Given that practically all of Cambodia's historic Chinese shophouses have been demolished, it is some comfort to know that one of the finest not only survives but thrives as a trendy cocktail bar cum art gallery.
Housed in a beautifully restored, 105-year-old building complete with colorful tiled floors, carved screens and shutters, and a spectacular wood-beam roof the Chinese House is the brainchild of Alexis de Suremain, a French expatriate who is also behind some of Phnom Penh's best boutique hotels (including the 20-room Pavilion, just 100 meters from the Royal Palace, and the new Blue Lime). The dramatic, lantern-lit and antique-strewn interior is home to a downstairs exhibition space and an upstairs lounge, where guests enjoy designer drinks and finger food. (See pictures of Shanghai.)
The property originally belonged to a Hokkien merchant, Tan Bunpa, a prominent member of the Chinese community who was granted Cambodian citizenship in 1930. Tan's family was forced to give up the house when the Khmer Rouge seized power in the 1970s, but in 2007 the property was returned to family hands when it was purchased by one of Tan's descendants, who then leased it to de Suremain. This sort of happy ending is all too rare in Phnom Penh.
For more details, including a well-researched history of the property, see www.chinesehouse.asia.