which is arguably better experienced at one of the city’s ubiquitous teashops. But if you’re looking for a place to relax and indulge—at fair prices by Western standards—the Gallery Bar is a good spot to catch up on emails, grab a bite to eat and unwind at the end of the day.

The Gallery Bar is open from 1 pm until 1 am daily.

This story first appeared in the July 2013 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.