Despite clear-up efforts by the authorities over the past decade, Bangkok – it’s well known – is still a city that doesn’t blush easily, a capital never short of secrets to keep for the many sexpats and backpackers who favour its neon titty discos and cheapo dive bars. But for Thais, and a growing number of in-the-know weekenders, Bangkok’s nightlife is an altogether different bag. Beyond the obvious sexbooze hubs lies a more sophisticated sort of escapism: a scene anchored in music and art, rather than the knickers of a Patpong bar scamp or the bottom of a vodka-Red Bull in Banglamphu.
But that’s not to say it’s always easy to pin down. Thanks to the city’s ever-fickle night crawlers, the faultlines of the bar-club scene are always shifting. In Bangkok, a venue’s style quotient can turn on a dime. The best-known casualty is Q Bar (34 Sukhumvit Soi 11): once a rammed, Manhattan-style party ark, it’s now something of no-go spot for Soi 11 sophisticates. Bed Supperclub (26 Sukhumvit Soi 11) is also fading, but chugs on with the help of the occasional star DJ, pulling in a mainly expat crowd. Nearby pre-party roof-lounge Nest (Le Fenix Hotel, 33/33 Sukhumvit Soi 11) fares better with a more playful, go-gently playlist and well-made cocktails. But the young, upwardly mobile Thai party set has largely gravitated – for now at least – to upscale Italian restaurant Fallabella’s Monkey Bar (Royal Bangkok Sports Club, 100 Ratchadamri Rd), beloved of models and fashion plates.
In the hip party locale of Thonglor (more on which later), the dressy but much less self-conscious Blue Velvet (Thonglor Soi 5, Sukhumvit 55) is something of a boundary shifter. Housed in what look likes a medieval European castle, its weathered Heriz-pattern rugs, London pub chairs and industrial-gothic chandeliers prove that you don’t need lurid, Miami-style pink lighting and white leatherette pouffes to pull the in-crowd. Also opened this year, nearby Tease Gallery and Bar (4/F, J Avenue) makes a similar counterpoint.
For more down-to-earth adventures, Bangkok has two live-music venues largely devoid of blottoed backpackers: the long-surviving, pleasingly down-at-heel Saxophone (3/8 Phaya Thai Rd) whirs with jazz, roots and blues every night, with widely adored Thai reggae-ska kings T-Bone playing every Friday. Housed in a tiny shopfront with framed vinyl and the obligatory Route 66 plaque on the wall, a mix of beardy old-timers and young local musos give super-friendly Adhere 13th Blues Bar (13 Samsen Rd) a more underground feel.
For dancing, Bangkok has two clubbing strongholds mainly favoured by Thais and a small number of clued-up Khaosan escapees: at Thonglor, Muse (159/8 Thonglor Soi 10) makes a good starting point. With young, posturing devotees spilling out onto the front steps outside, a giant glitterball and a live band, the downstairs club has a mansion-party-cum-school-prom vibe – albeit one where the kids drink Johnnie Walker by the litre. Upstairs, outdoor cocktail bar Roof bops to a more low-key lilt, with nu-jazz and bossa nova tunes and twinkling views of the city.
Down the road, Funky Villa (Ekkamai Soi 5, Sukhumvit 63) takes care of student types out for unabashedly cheesy partying. While next-door, arty hipster fave Demo (Thonglor Soi 10), based in a pared down, concrete Berlin-style warehouse, is widely regarded as the standard bearer for Bangkok’s most progressive dance music. ‘I think it’s one of the only places where people come only to dance,’ says the club’s Saturday resident Sunzone, one of Bangkok’s most revered house, tech and minimal DJs. ‘Unlike the other clubs where the kids stand around tables, the crowd really care about the music here. I can be more experimental.’
Over at Bangkok’s other clubbing citadel RCA (between Rama 9 and Petchaburi Rd), Flix (29/22-32 Block S, Royal City Ave) is also hot with the city’s more discerning dance-floor denizens, reckons the lifelong Bangkokian and dance scene beacon. ‘And for after-hours partying, 808 (29/53-64, Block C, Royal City Ave) is the best for house and electro right now, Narcissus (12 Sukhumvit Soi 23) for trance.’ Depending on numbers, both stay open until around 6am despite Thaksin Shinawatra’s 2002 law clipping opening times until 2am. And, increasingly, they’re not the only ones. The after-hours scene has flourished this year as a result of the rioting.
‘When there’s trouble [in Bangkok],’ says 24-year-old designer Ning outside Flix. ‘They [the police] don’t come. They’re busy.’ At Thonglor, hip-hop and house specialist Wip168 (Liberty Building, Thonglor Soi 55) is a mainstay and fills up around 2am on weekends. Things get seedier at Climax (Ambassador Hotel, 171 Sukhumvit Soi 11) and Nana Liquid (Nana Hotel, Sukhumvit Soi 4). Due to occasional law enforcement, venues can close or burst into fashion in an instant. ‘Just follow the crowd,’ Ning reckons. ‘[In] Bangkok, there’s always [another] party. We don’t stop.’
Bangkok’s best art bars
WTF? Small, soulful, offbeat barrestaurant, with a gallery on the second fl oor championing local up-and-comers, that’s wildly popular with young creatives. 7 Soi Thonglor 51 (+662 626 6246, wtfbangkok.com). Bar open Tue-Sun 6pm-1am; gallery 3-10pm.
Pranakorn Bar Despite its proximity to Khaosan, this gallery-bar is mercifully unmarred by boozy backpackers, despite its low-lit rooftop bar with views of the Golden Mount. 58/2 Soi Damnoen Klang Tai (+662 622 0282, rama9art.org). Open daily 6pm-2am.
Tease Gallery & Bar New Thonglor opening with house and disco DJs in the huge former gallery space, with an open-air rooftop lounge up top. 4th Floor J Avenue, Thonglor 15 (+089 688 0302). Open daily 6pm-2am.
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