The Best Places for Drinking in Bangkok
Drinking forms an integral part of many a social circle in Bangkok, for both natives and visitors alike.
If you did see any of those posts you’ll have an idea about certain aspects of Thai drinking culture– specifically the one related to Thai Spirits. But that really is just the tip of the iceberg, and only relates to a specific proportion of the population.
While cheap & cheerful is the name of the game for a large proportion of the Thai population, Bangkok can be a pretty diverse place when it wants to be.
Drinking in Bangkok then is actually a far more diverse animal than many people might imagine. The contrast can be startling in many ways. From the cheap and barely drinkable, locally-produced strong spirits favoured by the lower income locals, to top-notch single malts and expensive, imported wines – you’ll find it all in Bangkok.
The range of different drinks available in Bangkok has been steadily broadening for decades now, as have the various venues that appear to accommodate them.
Many former visitors to the Thai capital may harbour fond memories of cheap Thai beer, shorts, and flip-flops – even in the city.
These days though you’ll be just as likely to find imported European draught beers and craft beers, as well as new and modern-looking establishments selling them. There is a wider range of more locally imported Asian beers in the bars, and even locally produced craft beers.
To put a finer point on it — even the good old high-street 7-Eleven – the standard stop-off point for your average drinker not overly fussed about extending his tastes – has broadened its range of drinks significantly in the last decade. Now you’ll find at least a couple of wine options behind the counter alongside the Johnnie Walkers, and at least one choice of imported vodka.
You may laugh but it wasn’t so long ago that anyone looking for an alcoholic option over and above the 3 or 4 local beers and whisky/rum/spirit options had to make a trek to a supermarket that did expensive imports, like Villa or Tops.
Wine has slowly but surely been catching on more and more, to the point where even the bog standard Tesco Lotus now has a range of semi-decent wines in its expanding stocks on the alcohol isles. And any one of the city’s trendy community malls has its own wine shop with a fairly impressive range.
More and more upwardly mobile, innovative, entrepreneurial types have been getting in on the wine importing game in the last decade, now that local interest has been piqued. This has improved the quality, broadened the range, and also kept prices reasonable.
It is worth noting that the prices will never be that low on wine, as Thai-produced wine is largely considered undrinkable, hence the importing. But there is more of it now, as demand increases, which helps to keep prices reasonable.
The range of beers on offer both in the small 7-Elevens and the supermarkets has also been steadily broadening, with more local Thai micro-breweries (who undoubtedly have many hoops to jump through in a market controlled largely by one or two huge beverage companies) putting out their own craft beers.
So if you did think that Bangkok was all about seedy, cheap beer bars, think again. HOBS (House of Beers) and other pub and Beer Keller-type establishments have not only appeared in Thailand, but have caught on like crazy with the affluent younger generations.
This has resulted in the steady appearance of impressive-looking pubs and bars, not to mention wine bars, which would have you thinking you were anywhere but in Bangkok.
That’s not to say that the ‘cheap & cheerful’ aspects of Bangkok don’t still exist – they do, but this is changing.
There has been a distinct, ongoing drive by the government and tourism authority of Thailand in recent times to try and shake the ‘low-so’ image that some aspects of the culture have attracted. There is definitely a push towards drawing-in what the government calls ‘high-quality’ tourists, expats, and investors, which will obviously bring with it all the associated price increases.
It’s almost sad to see many of the old establishments constantly being bulldozed to make way for deluxe new property developments, hotels, and high-end restaurants and wine bars. It is certainly a time of change in Bangkok and Thailand with regards to the type of customers they want to cater for.
So let’s take a deeper delve into the different areas of Bangkok that can accommodate the various types of drinkers in the city, with some of the best places for drinking in Bangkok.
So who doesn’t fancy a nice cold, refreshing beer to take the edge of that grimy tropical heat?
Certainly it is easy to find a beer pretty much anywhere in Thailand, although it is most likely going to be a locally-produced, canned or bottled variety that most people don’t seem to mind.
Aside from the affluent younger generations who make up the majority of the punters in the more upmarket areas of Sukhumvit Road like Thong Lor, most Thais are not really pub or bar types. In fact they are more likely to do their drinking in a restaurant with a few beers or a shared bottle of whisky.
Pretty much any Thai restaurant will at least have a few bottles or cans of Leo, Chang, Singha, or the (locally-produced under license) Heineken which is the ‘hi-so’ beer choice for your average, beer-drinking Thai.
A bit deeper into the central regions of the city like Sukhumvit or Silom, as well as maybe Ari, you’ll find the restaurants have broader options for beer and may have a few more expensive, imported options on the menu. This will again be mainly in bottled or canned form.
If you are looking for draught beer though or anything even close to a decent stout, you’ll need to head for either one of the traditional pubs like a British Pub or an Irish Bar. Many of these have been established in Bangkok for decades now and know how to serve a decent pint or 3 – but expect the prices to be upwards of at least double that of a local brew, if not triple.
