Top Bangkok Spots for Blues, Jazz, Rock, Indie and All Live Music



Cool live music venues are getting harder to find in Bangkok, being replaced more with large clubs that have ultra deafening sound systems churning out repetitive hip hop, trance, and electronic music. Fortunately there are plenty of mainstays that have been going strong for ages along with some great newcomers that have gained popularity and filled the void. Places like the hard rocking Rock Pub and jazz and blues pulsing Saxophone have been open for almost 3 decades, while across town in Banglamphu, one can find the local Adhere the 13th, where jam sessions and packed crowds in this outstanding hole in the wall are the norm. Also highly popular with the bohemian and indie scene is the dive bar Fatty's, which gets packed out with great local indie band nights, and the same goes for creative music and underground music supporters like Jam and Studio Lam. Newer on the scene and with some great local live acts is the happening Apoteka on trendy Sukhumvit Soi 11, and you can also catch outstanding jazz occasionally at Smalls, one of Bangkok's most atmospheric bars. Even Chinatown is in on the act these days, with great live funk and soul to dance to at Soulbar.



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As the name says, Apoteka seeks to emulate a 19th century apothecary, with plenty of old wood and brick and lots of potion looking glass bottles up on the shelves. The retro feel is in here, but the scene is very modern. Not only does the bar have some great signature cocktails and a wide variety of beer and wine to select from, but the happening bar on trendy Soi 11 is also home to some of Bangkok's best live music. The Keith Nolan Blues Band, one of Bangkok's finest blues outfits, are regulars, as is the popular Soi Dog Blues Band. If you appreciate good blues, this is the best you are going to find on this side of town. In a street that has become noted for its trance, DJ, and full on electro-style parties, Apoteka feels a bit more refined and elegant, and is an excellent choice for a night out.


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Brown Sugar


 

Brown Sugar was touted by Newsweek as "one of the best bars in the world," and while it has long since moved across town to a bigger venue, it still remains an excellent jazz bar and fun live music hangout. It's one of Bangkok's long running institutions, and these days is more of a jazz boutique, as its new home has a spacious upstairs, and now features art exhibitions along with the music, as well as being a coffee house and restaurant during the day before the jazz gets going.


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Set in a three story shophouse over on Suan Plu off of Sathorn Road, which seems to be Bangkok's most up and coming new drinking spot, Smalls is the brainchild of David Jacobson, the nightclub whiz who started the famed Q Bar in Bangkok several decades ago. The decor is decidedly Parisienne, and the mesmerizing signature cocktail list is enhanced by a large selection of absinthe drinks, with a traditional absinthe spigot sitting on top of the bar counter. It's also well worth coming here on Wednesday night for the music, as there is some great live jazz here, featuring the picking prowess of Dan Phillips and his quartet, who play every week, and the bar also has plenty of special nights, like Vietnamese pho served on Sundays and buy one get one drinks for members of the hospitality industry on Mondays.


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This bar is a great introduction to the Thai alternative or underground music scene. Owned by a DJ who ran the creative ZudRangMa Records, the dimly lit bar is home to a mix of live sets and DJ tunes, along with some superb homemade herbal Thai white spirits, known as ya dong. You get groups here like the Paradise Bangkok Molam Band, who play traditional Thai music from the countryside that they fuse with modern beats, and an ongoing lineup of reggae, funk, and ska bands; pretty much anything creative and removed from the normal Bangkok electronica/house sound. Bohemian Bangkokians with a penchant for Caribbean and African sounds gravitate here, and the upscale ya dong puts it in a league of its own.


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Over 25 years in the running, offering up the best jazz and blues in Bangkok, Saxophone is a happening pub frequented as much by Thais as by expatriates. The music is sizzling, with 3-4 different live bands each evening plus occasional visits by international artists, with several sets offered each night. The pub has a spacious and comfortable layout, within a short walk of the Victory Monument Skytrain Station, and has been voted as the Best Music Venue in Bangkok by several publications again and again. There are pool tables upstairs, excellent Thai food, and a wide array of cocktails and beers on tap.


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Housed in a small shophouse at the edge of Chinatown, Soulbar continues the trend of funky and cool bars that are springing up in an area formerly full of crumbling old buildings. While most of the bars around here focus on drinks and atmosphere, Soulbar just sticks to great music and dancing. While the place is far too small for the crowds they draw in, with customers often dancing and drinking out on the sidewalk out front, it's nevertheless a great hangout place with a very friendly vibe. There are live soul and funk bands led by the neo soul band Supergoods, and there are jazz and Latin nights as well. The talent level here is excellent, the drinks are good, and it is a really fun venue.


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There aren't many places left in Bangkok these days playing live rock. Actually, there is only one! The Rock Pub bucks the Bangkok trend (electronica and house) and instead caters to rockers, with live heavy metal, grunge, and hard rock acts each night. A wide array of genres is covered, from death metal to classic rock to thrash, and the surroundings befit the black leather headbanging scene, as the place resembles a dungeon or cave. The best Thai guitarists still show up here; Olarn, Lam Morrison, and Pop the Sun, along with the occasional foreign outfit joining the rotating house bands, some of whom can cover classics note for note. If loud and heavy is your thing, don't miss a night here.


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Fatty's is a real institution in Bangkok. A one of a kind complete hole in the wall dive bar that happens to serve some of the city's best burgers along with its cheapest drinks at the same time as standing for the best venue for live indie music in town. Weekends see the place packed out, as some of Bangkok's top indie bands rock the neighbourhood, while weekdays offer open mike nights on Tuesdays, along with game nights or other happenings. The burgers here are legendary, the bartender serves the cheapest craft beer and cocktails you will find in the city, and the vibe here is completely unpretentious, earthy, and fun, although it is most definitely not centrally located.


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JAM calls itself an "Underground Music Venue, Emerging Arts Gallery & Cine Club," which pretty much hits the nail on the head for this unique creative space hidden in a small lane off of bustling Sathorn Road. From underground to grunge to psychedelic, just about every eclectic music form gets represented here, and on the nights when there are no live tunes, you can count on alternative indie film, art exhibitions, talks, and more, not to mention there are burgers, cocktails, and plenty of interesting characters around to keep you busy. If you want to meet independent artists, or are just looking for a down to earth, unpretentious night out, this is the bar for you.


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You might not have a seat or even be standing outside, but it's still worth the trek over to Banglamphu to check out this Bangkok institution. This little hole in the wall has been going strong for decades. Despite being as big as a shoe closet and a bit out of the way, locals pack the joint every night for Bangkok's best live jazz and blues, with the house band playing BB King, Louis Armstrong, and John Lee Hooker to the appreciative crowd. Describing Adhere as a honky tonk dive bar isn't too far off, and everyone who shows up has fun. If you bring along an instrument, you will inevitably be invited up to jam and the vibe here is an easy going one, where Thais and foreigners mix happily.


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Meet Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer/photographer based in Bangkok. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in the U.S., Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 45,000-kilometer bicycle trip and...  More About Dave

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