Gin Bars Issue Eight Virginia Miller

BANGKOK BAR GUIDE: Look east

Discover yourself with cocktails from one of Asia’s rising bar scenes

Bangkok has been late to the cocktail renaissance by Asian standards – and even more so globally speaking. But the city’s cocktail bar scene has risen fast. In just the last four to five years, dozens of newcomers have arrived, opening gin bars or offering a fitting tropical/rum focus, while the legendary Bamboo Bar remains one of the most exciting cocktail menus in town and among the world’s best bars. Swelteringly hot, humid and ever-friendly, Thailand’s sprawling metropolis hides plenty of gems for drink lovers. Here are 10 of the best.   

The Bamboo Bar at the Mandarin Oriental
48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok 10500
www.mandarinoriental.com/bangkok/chao-phraya-river/fine-dining/bars/the-bamboo-bar 

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Since 1953, The Bamboo Bar at the elegant Mandarin Oriental hotel is sheer magic, a must, not only for drink lovers but as a piece of Bangkok history. The bamboo, tigers and palms decor is tropical yet refined, an ideal backdrop for live jazz, blues and classic cocktails. While the bar is a Bangkok institution, bar manager Jamie Rhind, who manned some of London’s great bars, ensures the cocktails go well beyond classics. His “Compass Thailand” menu is a much desired trip around Thailand, showcasing the country’s flavours and ingredients, something difficult to find at many Bangkok bars that merely copy international trends. Mapped out in five regions, expect Thai flavours from dishes like tom ka gai soup to show up in the crushable Hawker (tequila, clarified coconut, kaffir lime, lemongrass, ginger). Local Iron Balls gin is showcased in Aggy Aggy with watermelon, salak fruit and yira leaf. Note: The Bamboo Bar adheres to a “smart” dress code (think trousers and close-toed shoes).

Asia Today
35 Soi Nana, Maitri Chit Road, Bangkok 10100
www.facebook.com/asiatodaybar 

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Teens of Thailand’s (ToT) sister, Asia Today, could be the most exciting bar for Thai flavours in unique forms. Enter the tiny bar and grab a stool under a shark, backed by neon lighting reading, “This bar is better than Teens of Thailand.” Niks Anuman-Rajadhon forages and grows ingredients, working with organic farmers. Recent menus showcased cocoa (using cocoa wine and local chocolates) and a honey library, sourced from apiaries and beekeepers around Thailand. This isn’t a gin bar like ToT, but it gets its due. On the cocoa menu, a G&T involves cocoa, lime, tonic and roselle powder. On the honey side, old tom gin uses honey, lime and wild honey foam. 

#FindtheLockerRoom
406 Soi Sukhumvit 55, Khlong Tan Nuea, Bangkok 10110
www.findthelockerroom.com

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When a team of Asia’s best – Colin Chia of Singapore’s Nutmeg & Clove, Hidetsugu Ueno of Tokyo’s Bar High Five, Nick Wu of Taipei’s East End and Ronnaporn “Neung” Kanivichaporn of Bangkok’s Backstage Cocktail Bar — open a bar, you go. Since 2017, #findthelockerroom (which does indeed go by a hashtag) has been a special Bangkok bar, hidden through (you guessed it) a locker room. The intimate bar hides a skilled team that does right by a range of spirits, and also glorifies the tropical in drinks like Ice Cold Pina or Sawadee Colada. “The Cheese Platter” is one unique gin drink, combining gin, dry vermouth, lemon, orgeat and raspberry jam under a cheddar cheese foam and grated crackers. The result is a savoury, dry, subtly sweet, herbaceous combo that goes down easy. 

Teens of Thailand
76 Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Rd. Bangkok 10100
www.facebook.com/teensofthailand 

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Bartender Niks Anuman-Rajadhon, photographer Note Dudesweet, photographer Kachain Wonglamthong and the late Sqweez Animal guitarist Singha Musikapong changed the game in Bangkok’s Chinatown in 2015 when opening Teens of Thailand (ToT). It led to a neighbourhood revival with Tep Bar soon following, then Niks’ second bar, Asia Today, in 2017. Tiny ToT was the city’s first gin bar, serving Spanish-style gin and tonic specials with changing local fruits and herbs. The bar also offers the country’s largest gin selection, which months back was still under 100 but offering bottles tough to find anywhere else in Thailand. Well-crafted cocktails and a chill vibe in the cosy space has converted many locals to gin. 

