As you ascend the staircase after 5 PM and reach The Reading Room, you notice the change in atmosphere. Slow jazz music in the air, the aroma of leather and smoke, a hidden walkway and walls filled with whiskeys – the mood has changed from the bustling tea shop downstairs.
A passion project of the proprietor Htet Myet Oo himself, The Reading Room is a world of its own in the Rangoon Tea House family. “I have a passion for whiskey, an affection for Japanese cuisine and a love for sustainable design. What you see here is the combination of all three,” says Htet.
At a glance, The Reading Room is a whiskey bar with a collection of over 150 single malts. But on closer inspection, you begin to appreciate its uniqueness. The room, complete with leather sofas, walls adorned by Sayar Nan Da, his favourite Shan Artist and a collection of vintage doors, may remind you of a classic Burmese film. The furniture is time-tested and hardened by years of service.
“About 80 percent of the space is recycled,” admits Htet. “These tables, for example, used to be desks in my first office. I shortened the legs to repurpose them as serving tables. The chairs were once used in our first-ever restaurant. The circular bar was a part of the Rangoon Tea House on Pansodan Road. Millions of cups of tea were brewed on it. The staircases were reclaimed from an old bank. Each part of the room tells a story without saying a word.”
What is more conspicuous is the setting. The seats are positioned in close proximity, allowing the diners to talk intimately. The room itself resembles a living room rather than a bar.
Regarding this peculiarity, Htet explains: “Why do we go to a place like this? To escape from something – or somewhere. I want to create a place that can make everyone feel like they’re walking into their second home.”
The circular bar in the centre of the room is where Nyi Nyi, the mixologist, works his magic. A man of few words, he expresses himself through his drinks. Every move, from peeling lemon to mixing spirits, is considerate and deliberate.
Each careful touch is reflected in the taste and texture. Each cocktail has been created using only the finest spirits and the clearest ice. For example, enjoy the smoky fragrance of the banana in the Banana Old Fashioned, a blend of baked banana-infused Knob Creek Bourbon and Orange bitters, as the liquid passes down your throat. Complex yet elegant, Arkar, the Bar Manager explains that this has been one of his signature drinks since he worked behind the bar at The Courtroom bar in the Rosewood hotel.
A best-selling cocktail here is the Dua Lipa. The playful concoction created as an homage to the singer. Beefeater Gin, which is Htet’s favourite for cocktails, tonic water, fermented cucumber and butterfly pea is sweet, and cool yet packs a punch, just like the pop star it is named after. It reminds you of the party and the girl you were too afraid to ask for a dance.
On the other side of the spectrum is The Smoky Martini, which is good company for a lonely Friday night. The blend of Laphroaig 10, Bombay Sapphire gin and Vermouth Bianco with a hint of the lemon peel should be savoured slowly.
The food menu is called the Japanese Washoku, meaning Japanese eatery. The Wagyu Beef Hot-stone Rice goes really well with the Banana Old Fashioned (undisputedly the undersigned’s favourite combo). Served table side – the tender meat and egg are cooked with heat inside the hot stone.
The taste of the melt-in-your-mouth salmon in Salmon Yukke is enhanced by the spicy sesame sauce. The Charcuterie Board full of chicken liver pate, pork rillette, smoked watermelon jam and a handful of breadsticks and crackers is perfect for sharing. If you just want something light for yourself, the homemade miso and seaweed cheeses of Umai Cheese Board are recommended.
Besides the whiskey, cocktails and Japanese drinking food, a collection of Cuban, Dominican and Nicaraguan cigars are also available.
The MYANMORE team is given a tour around the premises after the meal. Upon heading up the stairs, you first reach Dewi, a private dining room created using the walls, doors and windows from Htet’s old home. Designed after a smoking room from a Hollywood movie – The room is also fashioned with a large day-bed-sized velvet sofa with a large screen, more whisky lockers, a wine cabinet and more contemporary Burmese art. Then through the hidden alleyway, you get a sneak peek of their upstairs Dim Sum kitchen before reaching the foyer of The Reading Room, where all 40 of the private whiskey lockers are stored.
The Reading Room is membership-based and you will be allotted a locker to store your whiskeys once you sign up. You can have your own whiskey or try theirs. It also allows limited seats for non-member customers and you can call and make a reservation. Or you can get booked by a member.
The experience is quite unique – the homely warmth, attentive staff and delicious food and cocktails will leave a great impression on every visitor. Every day past 5 PM, The Reading Room comes to life with slow ambient music and customers replenishing themselves from the stressful day. Who knows. You will find yourself among them one day with a drink in hand making yourself at home.
For detailed information and prices, check their website: https://www.rangoonteahouse.com/thereadingroom
Address: No 36, Inya Myaing Road, Golden Valley, Bahan Township, Yangon
Phone: +95 9 769 397 450
Hours: 5 PM until late