Five years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a decent drink in Bangkok. While the city has always been noted for its cool rooftop bars with panoramic 360° views, plus a collection of chic bars inside its five-star hotels, the cocktails were, to put it nicely, a tad underwhelming.
Enter Bangkok present, where a motley crew of award-winning and knowledgeable bartenders, better known as "mixologists," have taken the city by storm. Opening their own speakeasies and intimate hideaways, sourcing high-end liquors from around the globe and producing creative drinks that have even the craft beer aficionados making a beeline for the front door.
Here are ten haunts worth traveling for.
Shaking Creativity at J.Boroski — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
On the one hand, you'll come across Joseph Boroski's name in every corner of Bangkok, let alone bars all around the world. Boroski has designed drink menus and created cocktails for just about every high-end hotel bar and Ashley Sutton-designed nightlife venue in the city. His Bar and Hospitality School has trained some of the best mixologists in town, and his skills have taken him to over 30 countries spanning the globe as what he terms a "mixsultant."
However, his personal New York-style speakeasy in Bangkok is one of the most hidden bars in the city. The venue does not give out its address, banning the media from publishing it, and one needs to contact the bar directly, or else go with a friend who has already been.
Part of the reason for secrecy is to keep away the wrong crowd, meaning party hounds and the lovers of trend. J.Boroski is all about superbly crafted drinks for serious drink lovers, and if you're lucky enough to find the small door in a dead-end alley without a sign, you'll feel like Alice heading down the rabbit hole.
There is no drink menu here either, you just tell the mixologists what you tend towards (sour, sweet, etc.) and let them do the creative designing.
Bronx Liquid Parlour
Hideyuki Saito at work in Bronx Liquid Parlour — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Hideyuki Saito is one of Bangkok's new bartender crew, all of whom are young, talented and eager to please. Saito cut his teeth working in Tokyo and New York – as well as designing cocktail menus for Electric House in London – before heading to Bangkok to become the head bartender at the fashionable Vogue Lounge.
After a well-received stint there, he decided to open his own place; another speakeasy-style ode-to-New-York venue, with brick, concrete, curtains across the door and no signage out front. Inside, Saito whips up an array of classic cocktails, of which the signature drinks all come with a small nibble of food created to enhance the drink flavors. The Francesca combines Grappa Sarpa Oro di Poli, pear eau de vie, tequila, triple sec and lime, and gets served up with some smoked prosciutto, bringing out the subtle flavors of the different alcohols.
Saito says the time is ripe for Bangkok bars, as Thais are becoming more knowledgeable about good drinks, as well as more demanding, which raises the standard of bars across the board.
An Equilibrium and a Koko at Q & A — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Also joining the distinguished speakeasy crowd is this hole-in-the-wall bar that has the elegance of a five-star hotel watering hole, yet the intimacy and exclusiveness of a speakeasy. The team behind experimental cocktail bar Sugar Ray operate Q&A, and the well-versed bartenders take the time to answer patrons' queries about the discerning menu.
You'll find refined versions of classics, multiple takes on Negronis and a set of hard-hitting drinks known as Questions, and then sweeter and "easier" ones known as Answers. Try a Koko, which takes macaroon vodka, Frangelico and cachaca spirits, mixes them with coconut carbon powder, and serves the tropical drink in monochrome, a departure from the usually colorful fruity.
Mixologist Attapon "Bee" De-Silva echoes the sentiment that tastes are going up in Bangkok, saying that a year or two ago, a bottle of Campari would be the last one on the shelf to get emptied, whereas now they go through six a week. Q&A does weekly themed drinks as well, with cocktails created around a theme like Asian spices, or Cajun and bourbon odes to New Orleans.
Teens of Thailand
Hidden-away Teens of Thailand — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Over on the edge of Chinatown, a small lane with crumbling shophouses has become one of Bangkok's newest bar venues. Here you'll find a set of large wooden doors hiding the bizarrely named Teens of Thailand from the outside world.
Inside, mixologist whiz Niks Anuman-Rajadhon serves up a variety of creative gin mixes and infusions, led by crowd favorite Thai iced tea gin and tonic, combining two excellent thirst quenchers into one potent punch. The bar has a funky interior, with old Thai cinema posters on the wall, and a very social vibe with limited space between patrons and the few tables.
