Dec 11 2012
Those unfamiliar with Bangkok’s nightlife may assume Bangkok has a monopoly on sleazy bars and not a whole lot else. But those who’ve spent a little more time — demonstrated some dedication, even — on discovering the city’s drinking establishments will know Bangkok has a very fine line in hipster hangouts, too.
Often defined by their obscure back alley locations, dingy lighting, decor that’s generally made up of random tat and a loyal crowd of well-dressed barflies, these bars make up some of Bangkok’s coolest. The antithesis of the slick cocktail bar sitting atop a flashy high rise, these bars are deliberately no-frills and often earn their reputation by word of mouth, rather than flashy marketing or drinks promos. In fact, rather than the fusion cuisine or killer views that define the trendiest and priciest spots in town, the most popular hipster spots are often identified by their scruffy, worn around the edges appearance.
One of the best locales for a few beverages with the cool kids is Thong Lo, where quirky bars are scattered in abundance. But none attract a more fashion and music conscious artsy crew than Shades of Retro, a vintage shop-cum-bar tucked down an otherwise very quiet soi. Music is a key factor when it comes to a bar that’s going to draw in the pointy-shoed regulars, and Shades of Retro is one of the best for this, offering DJs spinning obscure vinyls most weeks. It draws both locals and a mixture of Western and Japanese expats who, rather than being too cool for school, are keen to dance and enthusiastic about the DJ.
Bar 23 has a similar vibe; it’s tucked away and packed full of tat that passes as decor, but its repetitive playlist (the barman/DJ will insist on playing the same old indie tracks week in, week out) means it draws a less diverse crowd of Western expats.
Sky Train Jazz Club has a more local flavour, thanks to its location in a less popular part of town near Victory Monument. The music is certainly less cool (we’ve heard everything from Brit pop to Beiber), and dancing isn’t really possible, but for a chilled-out night under the stars in a venue with a student living room feel, Sky Train Jazz Bar is a must on your hipster hangout trails.
But the ultimate in so hip it hurts venues is Talad Rot Fai, meaning train market. If you’re willing to take a trip a little way out of town, this market, set on abandoned rail tracks, is where Bangkok’s residents come for a little night-shopping for vintage finds, including clothes, furniture and collectibles, as well as a spattering of equally cool drinking spots where Sangsom and beers served up with plenty of ice are the beverages of choice. To get here, head to Kampaeng Phet Road from exit 3 of Kampaeng Phet MRT station. The market runs on Saturday and Sundays from 14:00 until around midnight.
If you’re still thirsty for more, old-standby Wong’s attracts a fair few of the city’s hipsters who still have the energy for more drinking when all the other bars have closed. This cult dive bar plays retro music videos in a dark, smoky dive bar environment, attracting an unlikely mix of people that somehow really works.
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