In Bangkok, The Bookshop bar confounds laws of gravity with its upside-down, every-which-way bookcases and “floating” books.
Across town, Tawandang German Microbrewery is housed within a giant, cavernous beer barrel.
In CentralWorld’s trendy Groove wing, Tales of Gold Mine mimics a turn-of-the-last-century gold mine in the U.S wild, wild west.
Of course, design concepts need not be outrageous to be beautiful.
From a classic Parisian-style boozer to a sky-high stunner, here are nine of the Thai capital’s most aesthetically pleasing places to go bottoms up.
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A sumptuous melange of crimson drapery, Rococo floor tiling, and contemporary artwork embellish this cozy, moody watering hole on Suan Phlu Soi, which over the past year has developed into a somewhat unlikely haven of cool, laid-back bars and restaurants.
Sprawling across three floors of a corner shophouse, Smalls is the latest collaboration between David Jacobson – who first rose to local prominence as owner of now-defunct bar/club Q Bar – and Bruno Tanquerel – Jacobson’s partner on the retro-styled French absinthe bar Le Derriere.
“We rather dislike slick, corporate, trendy bars, and industrial cement and wood with black steel-framed windows has been done to death,” says Jacobson.
“We wanted a relaxed, funky, Parisian feel that did not take itself too seriously.
“Most of all, we both like originality in design, and enjoy creating atmospheres where people feel at home instantly.”
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2. A R. Sutton & Co Engineers Siam
Australian Ashley Sutton transformed the look and feel of Bangkok’s bar world dramatically when he came to town in the late-00s.
It started with his fantastical ironworks slash cocktail lounge Iron Fairies, something of an overnight sensation that sparked a wave of imitators.
Then he continued with his equally eye-catching efforts on the dazzling interiors of The Bookshop and Mr. Jones’ Orphanage, among others.
Sutton’s latest endeavor (and the only bar he owns now) is the intimate A R. Sutton & Co Engineers Siam.
The place exudes a controlled eccentricity with its carefully placed jumble of brass fittings, coiled lighting and vintage furnishings.
In other words, Sutton’s distinct fingerprints are all over it.
The place also functions as a gin distillery – the signature Iron Balls is worth a try – as well as Sutton’s office.
3. Maggie Choo’s
At Hotel Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom, a discreet wooden door marks the entrance to this subterranean wonderland from the mind of – you guessed it – Ashley Sutton.
Sutton is no longer involved, but the place hasn’t changed much since the Fico Group took over, which is to say it’s still one of the sexiest spots in town to sip fine wines and cocktails over late-night jazz performances.
Modeled after an Oriental-style speakeasy of yesteryear, Maggie Choo’s oozes secrecy and swagger, from its web of private rooms hidden behind steel doors to the dim lighting, plush furnishings, and beautiful people dangling legs from wooden swings.
There’s a lovely Thai-Chinese restaurant here, too.
4. The Bar at The House on Sathorn
After three years of renovation, the 126-year-old colonial mansion on Sathorn Road has reopened as the city’s latest drinking and eating destination.
Formerly a Russian embassy, The House on Sathorn is now part of W Bangkok next door.
The interior design pays tribute to the history of the house and takes inspiration from Russian and Thai royal glamor.
Many original features including the color scheme of the facade and interior of the house have been kept.
Signatures are cocktails with an Asian twist – for example, Diva, a cocktail with Belvedere vodka, patron citronge, coconut water and rose and jasmine syrup.
5. Namsaah Bottling Trust
You can’t miss Namsaah Bottling Trust, a Thai-fusion bar/restaurant located in an early 20th-century villa with snow-white shutters popping against a solid-pink facade.
Previously used as a soda producer’s bottling office, a bank headquarters, and a royal adviser’s residence, today the building is decked out in exquisite regional fabrics, antique furnishings, and bold Oriental ornamentation.
There’s some serious star power backing this beauty, including Thai food celebrity Ian Kittichai, whose portfolio covers successful restaurants in Mumbai, Hong Kong, Barcelona, New York, and Bangkok.
At Namsaah, the menu is playful, with dishes like salmon tartare wonton tacos.
The cocktail list features such concoctions as a tangerine negroni and Thai rose apple martini.
6. Tep Bar
Returning to Bangkok after stints living abroad in Melbourne and Singapore, Kong Kangwarnklai saw that in the city’s rush to embrace foreign ideals and influences, native “Thainess” was becoming something of an antiquated concept.
“The funny thing is that the trend in Thailand these days is quite Westernized,” he says.
“Somehow, though, you need to be able to identify your roots.”
Kangwarnklai’s answer to that is Tep Bar, which he co-founded in 2015 with three partners.
Housed within a two-story, century-old shophouse in the buzzy Soi NaNa area on the fringes of Chinatown, Tep Bar’s Thainess manifests itself in everything from cocktails mixed with ya dong (a sort of local herbal whiskey) and other local ingredients to nightly live performances of traditional Thai music.
Most striking in this space are the swaths of gold-covered brick exposed amongst otherwise concrete walls – a clever nod to ancient times when the Siamese buried golden Buddhas in cement to hide them from invaders.
7. Sing Sing Theater
If one could go on a glamorous club night in ancient China, it might resemble a place like Sing Sing Theater (or just Sing Sing).
Drawing inspiration from an ancient Chinese courtyard theater and a high-end brothel for nobility or bourgeoisie, Sing Sing is characterized by its full-on Chinoiserie designs – oil-paper umbrellas, lanterns and metal birdcages.
Secret passages, hidden speakeasies and the symmetrical staircases help foster a mysterious atmosphere.
Opened in 2015, it has become one of the hottest partying venues in town.
Illuminated by red lights, the club screens a movie from the 20th century on a metal screen every night.
Live performances – from wondrous burlesque dances to comedy shows – are frequent.
Sing Sing Theater, Sukhumvit 45, Bangkok; +66 09 7285 6888
8. Teens of Thailand
Just around the corner from Tep Bar, dedicated gin bar Teens of Thailand finds beauty in stripped-down simplicity, its pack of stakeholders opting to let the old bones of this renovated shophouse speak for itself.
Well, mostly – lascivious photography adorning bare concrete walls certainly spices things up, almost as much as the killer cocktails from accomplished bar man Niks Anuman-Rajadhon.
“Our bar’s concept and design are quite simple: keep what’s original,” says Gunn Lee, who manages ToT’s music, design, arts, and marketing.
“When we first got into this place, we strongly felt that destroying it and building something else was definitely not our taste.”
9. Red Sky
Among the many things 2011 artistic flop The Hangover Part II got wrong in its hackneyed representations of Bangkok was filming at the wrong rooftop bar – the better location was down the road, in Pathumwan, at Centara Grand at CentralWorld’s Red Sky.
Cyclical, subjective debate on the city’s best rooftop bar aside, this swanky 55th-floor terrace is a reliable crowd pleaser.
Noted for its swooping, color-changing arches and luminescent bar, Red Sky facilitates sweeping panoramic views with padded couches and glass balustrades circling its entire elevated deck.
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