Nightlife in Bangkok
Today, Bangkok offers a heady assortment of entertainment venues, nightclubs, bars, cafés and clubs appealing to every sort of taste. Many specialist in live music – rock, country and western, Thai pop, jazz and rhythm and blues. Bangkok is prone to trends, such as salsa clubs and brew pubs, which are short-lived firework displays that leave town without a trace. All bars and clubs are supposed to close at 1am or 2am (the latter closing time is for places with dance floors and live music), in most cases this is enforced by stone-faced policeman who usher out the dazed customers.
Parts of Banglamphu near the tourist strip of Thanon Khao San are one big outdoor party, where small stalls set up tables and chairs for a night of Beer Chang drinking. Surprisingly, even Thanon Khao San attracts a lot of young Thais who come to shop, get fake dreadlocks or swill beer with the Westerners. A more local scene can be found on weekends at the restaurant-bars along Thanon Phra Athit, these places feature live music.
The Sukhumvit has a lot of diversity in its nightlife; there are a handful of expat bars and trendy clubs, and every short-lived trend makes a run on the street. The city's ever present go-go scene has two outposts: Soi Cowboy and Nana. Thanon Silom has a lot of contrasting night crawlers. The infamous go-go district of Patpong is off Thanon Silom, as well as a late-night souvenir market, low key English-style pubs and yuppie bars for unwinding office workers.
Pubs & Bars
Trendy with locals these days are bars that strive for a sophisticated atmosphere, with good service, drinks and music. Thais often call them pubs but they bear little resemblance to a traditional English pub. Some are 'theme' bars, conceived around a particular aesthetic, and most serve imported liquor and house cocktails, which despite the various names all taste like Tom Collins.
Center Khao San (Thanon Khao San) has a front-row view of the street's spectacle as well as pool tables. Gulliver's Traveler's Tavern (Thanon Khao San & Thanon Chakraphong) is a lot like your local sport bar. A central bar is flanked by pool tables, sports shows on TV and single men contemplating the shape of their beer bottles. Hole in the Wall (Thanon Khao San), on a short dead-end lane, affords a cheap refuge from Khao San's inundation of fisherman pants and pierced navels. It's an on-and-off-again place (often closed during slow months). Susie Pub and its sister pub, Austin Pub, attract a lot of Thai university students celebrating birthdays. Both are beautiful bars, but the music tends to gravitate towards too-sweet Western pop music. Venture further down the lane past Austin Pub, to find open-air beer stalls blasting Bob Marley and techno. An odd neighbour to this clique is the Rare Art Gallery, which features local photographers working in black-and-white.
Salvador Dali (Thanon Rambutri), tucked away amid a row of noodle stands, is a comfortable, two-storey air-con bar with a more intimate, speakeasy feel that tiptoes past the official closing time. An outdoor beer stand, with lots of drunken socialising, set up nearby. Further east on Thanon Rambutri is Molly Bar, a lively bar with outdoor tables, where beach bums decompress for the flight home. Bangkok Bar (149 Soi Rambutri), next door to Sawasdee House, is a slick newcomer to the ratty backpacker zone. Smooth samba beats waft like incense over the bar's cozy corners, where Western-Thai couples sip fairy-juice cocktails.
Three low-key, British-style taverns can be found off Thanon Sukhumvit. Owner, Big Dave, sits at the helm of Jool's (Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 4), near Nana Entertainment Plaza, steering the sinking ship through the district's commercial 'friendliness'. With a ring of the captain's bell, indicating a free round, the mood shifts to a good time drinking club. Bull's Head & Angus Steakhouse (Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 33/1) is a beautiful galleried bar that's well suited to imagining foggy London nights; infrequent comedy shows here make light of the expat life. Ship Inn (9/1 Soi 23, Thanon Sukhumvit; open 9pm-midnight), just around the corner from Soi Cowboy, attracts a quiet drinking crowd. The bar is as well stocked as a ship captain's quarters.
Suan Ahahn Pa Loet Rot (Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 33/1), two doors closer to Thanon Sukhumvit, offers a similar kind of escapism but it's more for displaced Thais. On its patio, shaded by the hair-like tendrils of an ancient banyan tree, tipplers are temporarily transported to The Thai countryside. Even the squat toilets are authentic. Cheap Charlie's (Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 11) is a well-hidden beer stall on a sub-lane off Soi 11, past De Meglio's Italian restaurant. Look for the 'Sabai Sabai Massage' sign and a crowd of foreigners standing around drinking beers cloaked in koozies (stubby holders). Decorated country-Thai style, this wooden stall stared out selling cigarettes, graduated to beer and now has a faithful following of neighbourhood characters.
