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Life isn’t like a box of chocolates: It’s more like a drink at J. Boroski. This dimly lit, low-key Bangkok speakeasy serves up labor-intensive, off-menu drinks with ingredients that are determined by both the bartenders’ routine visits to local fruit markets and guests’ personal tastes.
Indeed, Bangkok’s mixologist culture is world-class these days, with numerous competitions and “best of” lists encouraging local and ex-pat mixologists alike to get creative and up their drink-making games. Last year saw six Bangkok bars grace “Asia’s 50 Best Bars” list — Backstage, The Bamboo Bar, Ku Bar, Smalls, Teens of Thailand and Vesper — each with a growing line of local distillery products for craft spirit fans.
Without further ado, here are nine bars (and bonus mentions) to get your cocktails, mocktails and straight-up spirits on during a visit to Bangkok.
Asia TodayLocated just around the corner from Chinatown gin bar Teens of Thailand is its younger sibling, Asia Today, which incorporates local cacao and wild Thai honeys — sourced directly from small apiaries around the country — in its cocktails. Delicious and Instagram-worthy, drinks made with Eastern Honey are served in a yellow beeswax mug. Patrons can request a Thai honey tasting, as well.
Fun fact: The amber-toned, stingless-bee honey is the only honey that ferments, and I found it to be quite funky.
The Bamboo BarThe riverside Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is the city’s beloved grande-dame property (a massive renovation of its River Wing will be unveiled later this year). And its 66-year-old The Bamboo Bar, which underwent its own major facelift in 2014, keeps evolving with the times and trends.
In addition to classic cocktails, the bar launched Compass, a new menu of signature cocktails inspired by the country's five regions and their distinctive flavors and ingredients. Each menu section includes an alcohol-free mocktail to boot.
Iron Balls Gin ParlourAussie-expat Ashley Sutton has designed some of Bangkok’s most visually striking spaces with a trademark aesthetic that calls to mind M.C. Escher or “Alice in Wonderland.”
Sutton is also a craft distiller and in 2018 opened the buzzy Iron Balls Gin Parlour in the Phrom Phong area to spotlight his Iron Balls gin. The Bael Fruit Sour, created by resident mixologist Carson Quinn, is a perfect gateway concoction: refreshing and slightly tart, with tropical Thai essence. You can also check out the distillery at Sutton’s original Ekkamai Iron Balls outpost, where you can sip a gin and tonic in super-relaxed, garden-like environs.
J. BoroskiHidden in a Thonglor side alley and marked only by a plainclothes doorman who, once he notices your lost-looking face, will smile and guide you inside, U.S. expat Joseph Boroski’s namesake speakeasy is a dreamlike two-level space designed by Sutton. Let your bartender or server note your spirit and flavor preference and then, after a bunch of muddling and magic, a bespoke and beautiful cocktail will be yours.
Visitors to Hong Kong can check out J. Boroski’s second location. One note: prices aren’t listed, and run between $12-$18 dollars per drink.
Ku BarRustic, decrepit and atmospheric Old Town is where Anupas “Kong” Premanuwat — a veteran of New York City’s exalted Japanese speakeasy Angel’s Share — opened intimate, minimalist cocktail spot Ku Bar in 2017.
Intense Southeast Asian ingredients and market finds inform the adventurous fusion cocktails, such as the Pandan, with gin, pandan leaf, matcha tea, coconut water and palm nectar; and Chai, with a Thai glutinous rice-distilled spirit, chai spices, black tea, clarified milk and lime.
The LoftThis list wouldn’t be complete without a rooftop bar, and The Loft at the brand-new Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, while not open-air, serves up stunning 180-degree cityscape views and drinks inspired by the New York City-style recipes found in historian Albert Stevens Crockett’s “The Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book.”
For other open-air rooftop bars, check out SO Sofitel Bangkok’s Hi-So bar, Banyan Tree Bangkok’s Moon Bar and the stunning 63rd-floor Sky Bar at the iconic Lebua at State Tower.
Q&A BarBrevity rules at Q&A, a windowless speakeasy hidden down an Asoke district alley. The menu at this venue — which evokes a narrow luxury railcar inside — changes monthly, with only a handful of original cocktails based on just three ingredients. I quite enjoyed the Eucalyptus, Sherry and Yuzu, which was described as “sharp, bright and crisp,” while I found the Peach, Kaffir and Sriracha to be “fruity, burnt and spicy” indeed.
Tep BarAnother Chinatown must-see, the two-level, rustic Tep Bar specializes in upmarket presentations of yadong whiskey (which is generally not an upscale affair), set against a backdrop of live traditional Thai music.
VesperThe raucous, raunchy Silom district finally has a proper, upscale cocktail bar (located next to wine-driven Mediterranean bistro Via Maris). And owner Choti Leenutapong’s obsession with art is reflected through drink menu “The Art Book.” The works of masters such as Andy Warhol, Ai Weiwei, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse and more are represented by an equally artful libation created by bar manager Supawit “Palm” Muttarattana.