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Bangkok’s Best Local Bars – Our Personal Favourites

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There’s nothing like a few drinks at a buzzy Bangkok bar after a busy week. But we’re freelance travel writers I hear you say! Yes, but we still work every day, we work hard, and we still have those particularly demanding weeks we want to forget about – the ones with too many deadlines and too many obstacles to meeting those deadlines. You know the feeling, right? Well, for the sake of research here are Bangkok’s best local bars we’ve discovered.

So where do we go in Bangkok when we want to unwind with a cocktail or three? Well, we don’t go to Khao San Road (our idea of hell) and we don’t head up to one of the glam rooftop bars, which, while definitely fabulous to take first-time Bangkok visitors to – the views are spectacular – aren’t the kind of places we like to drop into for a few casual drinks.

And that’s what we look for when we want to go out in Bangkok – casual bars you can spontaneously call in to and settle in for a while, without worrying about silly door policies and drink prices as sky high as the place itself.

We look for local bars, where we can meet local people – Thais or expats – with an interesting atmosphere and equally interesting music, a good wine list, and well-mixed drinks. We like places that serve premium spirits and quality wines by the glass, where the bartender knows how to make a martini and has a repertoire of creative cocktails up his sleeve.

So here they are – our personal picks of Bangkok’s best local bars. Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it a list that embraces every kind of bar you’ll find in the city – you’ll have to wait for our Hedonist’s Guide to Bangkok for that – this is simply a list of our favourites spots where we like to hang out.

Bangkok’s Best Local Bars – Our Personal Favourites

Happy Monday

The cocktails, while good, won’t win any awards for creativity here, although I’m impartial to the tropical-flavoured Happy Monday, made with Malibu and pineapple juice, and the mojitos are very good. What we love most of all though are the easygoing locals and living-room vibe that typifies Thong Lor-Ekkamai bars like our other favourites below. The crowd is mostly Thai with some expats – arty types who work in the media and creative fields, like music, advertising and design. The music is always good, with the turntable taking centre stage next to the bar, and while the owners are musicians, anyone with a passion for music seems to be able to take control of the deck for the night.
Soi 10, Sukhimvit Soi 63 (Soi Ekamai), BTS Ekamai, 02 714 3935, 6pm-1am

Tuba

My parents called them ‘conversation pieces’ – that colossal shell they picked up on the beach at Noumea that sat on the coffee table for years, the Japanese doll in a glass case my mother carted back from Tokyo – unusual souvenirs that command attention and inspire conversations. Tuba is full of these and funky retro furniture, all of which is for sale. There are two rooms, with a very cool bar and pool table in the first, which is where you should settle in if you want to make friends, and a second room with lots of cosy spots among the 1950s book cases and Art Deco drinks trollies if you’re after alone-time. Drinks are served in colossal sized glasses and goblets.
34 Soi 21/Cham Chun, Sukhumvit Soi 63 (Soi Ekamai), BTS Ekamai, 02 711 5500, 6pm-2am

Shades of Retro

Set in an old shophouse on a quiet lane near the end of Sukhumvit Soi 55, Thong Lor, this laidback bar is packed to the rafters with, yep, you guessed it, plenty of retro furniture and vintage interior décor objects. That means you’ll find plenty of those funky little conversation starters, like LPs you’re parents owned that you remember from when you were a kid, and colourful glass vases your grandma had on her mantelpiece that you would never have dreamed of buying back then but now find yourself wondering whether it will break if you put it under the plane or whether you should squeeze it in your carry-on. Hmmm…Shades of Retro has a very similar vibe to Tuba and all the usual suspects when it comes to cocktails. I like to take turns, but these are both some of Bangkok’s best local bars.
522/3 Soi Thararom 2 (between Soi 16 and Soi 18, opp Soi 21), Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Soi Thong Lor), BTS Thong Lor, 6pm-1am

The Iron Fairies

What I love most about this narrow, dimly lit bar – apart from its intricate, iron staircase to nowhere in the entrance – is that it takes me into another world, without being a ‘theme bar’ as such, and yet it still meets our ‘casual but cool’ criteria. A blacksmith’s shop by day where owner Ashley Sutton, a former Western Australian miner and children’s book author, produces tiny iron fairies and other metallic creatures and curios, at night the space serves as a dark gothic-like bar where you can sip drinks downstairs, eat burgers upstairs (there are a few proper tables), and, wherever you sit/stand, tap your feet to the sounds of the resident jazz band. Our only fault is with the inconsistent quality of the cocktails but the atmosphere and music still keeps bringing us back every time.
www.theironfairies.com, 394 Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Soi Thong Lor), BTS Thong Lor, 08 4425 8080, 6pm-2am

WTF

This petite bar has that local laidback arty vibe I used to equate with grungy student bars in Newtown, Sydney. But before you groan, I’m talking (gulp) years ago, and I’ve no idea what they’re like now. Cool and low-key, yet not self-consciously hip, WTF (which stands for whatever you want it to mean) is ran by four friends, Thai and expat, all creative types. There’s an art gallery upstairs (one of the owners is a photographer) and a schedule of regular exhibition openings and special events, like poetry nights and pop-up thingies (a recent one ran with Soul Food; see above). Drinks are cheap and along with the usual standards there are a few interesting cocktails, such as The Orchard, a lovely potent Asian-inspired combo of gin, lychee, lemongrass, lime and soda. They also serve tapas. There’s a calendar of events on their website, so if you’re not in town for long check it as soon as you arrive.
www.wtfbangkok.com, Soi 7, Sukhumvit Soi 51, BTS Thong Lor, 02 662 6246, Tues-Sun 6pm-1am

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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

14 thoughts on “Bangkok’s Best Local Bars – Our Personal Favourites”

  1. That sounds like a nice list, more like the kind of bars I like too, could turn in to a 6 day pub crawl :-)

  2. hi, left bkk one year ago but good to read that happy mondays and retro are still there. Not mentioning places in Ari?

  3. Hi Johan – yep, they’re still popular. Re Ari bars, as I said in the intro, this is not a comprehensive list by any means, these are just our favourite local bars, close to where we lived, that we drop into. We’re covering a lot more Bangkok bars, all over the city, in a book we’re currently writing for Hedonist’s Guides. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. This list is fantastic. I’m heading back to Bangkok in November and last trip I really struggled to find the cool, local bars. This is a great resource for those *not* looking for red light lady bars, thank you!

  5. Thanks, Carly! Do get along to these and come back and let us know what you think of them. We’d love to hear your feedback, and would also love to hear of your own discoveries. Nice to see you here :)

  6. I really love your post. I read your blog pretty regularly and you are constantly coming out with some great stuff.
    I shared this on my FB and my followers just loved it.
    Keep up the great work!

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