Londoner Brew Pub (Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 33; open 11am-1am), in the basement of the UBC II Building, brews its own beers and ales and runs a bevy of promotions to entertain the swillers. Quiz nights, daily happy hours and promotions for foreign-language teachers bring in the crowds. Football matches and rock bands complete the bar's weekly engagements. Irish Xchange (1-4 Bridge, Thanon Convent), just around the corner from Thanon Silom, is one of the few places in Bangkok that serves draught Guinness. The interior wooden panels, glass mirrors and bench seating were all custom-made and imported from Ireland. Bands or varying quality play from Tuesday to Saturday, and the place is often packed from 6pm until closing.
O'Reilly's Irish Pub (62/1-2 Thanon Silom; open from 11am daily), at the entrance to Thaniya Plaza (corner of Thanon Silom and Soi Thaniya), draws a slow pint of Guinness or Kilkenny in a comparatively low-key setting that resembles and old camera shop. Early drinkers will like O'Reilly's opening time. Both pubs feature daily happy hours when their otherwise pricey beers are temporarily discounted. The Barbican Bar (Thanon Silom, Soi Thaniya), in the same block as massage parlours for Japanese businessmen, is a straight-laced upmarket bar, where office crews come for happy hour and stay until closing time.
Hard Rock Café (Siam Square Soi 11) has a guitar-shaped bar and features the full range of cocktails and a small assortment of local and imported beers. The crowd is an ever-changing assortment of Thais, expats and tourists. From 10pm onwards there's also live music. Hotel bars are a hot commodity in this skyscraper city. For slick aerial views, the place to go is the 84-storey Baiyoke Sky Hotel (Thanon Ratchaprarop, Pratunam), the tallest building in Thailand. On the 77th floor there's an observation deck (open 24 hrs), or you can check out the cityscape while dining in one of the restaurants on the 78th and 76th floors. Compass Rose (Thanon Sathon Tai; open 11.30am-1am), a bar on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree, is also sky high. One half of the Regent Hotel lobby is devoted to cigar smokers, with Dominican and Cuban brands available from the hotel's humidor; the Regent claims the largest selection of single-malt whiskies in Asia.
Bangkok's live-music scene has expanded rapidly over the past decade or so. Most bands, with varying success, are tributes to Western music; but even if the accent isn't Mick Jagger, a familiar tune can work wonders on a world wanderer. Saxophone Pub & Restaurant (3/8 Thanon Phayathai; shows 9.30pm; Tel. 0-2246-5472) is a Bangkok institution for reggae, rhythm and blues, jazz and blues. Reminiscent of a German beer cellar, it is a comfortable venue with seats encircling the band or perched in the 2nd floor alcoves. On Sunday there's an open jam session. The bar-restaurant serves surprisingly good food. From the Skytrain station's elevated walkway, descend the stairs near the night market.
Ad Here the 13th (13 Thanon Samsen), next door to Khlong Banglamphu, is a cramped neighbourhood joint with soulful house band that plays blues at 10pm nightly. It does a version of 'Me and Bobby McGee' that will make you swear Janice Joplin has been reincarnated. Everyone knows each other, so don't be shy about mingling. Concept CM2, a multi-themed complex in the basement of the Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square, hosts a rotation of western bands and Thai recording artists interspersed with DJ dance music. Radio City (Soi Patpong 1), next to the Madrid Restaurant, has a talented house band that performs oldies from the 1960s , '70s and '80s. Occasionally Thai Elvis and Tom Jones impersonators who perform here really get the crowd going. Come late with a sufficient amount of social lubrication to enjoy the vacation-land cheesiness of the place.
Dance Fever (71 Thanon Ratchadaphisek), a large club in the burgeoning 'Ratchada' entertainment district, features a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, giant video screens, a bar and restaurant. International bands such as Bush and Blur have played here. Metal Zone (Soi Lang Suan) offers Thai heavy metal – with plenty of hair throwing and lip jutting – nightly. Along with the dungeons-and-dragons décor is a regular line-up of bands authentically producing everything from thrash to Gothic to speed metal, Ozzy squeal to Axel rasp, even a few convoluted Helmet tunes. The volume level is perfect-loud enough for chest compression, but not so loud as to extract blood from the ears.
Witch's Tavern (Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 55) is a spacious bar with leather couches and chairs arranged in clusters like in hotel lobby. Jazz and folk bands start up around 8.30pm. At 10.30pm the house cover band takes over the stage, accepting requests from the audience; romantic ballads get the biggest round of applause from the mainly Thai crowd. Imagries By The Glass (Soi 24 Thanon Sukhumvit), owned by Jirapan Ansvananada, a Thai composer-musician, boasts a huge sound board and closed-circuit TV for its stage shows, which welcome local as well as foreign bands of all genres. This is a classic Thai nightclub with very polished bands verging towards canned. The Oriental's famous Bamboo Bar has live lounge jazz nightly in an elegant atmosphere. The Sukhothai Hotel's Colonnade offers jazz from Tuesday to Saturday.