Tropic City
672/65 Soi Charoen Krung 28, Bangkok 10500
www.tropiccitybkk.com 

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Down a Chaorenkrung alley lined with decrepit buildings and graffiti art, Tropic City feels like an oasis in a crumbling city. Flower motifs over white-washed bricks, Portuguese tiles and a retro-meets-tropical vibe — paired with local DJs — feels like a party, as does the indoor and outdoor flow of the space with its front patio and bright, colourful interior. Opened by two bartenders from Stockholm, Sebastian De La Cruz and Philip Stefanescu bring a love of rum, mezcal and pisco (the latter very rare in these parts). Gin also gets its due in more than one menu cocktail, like Change of Air, infusing gin with Thai parsley, then shaken with mezcal, fernet, lemon, elderflower and mangosteen. 

Tep Bar
69 -71, Soi Nana Pom Prap, Bangkok 10100
www.facebook.com/TEPBARBKK 

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Hidden down a Chinatown alley, Tep Bar is a treasure for its live traditional Thai music alone. Thankfully, this also comes with quality cocktails and sweet staff. The lofty yet cosy space serves snacks like pineapple fried rice or deep fried silkworms (you heard right) with house signature shots of yadong (Thai white rice whisky infused with herbs). Since 2015, the century-old shophouse does right by all manner of spirits, including gin, even if cocktails can sometimes veer too sweet. Expect Thai influence from ingredients like jasmine rice milk, fermented vinegar or rice wine from central Thailand. 

Iron Balls Distillery & Bar
Iron Balls Bar (Phrom Phong), Sukhumvit Soi 45
AND
Iron Balls Distillery & Bar, 18 Park Lane Building, Soi Sukhumvit 63 G Floor, Bangkok
www.ironballsgin.com 

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With two bars, Australian native Ashley Sutton’s boldly-named Iron Balls is important for gin fans as a small Bangkok gin distillery producing its own 15 botanical, tropical fruit gin, the first distillery license granted in Thailand in three decades. The original Sukhumvit Distillery houses a bar, while the Phrom Phong location opened in 2018, maintaining their signature nautical steampunk vibe with hard-hat diving masks, distilling containers and gin bottles hanging from the ceiling, shimmering off chandelier and candles like being underwater when diving. Cocktails by Carson Quinn highlight their gin alongside other spirits, while their house G&T is garnished with pineapple and Thai basil. Gin drinks focus on local flavours, pairing gin with ingredients like coconut water or dragon fruit. 

Just a Drink (Maybe)
44/3 Thong Lo Soi 1, Bangkok 10110
www.facebook.com/justadrinkmaybe 

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Hitting Bangkok in 2017, Just A Drink (Maybe) followed gin pioneer Teens of Thailand as the second largest gin collection in the city. As another bar down an alley, the intimate space is all about gin and a wide selection of tonics. Look for local gins, house infusions and, naturally, all manner of G&Ts and classic gin cocktails. House drinks get creative with gin in changing specials like Seasons in Kyoto (yuzu gin, lemon, sake syrup, grenadine, shiso tincture, bamboo leaf-infused dry vermouth) or It’s My Turn (a gin-infused butter wash, pandan syrup, midori, lemon, pineapple, orange).

Liberation
Piman 49, Soi Sukhumvit 49, Bangkok 10110
www.facebook.com/liberationbkk

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A newcomer at the end of 2018 hidden above Paint Bar, Liberation’s swank wood paneling, navy banquettes and dressed up bartenders may look like “just another speakeasy” but they deliver some of Bangkok’s more advanced cocktails from Suwincha “Chacha” Singsuwan, Kitibordee “Gov” Chortubtim and Krit “Joey” Prakobdee, the crew behind Bangkok’s Rabbit Hole and Canvas bars. While equipment like a rotary evaporator (rotovap) has long been typical in the world’s most experimental bars, it’s a rarity in Bangkok. Liberation’s team plays with machines and ingredients to intriguing effect, in drinks like Chocolate Factory, combining cacao butter-washed gin and pisco, vermouth and white cacao. They also go eco-friendly, utilising “waste and discarded products” in the Plot-Twist section of the menu.

Smalls Bar
186/3 Suan Phlu Soi 1 Yanawa, Bangkok 10120
www.facebook.com/smallsbkk 

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Smalls Bar is in many way less about the drinks and much more about the welcoming spirit and seductive space that the venue has to offer. It is spread over three floors in a 1960s townhouse and has been an industry favourite (and one of the World’s 50 Best Bars) for years. 

There are many draws here at Smalls Bar, with features including an absinthe fountain and even a rooftop terrace. However, on the drink side, classic cocktails (yes, gin classics) and rare whiskies please drinkers here, as they look to soak up the more than quirky atmosphere while enjoying live music and DJs from green velvet bar stools or banquettes. 

 

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