5 Bangkok Bars You Have to Visit
No, gents, a blazer isn't required—but you wouldn't be out of place donning one. From tiny speakeasies to see-and-be-seen clubs, these are the hot perches for the city's spruce night owls. And they're all a hoot. By JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN.
Published on Jun 8, 2016
1. SING SING THEATER
Living dolls in cheongsams float gracefully through a throwback Chinese dream, ignoring the cool-kids crowd huddled around bottles and on leather sofas, a hint of the clandestine, possibly dangerous and definitely decadent wafting in the air. Much of the mood at the brand-new Sing Sing has been struck by two of the same impresarios behind Bangkok game-changing club-cabaret Maggie Choo's—design genius Ash Sutton and longtime tastemaker Sanya Phouma—but this place has achieved different liftoff. It's like a Mad Max-meets-East Asia playground for the savvy set who survived a watery apocalypse only to rebuild their fortunes in metallurgy, say, or the scuba-dive scavenging and bootlegging of hotel-minibar booze. That is to say, in this place you feel badass. And the feeling heightens as you ascend the various levels, duck behind brocade curtains and into hidden birdcages from which you can survey the heaving crowd. The ceiling is a sea of lanterns, the stage is backed by a two-story gong, the mute muses laze in their gowns doing needlepoint but primed to pounce... and the entire sanguine scene is sweet seduction. facebook.com/singsingtheater.
Don't mess with the muses at Sing Sing. Ausadavut Sarum.
2. HAVANA SOCIAL
With Cuba all the rage these days, the sexiest speakeasy in town is right on trend. But though it may be increasingly easy for travelers from all nations to get into the real Havana, access to its Bangkok simulacrum still requires stealth maneuvers under cover of darkness. Technically this place is on touristtrap Sukhumvit Soi 11, but its bitty, backside alleyway entrance (just across the street, conveniently, from big-sister nightlife stalwart Above 11) dispels any concern that Khao San backpackers might stumble in. No, more like CIA: Call up in advance and get a passcode, find the graffitied phone booth down the end of the lane and punch in your digits. Like Dr. Who's TARDIS, it transports you across oceans and back in time, to the pre-Fidel, pre-communist island capital, when men wore fedoras and pulled on cigars, one hand on the exposed leg of their salsa-dancing date masterfully sipping from her elegant coupe of champagne. If the Cuba Libre (clanking with iced Coca-Cola cubes) leaves you lightheaded, order a Cuban sandwich—the kitchen worked months to perfect its porky, cheesy crispness. The best photo-op is on the velvet couch under the giant mural of a barebacked, head-dressed cubana, but with everything purposefully distressed—including the faux-water-damaged ceilings inside—and accented with iron, stained glass and, hilariously, a clothesline dangling garments, it's hard not to look hot in here. Or, should we say, en fuego? facebook.com/havanasocialbkk.
Havana Social's spy-games entrance. Courtesy of Havana Social.
3. REVOLUCION COCKTAIL
A Frenchmen-founded Latin America-tinged bar in Thailand by way of China: the revolucion is here. On the ever-cooler Sathorn strip, in a tapas and drinks hot spot, anchored by a super-long bar they occasionally set on fire, overseen by an array of freedom fighters, to be exact. With an original location in Shanghai, the place's kitsch-cool line is impeccably toed. Yes, it's a themed bar that stresses its molecular-mixology cred, but in many ways it's back-to-basics, good, clean fun. In this relatively bright, Crayola-colored, largely open-plan space with comfy couches and cozy nooks, the dance music revs up around 11 p.m., when you'll find girls getting down under the watchful eye of Che and clutching our favorite delicious, generous-pour G&G—gin, fresh grapefruit, grapefruit syrup and tonic. For novelty, try the Cherry Manhattan, ingeniously served within an ice sphere. For fresh air, move to the oil-drum tables on the large patio whose glass doors let you keep up with all the action inside. For midweek fun, stop by on Tuesday, when the Cactus Taco truck parks curbside and there's free tequila for all. 50 Sathorn Soi 10; +66 2 235 4823; facebook.com/RevolucionCocktailBangkok.
The Revolucion hits Bangkok. Courtesy of Revolucion Cocktail.
