But this spot, whose name means Tiger in Khmer, is worth the hunt.
Khla is owned and operated by the dynamic trio Tyka Chheng, Colton Brock, and John Sagasta. Chheng, a top mixologist who has mixed drinks all around the Valley, put his heart, soul, and family background into the place, designing a cocktail bar that celebrates the flavors of Southeast Asia.
Fabric lanterns hang on strings crisscrossing the large patio seating area. Black-painted walls sport bright white murals depicting a tiger and a mystical vortex. Almost neon-colored floral tablecloths drape the seating areas and music pumps over the space.
The aura is welcoming, yet there’s a sense that you have to be in the know to have discovered this hidden place. The main reason to track it down is the drinks.
After picking a table or barstool, guests at Khla are served a glass of water and a folded paper takeout-style menu. The drinks inside, however, are anything but basic.
One of the most eye-catching creations is the Malina Vice. This bright purple sipper is made with Filipino rum, dark Jamaican rum, ube, coconut, calamansi citrus, orange, and pineapple. It arrives at the table in a large wine glass topped with sweet, pastel-colored mochi candies.
This drink is perfect for those looking for something sweet and soft with not a hint of sour or bitter, flavors better enjoyed elsewhere on the menu.
Another standout option is the Ragged Sailor, which tricks your eyes in the low light of the bar. Yes, the foam on top is green. This drink is made with coffee and chicory-infused vodka, amaro, palm sugar, cayenne pepper, cocoa bitters, and pandan crema. The body of the drink is dark in color and will please espresso martini fans. The crema, made with citrusy and fresh-tasting pandan leaves, dials up the intensity, making this a martini not to miss.
But if you are looking to enjoy only one drink on this menu of heavy hitters, the Silk Road is truly unique. This clarified cocktail is made with Thai tea-infused bourbon, Hennessy, coconut rum, orgeat, coconut, and soy milk.
The clarification process turns a drink filled with cream into a crystal clear cocktail, dyed orange by the tea. As you take a sip of this lowball served over a singular ice cube, the aroma hits before the booze. The sweet, warm, and earthy scent could easily be sold as a perfume and is an intoxicating preview of the flavors to come. As for taste, imagine an Old Fashioned that took a trip to the tropics.
Or better yet, head downtown, walk through the alley, find Khla’s hidden door and try it for yourself.
218 East Portland Street.
Hours: Wednesday & Thursday 5 p.m. – midnight. Friday & Saturday 5 p.m. – 1 a.m. Sunday 5-11p.m.