The HOBs-type establishments (House of Beers) have steadily appeared in areas of Sukhumvit like Phrom Pong, Thong Lor, and Ekkamai, as well as in Ari, Lang Suan (Chidlom) and a few of the city’s community malls (like Rain Hill on Sukhumvit 47).
Generally these places have a great range of both draught and bottled beers, and cater for punters who don’t mind paying for it. These beers are largely of the imported European variety, and the young and trendy Thais who can afford it and love their Hoegarden and Stella think nothing of paying 250 or 300 baht for a glass of it.
So if you are not fussed about what beer you drink and are OK with local brands, you will find a drink pretty much anywhere in the city. If you are looking for imported or draught beer though, then head for one of the modern and trendy places in certain downtown areas and a few others a bit more out of town.
Here are a few examples to check out:
HOBs Bar & Restaurant (Thonglor Branch)
Address: Soi Thonglor 13, Sukhumvit 55 Road, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Thong Lor)
Beer Belly (Thonglor)
Address: The Courtyard, 72 Thong Lor Road, Khlong Tan Nuea, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Thong Lor)
The Irish Pub
Address: Sukhumvit Soi 15, Sukhumvit Road, Klongton-Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Phrom Phong)
Robin Hood (Phrom Phong)
Address: P.B. Building 597/1-3, Sukhumvit Road, Khlong Tan Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Phrom Phong)
The Taproom (Ari)
Address: 19, 2 Ari Fang Nua Alley, Samsen Nai, Phaya Thai, Bangkok 10400 (BTS Ari)
So even though it has become much easier in recent years to pick up a bottle of the old vino, it’s still not something that you’ll widely find on menus in restaurants except for in the aforementioned ‘downtown’ areas – and it won’t be cheap.
Many of the best wine bars actually double as Italian restaurants or Tapas Bars, but again don’t expect to find anything like this on your average Thai high street.
There are a decent number of wine bars in the Thong Lor (Sukhumvit 55) area, and a bit further along in Ekkamai, with a few in other regions like Sukhumvit 11 which is another popular street for locals and visitors who like beer, wine, and international food.
Silom and Sala Daeng (Cloud Wine is a popular one) have some decent wine bars as well that are fairly well-established, as well as the usual range of international cuisines that you don’t generally find on your average high street in Thailand.
Ari has always been quite accommodating to wine drinkers and has had various wine bars for a couple of decades at least. Again you are likely to find a wine bar or an Italian-style restaurant in one of Bangkok’s many community malls that generally cater towards reasonably affluent locals and sometimes expats, depending on the region.
The Wine Depot
Address: 28 Soi Sukhumvit 22, Khlong Toei Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Phrom Phong)
Scarlet Wine Bar & Restaurant
Address: 188 Si Lom, Khwaeng Suriya Wong, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500 (BTS Saladaeng)
Cantina Wine Bar
Address: Ari Samphan Soi 3, 142 Rama VI Soi 30, Samsen Nai, Phaya Thai, Bangkok 10400 (BTS Ari)
Address: 137 Soi Thonglor 10, Sukhumvit 63, Khlong Toei Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Thong Lor)
Address: 267/31, Floor 1 Acmen Complex, Ekkamai Road, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 (BTS Ekkamai)
‘Hi-So’ v ‘Lo-So’…?
Whether you like it or not, there is very much a case of class distinction and not a small amount of snobbery involved in many aspects of Bangkok life.
This obviously stretches to drinking, alcohol, and the choice of venue to go along with that, which all apparently denote status. Most westerners are somewhat bemused by the blatant snobbery of many affluent Thais who wouldn’t be caught dead with a can of beer Chang in their hand (especially on social media).
Needless to say, you will find the various establishments that sell more expensive brands entertain clients who they consider equal to their pricing structures. In simple terms, this means that if you drink your beer in HOBs you can bet your bottom dollar that the other patrons in the establishment can well afford the prices.
The establishments know this, which is why drinking imported beer or wine (or spirits) can be quite an expensive route to go if you make it your only option.
Certain areas of Bangkok, for instance, most certainly are deemed high, low, or even medium-so by the majority of locals who care about such things. Taking the good old tried & tested nightlife haven Sukhumvit Road as a prime example, most will tell you that Nana (from Sukhumvit Soi 2 up to about Soi 11) is most definitely a ‘low’ zone. Put it this way, you won’t find too much along the lines of a wine bar in the area.
The next BTS stop along will put you at Asok, which is kind of in the middle in some ways, then after that you have the considerably more upscale Phrom Phong and Thong Lor districts. This is one region of the city where you will find plenty of wine bars and trendy pubs.
Most visitors to Bangkok don’t care too much about such nuances, often preferring to find out for themselves. These people usually enjoy a mix of the different flavours that the city has to offer – which is probably the best approach.
It is good to know a few of the little nuances beforehand though, especially when it comes to the vast differences that you may encounter in price when it comes to places for drinking in Bangkok.