Mixing fine drinks at Rarb — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Also well off the beaten drink path is newcomer Rarb, located next to the Chao Phraya River in bohemian Phra Athit. The owners here used to run Escapades, the hamburger and milkshake joint, and they've now moved the cocktail portion across the street, combining it with a small selection of Isaan grill plates (the northeastern region of Thailand, or Isaan, is noted for its spicy grilled meat).
Mixologist Karn Liangsrisuk, a former Best Bartender Awards winner, is a virtual walking encyclopedia of mixology knowledge and expertise, turning home-crafted infusions, fresh fruit from markets, and alcohol into sublime drinks. The one sheet menu features drinks with raunchy names like F*** My Farm and My Lovely Whore, all of which are absolutely superb.
MIKYS Cocktail Bar
Michele Montauti, star bartender at MIKYS — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Michele Montauti is another one of Bangkok's most happening new bartenders. The 23-year-old Italian formerly mixed drinks at J. Boroski Mixology and The House on Sathorn before opening his own place – a cool party spot with signature drinks and outstanding tapas.
The most favored drink here is the Julie, a smooth blend of Broker's gin, Mancino Bianco, Earl Grey tea, jasmine and egg whites, all topped off with a fragrant bough of thyme. Make sure to sample the Iberico bellota ham tapas here, some of the tastiest in Bangkok.
Swank interior design at Vogue Lounge — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
One of Bangkok's all-around best bars, Vogue Lounge, combines a sophisticated atmosphere with outstanding drinks, as well as having perhaps Bangkok's best elite cocktail bar happy hour.
Francesco Moretti (of Shanghai's Bar Rouge fame), heads the mixology team here, shaking up an array of outstanding classics, along with monthly specials. Sample the superb Delicious Sour, made from Berneroy Calvados VSOP, Martini Rosso, almond syrup, egg whites and topped with cinnamon.
Vogue's interior is right out of a 1960's Vogue magazine shoot, plus there is an air-conditioned outdoor terrace from which to admire the neighboring MahaNakhon Tower, Bangkok's new tallest building.
Happening nights at the Backstage Bar — Photo courtesy of Backstage Bar
Located in the chic Playhaus boutique hotel, bartender Kitibordee “Gov” Chortubtim (one of the finalists at the Diageo Southeast Asia World Bartender competition) leads a stellar team of mixologists creating some of the most innovative and impressive cocktails in town.
There is plenty of creativity at work here; think beetroot-infused tequila, bourbon mixed up with rhubarb, and lots of outside-the-box knowledge and thinking in terms of cocktail mixing.
Pailin "Milk" Sajjanit of Il Fumo, voted 2016 Southeast Asia's Bartender of the Year — Photo courtesy of Il Fumo
Il Fumo is home to Pailin "Milk" Sajjanit, who was voted 2016 Southeast Asia's Bartender of the Year, and her amazing touches shine on the astounding array of "long-lost and lesser-known" mixed drinks, as the nifty bar manual instructs.
Try the bar's favorite adapted Sazerac, which blends Rittenhouse rye, Mahiki liqueur, and Peychaud's bitters with absinthe, or one of the variety of tequila, cognac, or rum creative concoctions that Sajjanit mixes with panache. If you get hungry, Il Fumo also happens to be one of the best Italian restaurants in town too.
Drinks with style as bartenders perform tricks — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Revolucion Cocktail is wildly popular in China, with five branches keeping the drinking crowd happy. Founder Sebastien Bonnefoi, who also set up Urban Bar (China's top bartending school), decided Bangkok was more than ready for a branch. And it's a fun, happening spot, as well as a unique departure from the "speakeasy" styled norm that defines most fine cocktail stops here.
Instead, Revolucion is more of a cross between a cocktail bar and a club, with Bonnefoi describing it as a "jumping bar," due to so many folks dancing and enjoying themselves.
The menu covers a range of classics, with the bartenders here performing fire tricks, molecular mixes and even having cocktail making nights for groups. The most requested drink here is the Revolucion, which combines 3 year aged Havana rum with fresh rosemary, apple juice and passion fruit.