Cocktails to match your mood made by mind-reading mixologists in an urbane, unpretentious den of secrecy? Bangkok's bars have been promising this for a while, but Q&A finally delivers the full package. New York refugees will recognize this retro-railcar as a blend of first-generation speakeasy revivalist Employees Only and boysenberries-to-basil-to-bourbon market-fresh Mulberry Project. Local night owls will be overjoyed for this reunion with their favorite bartenders from the low-laying Sugar Ray, who have migrated here to its flashier sister. Still, having such rarified DNA doesn't mean Q&A feels derivative; rather, they're all about the new, unlikely and inventive. Consider the Ancient Chinese Secret-brand bitters hand-carried back from the U.S.; or the just three bottles of small-batch family-made tequila one of the lead bartenders, always-jolly Bee, discovered at the trade-show booth of two Mexican sisters; or the piles of fruit waiting on the bar to be chopped and mashed, and the on-demand options here take on the feel of ephemeral. Of course, there's a full menu of classics and original creations; for a hit of energy, try the Comte de Monte Cristo, with Diplomatico Exclusiva 12-year rum, Ethiopian coffee, toasted pecan-infused port wine and Amaro Montenegro, topped with torched coffee beans. That is if you can manage to reserve one of the few supple leather seats, and then find the bar hidden in its tiny alley off the nightlife-wasteland of Asoke. Make the call then make the expedition; this is a tippling club you definitely want to join. qnabar.com.
Q&A's yuzu-licious Kai-To. Courtesy of Q&A.
5. THE HOUSE ON SATHORN
Back in 1889, after businessman Mr. Sathorn Rajayutka built the Bangkok throughway that still bears his name, he erected a gorgeous neoclassical manor at its center, adorned with family frescoes and carvings of boars, his Chinese birth sign. Back in 2012, after the W Bangkok debuted its glittery glass tower next door, the whole city awaited its promise of reviving that manse for the 21st century. In 2015, the shamrock louvered doors and windows were re-flung open to dramatic effect. The House on Sathorn may be chartreuse on the outside, but within is a mix of leafy green (in the calming center courtyard), somehow-subtle neon (in the sultry, loungy club), rich reds and chocolates (in the intimate open-kitchen restaurant), and opulent gilt (in the Gatsby-era bar that feels like the heart of The House). Sidle up to mixologist Michele's abode; he just might teach you how to shake The Flying Pig—Johnnie Walker Gold, Grand Marinier, passion fruit, cinnamon and pomegranate. Another secret? The duplex VIP area beyond the second-floor club includes a couple of luxe bedrooms, you know, if you really want to make yourself at home. thehouseonsathorn.com.
Make The House on Sathorn your home. Courtesy of The House on Sathorn.
Illustration by David Spashott.
TRENDING | NEW INFUSIONS
From the Philippines to Peru, ingenious bartenders are altering the flavor profiles of classic cocktails, infusing spirits with unusual ingredients, creating some deliciously avant-garde results. At Bali's beachfront Ku De Ta, order the Vanilla Passion Foam, a blend of vanilla foam, passion fruit and vanilla-inflused vodka. At the Broken Shaker in Chicago, indulge your inner tween with the Cocoa Puff Old-Fashioned, which uses bourbon infused with the chocolaty cereal as its base. Bartender Kenneth Bandivas, of ABV in Makati, created an Amplaya bitter melon-infused cocktail that sent him to the finals of Diageo Reserve World Class, a global bartending competition. In Cuzco, the pisco sours served at the Qespi Bar are made with either pisco steeped in purple corn or pisco steeped in coca leaves—for a real buzz.
Illustration by David Spashott.
TRENDING | RAICILLA
First, high-end tequila captivated the cocktail world; next came smoky, earthy mezcal. The agave drink of the moment? Raicilla, a spirit that, like tequila, is made in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Unlike tequila, however, raicilla can be distilled from many species of agave, and every expression is unique, with flavors that range from vibrantly acidic to Gorgonzola-like funky. La Venenosa raicilla is exported from Mexico in four styles, each made from a different species of agave, to select liquor stores in Hong Kong, with plans to expand in Singapore and across the region in the coming year.