A tour of four "elder statesmen" among Bangkok pubs reveals the reasons they've been around so long
DENIZENS of the Bangkok night sometimes struggle to keep up with the cool new bars constantly popping up – and closing down – on every corner. Not that it’s much of a “struggle”: the evenings are steadily refreshed with alternating party themes, unusual concepts and out-of-this-world drinks. But who hasn’t returned to a recent new discovery only to find it gone?
No, longevity is not a common trait among the city’s bars. And yet there are some places – rare gems indeed – that have withstood the ravages of time and the whims of commerce, fending off patron fatigue without always yielding to the latest trends.
I’M AT THE OFFICE
Likely to be Bangkok’s oldest surviving bar, the Old Other Office is a frozen-in-time nook tucked away on Patpong Soi 2. Yes, you have to peer through the red lights and shoulder aside the gawkers to find it – and it’s worth the trouble.
It’s not clear exactly how old “the Old Other” is, but the current manager has been in charge for 32 years and says it was already old when he first arrived.
“This used to be part of the lobby of the Pavilion Place Hotel, which is still operating up on the third floor,” says Thum, who’s behind the bar every night from early evening until 1am.
“The bar opened for the American GIs who came here looking to entertain themselves back in the ’70s, but there were never any girls and no go-go,” she says. “The Old Other has always been a place where people come for cold beer, a game of pool or darts and some music. Very little has changed since that time and we keep it very simple, and that’s what I think gives it the rare and unique charm that keeps people coming back.”
In a pedestrian street jammed with tourists and touts, booming music and half-naked young ladies, the Old Other Office is a genuine sanctuary.
To step inside is to be transported back to a bygone era, with retro rock and folk on the music machine, basic wooden furniture, no-frills-but-friendly service and the |aforementioned cold beer.
If you’re hoping to share a snapshot of a fancy cocktail on Instagram, you’ll be disappointed. Just put the phone away and enjoy revisiting the past.
BANG YOUR HEAD
Always packed for its nightly shows, the Rock Pub has been the prime destination for "loud" since 1987.
For lovers of live rock music, the Rock Pub (@TheRockPub) near the Ratchthewi BTS stop and opposite the Asia Hotel, has been a reliably vibrant destination since 1987.
In those three decades many great rockers, both local and foreign, have graced the stage of this small concert hall doubling as a pub. From overseas they’ve had the South Korean outfit Unchained, Britain’s Darryl Read and America’s Drowning Pool, while homegrown talent has included Stone Metal Fire, Hi-Rock, Lam Morrison, Kaleidoscope and the Olarn Project.
Tribute acts and aspiring local groups get their turns too, and on other occasions there are theme nights devoted to music genres like punk and entire decades of rock. “Like jazz, you really need to see rock live onstage to get the feel of it,” an enthusiastic patron points out on an evening celebrating the rock of the ’90s. The bar, he explains, “is an institution where you get to meet fellow rockers, rub shoulders with legendary Thai rockers who still come here a lot and learn about music. There is no other place like this in Bangkok.”
PACKING THEM IN
Adhere 13th Blues Bar on Samsen Road can get pretty jammed too for the jam sessions.
Blues and jazz played live and lively is the big draw at the Adhere 13th Blues Bar (@Adhere13thBluesBar) near Samsen Soi 1, a hole-in-the-wall pub that’s thrived for nearly 16 years thanks to top-quality entertainment and a busy, busy buzz.
A lot of places touted as “jazz bars” actually water the groove down with saxophone-laced pop and current chart-toppers, the better to bring in a crowd. But the Adhere is a genuine honky-tonk that pulls them in while still standing its ground and delivers only what’s authentic.
The music is eclectic and versatile in style and produced by ensembles of local and visiting musicians, invariably led by Pong, the owner and resident guitarist.
“Music is the core of this bar, and this is what we’ve always wanted to offer the patrons since the beginning,” Pong says. “There’s live music every night, along with jam sessions and lots of spontaneity. You never really know where the music will take you, and that’s the charm of it.”
The place gets packed early with customers eagerly anticipating a hearty live session starting around 9. They’re the smart ones, because there are only a few tiny tables and a bit of standing room near the bar. When the joint’s full to bursting, even the musicians can get caught up in the heaving back and forth, often having to shift positions to lets patrons squeeze past. Because the tunes are always great, though, no one ever seems to mind.
GROWING OLD RETRO
Shades of Retro on Thonglor is a real haven for those looking to chill.
It sounds funny calling Shades of Retro (@ShadesOfRetroBar) a “teenager”, but it too has been around for a respectable 16 years and it too continues to draw a hip crowd.
On the other side of town on Soi Tararom 2 off Thonglor, this place started out selling the kind of vintage furniture that’s still in use here. It’s always been a bit of a nostalgia trip back home for owner Boy, and the idea now is to recreate the simple house parties of his youth.
As a furniture store, Shades of Retro was a place to have a cup of coffee in the morning or basic tipples at night, with nothing but free popcorn to hold hunger pangs at bay. Now there are full meals and elaborate cocktails on offer.
“It’s very homey,” says a regular guest who first stumbled on the pub years ago while hunting for an ATM. “I guess it’s because it has this old furniture, it feels like you’re visiting someone’s house.”
“I like it that the music is also retro and never too loud. It’s great to come by and chill with a few friends or relax with a drink by yourself. It’s a complete chill zone that shuts you off from the outside world, and I’m glad it’s stayed the same over the years. It’s a real haven!” And, in cause you’re wondering, you can still buy the furniture, as well as the knick-knacks decorating the bar.