Inside Bangkok's Craft Cocktail Culture

Maggie Choo's Lady Flora cocktail...
... a Secret Earl Grey at Vesper...
... and a Pretty Face cocktail at Seven Spoons.

Bangkok: A New Craft Cocktail Haven

As political protests wane, a cocktail culture grows up.


Originally appeared in May 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life
Written by Jenny Adams
Photography by Christopher Wise

As Bangkok’s political protests have ceased over the past two years, its craft cocktail scene has expanded. The new military government continues to work at cleaning up the city, strictly enforcing closing hours for its largest open-air-party streets, such as Khao San Road and Soi Cowboy. This downplaying of the party scene, along with the emergence of an upper middle class,  has boosted craft cocktail purveyors, with Bangkok now gaining more fame for its barrel-aged Manhattans and local-ingredient-driven libations than for its curbside bar carts and all-night clubs.

“The scene is really growing. The city’s nightlife is much more mature than it used to be,” says Colin Tait, bar manager of Vesper, one of the city’s favorite cocktail spots. From a romantic rooftop to a sophisticated absinthe parlor to one must-see subterranean Chinese drinking den, here are a few spots worthy of your time and taste buds.

France comes to Bangkok: Smalls
“We wanted a warm, handcrafted feel, mixing older French sensibilities with modern art. An atmosphere conducive to conversation – a bar for grown-ups,” says David Jacobson, co-owner of Bangok’s slice of the belle epoque. Green velvet bar stools and thick cabaret drapes decorate Smalls’ dark, romantic street-level lounge. The second floor offers quaint tables on a small balcony overlooking the street. A curving staircase leads to a rooftop filled with French antiques, Asian accents, and urban touches such as corrugated metal and dim neon.

Drink order: A rotating selection of premium absinthes and other spirits appears in cocktails such as the Loche Bloom – absinthe, aged rum, vanilla, chocolate bitters, simple syrup, chopped chilies, and a splash of soda. 186/3 Suan Phlu Soi 1

Classic café: Vesper
Gin distilled from exotic botanicals, a great whiskey list, classic recipes, and contemporary concoctions such as a barrel-aged Manhattan: Vesper has them all, plus a whimsical menu that changes seasonally. Past iterations have included a vintage world map charting cocktails from different continents and a botanist’s reference table, with drinks cataloged by indigenous herbs and spices. The grand room, warm tones, and authentic Italian dishes create an inviting European café atmosphere. Head in midweek for thinner crowds, and bring your camera for the photo-worthy glassware and garnishes.

Drink order: The Diplomat’s Tea Ceremony starts with an elegant teacup of rum-infused mint and berry tea. The accompanying teapot, filled with elderflower liqueur and Prosecco, is poured tableside to create a bubbly refresher that’s perfect on a hot night. 10/15 Convent Road, Silom, Bangrak

East meets West: Seven Spoons
Loads of pretty polished wood and bright-green plants fill this 40-seat converted Chinese shophouse. Rich fare leans to the West in such dishes as white snapper with lavender cream sauce and pistachios, and pumpkin tortellini with pecorino and lemon butter sauce. But “our signature drinks carry a distinctive taste of Thailand,” says co-owner Nianne-Lynn Hendricks, who uses local, sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Cocktails priced under $10 and weekly specials at lunch and dinner make Seven Spoons a hot ticket. Reservations are recommended.

Drink order: The Silver Spoon (Martini Bianco vermouth, spiced rum, lime wedges, and galangal) or the Asian Memoirs (rose-infused vodka, lychee liqueur, Peychaud’s bitters, and grapefruit juice). 22-24 Chakkrapatipong Road

Above it all: Distil Bar
Drinks here often include dramatic flourishes: perfumed smoke infusions, brightly flavored ice, and freeze-dried garnishes. The oyster bar features bivalves flown in twice weekly from France and the U.S., and the Cigar Terrace stocks a fine selection of Cubans. However, nothing competes with the view from this 64th-floor indoor/outdoor bar. One of the city’s highest imbibing vantages, it’s a fantastic option for sunset, when the sky turns pink and the river reflects the temple lights.

Drink order: The Bouquet is a Thai version of sangria, with sauvignon blanc, cognac, and pineapple juice, garnished with dehydrated fruit slices and berries. Lebua at State Tower, 1055 Silom Road, Bangrak

Old Shanghai in new Bangkok: Maggie Choo’s
Famed Bangkok bar designer Ashley Sutton created this subterranean ode to 1930s Shanghai, where puddles of red and blue light illuminate paper fans, exposed brick, and a gleaming black piano. The bartenders mix drinks inside a wrought-iron cage, handing delicious cocktails through the bars. Overstuffed leather couches beg you to relax in a space that’s an acoustically sound blues club and a serious cocktail parlor. Head in between 8 and 10 pm – before the crowds – to fully appreciate the intricate design, chat with the hostesses (outfitted in embroidered cheongsams), and enjoy the bartenders’ skill.

Drink order: The Empress of India: vodka, crushed dragon fruit, marjoram, and fresh lime. 320 Silom Road, Suriyawong, Bangrak

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