Sports bars ahoy

If you're looking for cricket during your nights out, Colombo has options aplenty

Royston Ellis

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The Brewery by O! bar in Colombo
A drink under the stars: the Brewery by O! © Royston Ellis
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The doyen of Colombo's sports bars is still the Bradman Bar at the Cricket Club Café (Tel: 94-011-250-1384), sandwiched between the Galle Road, which takes traffic into the centre of Colombo, and Duplication Road, which brings it out. The bar has cricket memorabilia adorning its walls and display cabinets, and a menu of quick-cooked pub grub named after cricketers (though not always dishes the players themselves enjoy). Cricket videos are shown on two screens all day. There are offers on draft beer, cocktails and wine, but it is not as inexpensive as it used to be to have a meal for two.

There's a fine concentration of bars with more than booze to be found off the Galle Road on the stretch where it leads to Fort, the old part of Colombo. The first stop could be the Cinnamon Grand with its Cheers pub (Tel: 94-011-243-7437). Originally the private club of VIPs staying at the hotel in the days when it was called the Lanka Oberoi, it has made the most of its faux Victorian décor to create a lookalike traditional British public house. Drinkers sit around tall tables on stools, as well as at the bar. Meals are served too, but service can be a bit shambolic. There is a games room and televisions showing cricket.

There are four sports pubs around the Galle Face Green roundabout. The foremost, and the most likely to appeal to expat cricket followers, is In On The Green (Tel: 94-011-254-1010). It was known by the more traditional name of Inn on the Green until management was taken over by the Galle Face Hotel, in which premises it is located. Open from 4pm every day (except for the usual prohibition of Poya - full moon - Day), it rejoices in a smoking section behind a glass panel, just like the public and saloon bars in the pubs of old England. There are always special offers on beer and wine, chalked up on blackboards, and television screens. There is a happy hour every evening, and cricket quizzes on some nights. A lively haunt for drinkers, with food available on demand.

Walk from there to the roundabout corner and turn inland to the Ramada (formerly Holiday Inn) Hotel for its Oasis Lounge (Tel: 94-11-242-2001). It's called a sports bar, although it is dedicated to smokers, but it has a small pool table as well as a television that can be switched to cricket matches.

Opposite the hotel is the garden entrance to the Taj Samudra, which houses The Mix (Tel: 94-11-244-6622), off its reception lobby. Visiting cricket teams usually stay here. The bar is huge, with a bit of the ambience of a railway station, but it has a snooker-sized pool table, a big screen with cricket on, and plenty of space for camaraderie.

Similar in style, although not as popular as it was in its heyday in the last decade, is the Echelon (Tel: 94-11-254-4644), the pub in the Colombo Hilton Hotel. It has private television arbours, so drinkers can choose what to watch, and there is a pool table at one end. Draft beer and the usual five-star-hotel snacks are available.

Perhaps the most authentic bar for cricket fans is to be found at the Gymkhana Club (Tel: 94-11-753 8055), the oldest, and possibly best, sports and social club in Sri Lanka. It traces its roots to the founding, in 1836, of the Colombo Cricket Club. The Colombo Hockey and Football Club came into being in 1892, followed by the Queen's Club, for tennis, in 1899. The three clubs amalgamated under the name of the Gymkhana Club in 1959 and moved into the present premises in Maitland Crescent in the 1960s.

An old London Routemaster bus in Colombo
By night, this Routemaster occasionally turns into a Colombo pub crawler's best friend © Royston Ellis
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While the pitched, tiled roof of the pavilion, with a Smith & Son rooftop clock and ancient wooden floors, remain, significant modernisation has taken place. A billiard saloon with ancient table made in Britain was added in the 1970s, and more recently a gymnasium, a disco, a karaoke club, a bar and a restaurant have been created for non-members. A swimming pool has been built for members, and the club now boasts it is the only one in Sri Lanka offering facilities for top-class rugby, cricket, hockey, squash, tennis, swimming and billiards.

Visitors can become temporary members or be signed in by a member to enjoy pints in the club's wood-panelled bar. In a glass display case behind the solid wooden horseshoe-shaped bar counter is the striped blazer, tie and cap of member DJO Grey, who played cricket for Ceylon from 1927 to 1946. Cabinets bear trophies won over the decades, and signboards record the names of illustrious member players of the past and present. Much of the talk here is inevitably about cricket, and members will come up with rare anecdotes about foreign and local players.

There is a more modern bar that would appeal to the sophisticated as well as the sporty in the same building, but with a separate entrance: Lemon (Tel: 94-11-268-2122). This is primarily a rooftop restaurant run by Colombo's famous drag queen-chef Koluu, and overlooks the Colombo Cricket Club ground and its vast swimming pool. It's a place to drink and dine at in the evenings, although lunch is also served.

For more raucous drinking action, head to the Brewery By O! (Tel: 94-11-244-1573) at the back of the Dutch Hospital restaurant complex behind the World Trade Center's twin towers. It has concrete tables and bench seats in a cobbled courtyard under the stars, and a huge video screen showing cricket matches in the background as agile stewards serve towers of beer.

And for the really fit and adventurous, pub crawls in a non-cricket evening in an open-topped, ancient London Routemaster double-decker bus are occasionally arranged by Ebert Silva Ltd (Tel: 94-11-273-8995). At least you shouldn't have to worry about transport back to the hotel.

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