Discos & Dance Clubs
Bangkok is famous for its hi-tech discos that feature mega-watt sound system, giant video screens and latest in light-show technology. The clientèle for these dance palaces is mostly young moneyed Thais experimenting with lifestyles of conspicuous affluence, plus the occasional Bangkok celebrity and sprinkling of bloodshot-eyed expats. Cover charges are stand around 400 Baht on weeknights and around 600 Baht on weekends, including three complimentary drinks. Prices and number of complimentary drinks will vary depending on how well you're dressed. Most places don't begin filling up until after 11pm. Phuture (Thanon Ratchadaphisek), attached to the north side of the Chaophya Park Hotel, once enjoyed the fickle title of the 'best' disco. Ministry of Sound (Soi 12, Thanon Sukhumvit), a recent arrival from Britain, devoted several floors to local and luminary DJ including a well publicized visit from veteran Paul Oakenfold. Glam night, old skool and various shades of electronica are spotlighted throughout the week.
Narcissus (Soi 23, Thanon Sukhumvit) is a more exclusive, hi-tech place frequented by well-heeled Thais and Thai celebrities. Orbit (Soi 26, Thanon Sukhumvit; admission 500 Baht), formerly know as Taurus, flexes some serious money muscle with half of Thailand's Mercedes Benz fleet parked out the front. Q Bar (Soi 11, Thanon Sukhumvit), a Ho Chi Minh City refugee, is soooo New York circa five minutes ago. Black lights and neon are the only navigational tools through this minimalist two-storey club of glowing cocktails (including absinthe) and spike heels. DJ drive a groovy beat from hip-hop to Latin, and everyone has their own dance moves, some of which are straight off a Nana stage. To find it, take Soi 11 all the way to the end and hang a left; it will be a short jog over from there. The dress code calls for no sandals and no shorts.
A string of small dance clubs on Soi 2 and Soi 4 (Soi Jaruwan), both parallel to Soi Patpong 1 and 2, off Thanon Silom, attracts a mixed clubbing crows. The dance clubs on Soi 2 swing towards a predominantly gay crowd, but have become more integrated as word got around about the great dance scene. Most places collect cover charges of around 100 Baht to 300 Baht depending on the night of the week; the smaller ones are free. Things don't get started here until relatively late – around midnight. Lucifer (Thanon Silom, Patpong Soi 1), upstairs from Radio City has become one of the most popular techno/rave dance clubs in town. DJ Station on Soi 2 and Tapas Bar on Soi 4 are good places to start the night.
Gay & Lesbian Venues
Soi Patpong 2 and Silom Soi 4 has the highest concentration of gay clubs in the city. DJ Station and JJ Park are just some of many clubs that pack narrow Soi Patpong 2 with late-night energy. DJ Station also boasts kathoey cabaret. Chill out at Expresso beside the waterfall wall for a birds-eye view of the pretty boys. On Silom Soi 4 Telephone, Bangkok's oldest gay bar, has a telephone by which patrons can get to know each other. Across the street, The Balcony has prime people-watching tables. There's a cluster of seedier gay bars around Soi Anuman Ratchathon, off Soi Tantawan, which joins Thanon Surawong opposite the Ramada Hotel – the gay equivalent of Thanon Patpong.
Babylon Bangkok (50 Soi Atakanprasit, Thanon Sathon Tai; open 5am-11pm daily) is a four-storey gay sauna that has been described as one of the Top 10 gay men's saunas in the world. Facilities include a bar, roof garden, gym, massage room, steam and dry saunas, and spa baths. The spacious, will-hidden complex also has accommodation. Vega (Soi 39, Thanon Sukhumvit) is a lesbian-owned casual pub – restaurant that also features live music and dancing, while upstairs there's karaoke. On Friday and Saturday nights local lesbian celebrities sometimes stop by. There is also a strong lesbian presence at Thanon Silom nightspots such as Telephone and Balcony, as well as Thanon Phra Athit bars such as Hemlock and Indy. At the following bars, the crowd swings more towards straight than gay, but sometimes dilution is a welcome diversion. Number 53 (Soi 53, Thanon Sukhumvit) is a bar café owned by a famous TV make-up artist. Kitchenette (1st floor, Dutchess Plaza, 289 Soi 55, Thanon Sukhumvit) is a café with live music on weekends.
written by Eric, March 27, 2011