Bar Guide Bangkok

World's 50 Best Bars editor Hamish Smith has been to Bangkok - here is his bar guide.

IT’S A GENERALISATION to say things move more quickly in Asia, but certainly there are few cities in the world that have grown an international-class bar scene as quickly as Bangkok.

Three years ago, there might have been only a handful of bars in Bangkok taking the art of cocktails and hospitality seriously. But a visit to Bangkok now is a serious endeavour. Don’t think you can do the circuit in a weekend – there are about 20 bars that could reasonably expect to be included in a guide such as this, and by the time you are reading this, a few more will have opened. It is moving that quickly.

The mark of a bar culture’s development is often the advent of bartender-owned bars. It shows that the market has confidence in and respect for drinks and their makers. In Bangkok bartenders are not just forging drinks but serious careers too.

This guide is not definitive, but it’s a good mix of places, from old to new, that shows the strength and diversity of the scene. We’ll start with one of the new breeds.


Oriental Ave, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500

With bladed, ceiling-mounted fans gently whirring to the easy, jazz-filled atmosphere, this is the colonially-themed bar that lives up to expectation. It is steeped in history, tropically clad, and serves outstanding locally inspired drinks – Bamboo Bar is what Raffles of Singapore should be like, without the monkey-nut shells.

Bamboo Bar has been based in the Mandarin Oriental for 65 years but in 2014 was refurbished to glittering effect. The original rattan armchairs have been restored and tiger-print patterns top the bar stools, but dark marble and leather bring a contemporary edge, without meddling with the colonial outpost identity.

Behind the bar is Khun Ball, who has retained a couple of house classics from three-decade barkeep Sompong Boonsri, but has also introduced contemporary drinks that draw on the Thai flowers, fruits, herbs and spices. The Magic of Thai Herbs (Tanqueray gin, bianco vermouth and flowers from Thailand’s Royal Project) is a good example of his elegant modern Thai bartending style.


6 Pom Prap, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok 10100

If Bamboo Bar represents the old face of Bangkok, Teens of Thailand is the new. Its hole-in-the-wall doors opened in Bangkok just last September, but fast forward six months, and it is already one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars.

Like Happiness Forgets in London, this connects with the trade like no other bar in its city.

The décor is shabby-chic and the drinks are scaled back to elegant, no-nonsense serves. They are classified by four descriptions: sweet and sour, bitter, classic or gin and juice. In fact, owner Niks Anuman-Rajadhon says 95% of his cocktails are gin based. He says he had little choice. The site is an ex-market shop, in the heart of China Town’s aroma-filled spice district, so a botanically-based menu was the authentic option.

The name? Well, a political reference to the street kids of the area, known for “glue sniffing and prostitution”.

“They are the real Teens of Thailand”, says Anuman-Rajadhon.


10/15 Soi Convent Road, Bangkok, 10500

Vesper is the creation of Choti Leenutaphong and Debby Tang – Asian owners who fell in love with cocktail bars while living in Europe. Tang says inspiration came from bars such as London’s Duke’s – indeed it was there Tang had her first Vesper that would later be the name of her bar – and the first menu in 2014 was consulted by London duo Thomas Aske and Tristan Stephenson.

The latest menu has developed the drinks from playful visual affairs to more sophisticated house serves, as the Bangkok consumer evolves, and you’ll see barrel-aged iterations of classic cocktails Vieux Carre, Hanky Panky and Aviation too.

Refined, up-market in décor, with on-the-money, international drinks, this place is the bar Leenutaphong and Tang always wanted to drink in, and they’re not alone. It was voted by the trade as one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2016.


65/1 Athenee Residence, Soi Ruamrudee, Wireless Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan, 10330

Opened in 2010, Hyde & Seek was a forerunner of the Thai cocktail scene.

Like so many bars in the capital, it is a restaurant-bar hybrid that is best described as London-meets-New-York-meets-Asia.

With a name like Hyde & Seek, this place is about fun and games, with DJs spinning funky tunes and dining and cocktail imbibing co-existing in an energy-filled space.

Nath Arj-han, formerly of Singapore’s Tippling Club, is behind the menu, so expect twisted classics and signatures that infuse herbs, spices, fruits, and more modern techniques such as slow-cooked ingredients and hot and cold smokes.


Groove at CentralWorld,
Rama 1 Rd, Ratchaprasong, Bangkok 10330

Hyde & Seek Peekaboo, the new sister bar to Hyde & Seek that opened in 2014, continues the playful restaurant-bar theme and is a mecca to Bangkok’s fun-time classes.

Essentially, it is a tree-house: the lights are leaf themed, there are swings, and the bar itself is made from wood, festooned with tropical plants.

Nath Arj-han has run the operation here since its launch and you can see his influence. The most popular drink is the Dek Doy, inspired by his time living with an indigenous rainforest tribe in Northern Thailand. Now that is research.


125 sukhumvit 55, Thonglor, Bangkok, 10110

Open just a few months, Rabbit Hole is another of the new wave of bars to seemingly spring out of the ground. Almost invisible from the street, this three-level warren is dark, sassy and sanctuary from Bangkok’s bustle.

There are two menus: more complicated serves for week days when bartenders have more time to strut their stuff, and simpler classic serves on the weekends when customers want drink-in-hand. If there is a champion spirit, it is whisky, and the back bar, which rises up through the three floors, is its ultimate shrine.

Staff are hotel-trained, so while the drinks are serious, the service is friendly and attentive.


Lebua at State Tower

Sometimes there is nothing better than a view. At Lebua at State Tower, an F&B-forward hotel that towers over Bangkok, the view is unparalleled. Indeed, the three bars perched 60 stories up in the sky are said to be the highest in the world. Sky Bar was the first rooftop bar in Bangkok, and thus a pioneer of alfresco drinking. Believe it or not, this was not a thing, until Lebua launched its bar in the clouds.

We could talk about its cocktails, but with a healthy throng of view-gazers to satisfy, speed and consistency is the order of the day – and night, when the Bangkok vista really comes to life. For more considered mixology, head up one flight to Distil Bar. Here Portuguese bar-chef Joao Franco has recently taken up the reigns and offers experimental Asian-influenced cocktails to satisfy the discerning customers who flock to the hotel for its gastro experiences.

Rooftop bars are not known for great cocktails, but Franco is the determined sort. His Sachertini cocktail (sake infused seaweed-wasabi syrup, mango, lime and ginger, served in a steaming tea pot, garnished with sashimi) is a drink worthy of any venue. But if your tastes are more conservative try the Thai G&T, with ice made with chili and lime, or else head to the latest Lebua rooftop bar, Flute A Perrier-Jouët Bar, for views, Champagne and live Jazz.