Craft cocktails served at hip, secretive locales are becoming a fixture of the city’s nightlife scene.
On the cusp of rainy season, Bangkok is thick with humidity. I run down Soi Sukhumvit 11 past grilled pork carts and mango stands as the downpour begins, looking for Havana Social, a speakeasy conspicuously located next to a “Teléfono” sign on an empty alley. I take shelter in the doorway, guarded by a telephone booth—this is where you dial a secret code to gain entrance. I don’t have the code, so I bang on the door until they let me in.
Havana Social, a pre-revolutionary-themed, prohibition-styled bar, is one of many cocktail-focused speakeasies to open in Bangkok over the last two years. And despite the relative newness of the craft here, you can find phenomenal, surprising cocktails in all corners of the city.
“People are starting to learn about cocktails—it’s something quite new,” says Wa, the general manager of the trendy Chinatown gin bar Teens of Thailand. “When we get together, we always go for dinner—that’s when we have a drink. But now cocktail culture is becoming bigger and bigger. People want to be unique about what they drink.”
And they want to be unique about where they drink, too, hence the rise of Bangkok speakeasies, bars you’ll miss if you’re not glued to your Google maps screenshot. I spent a few nights running around Bangkok tasting some of the sophisticated craft cocktails served at the city’s coolest secret bars.
28 Soi Sukhumvit 13, Khlong Toei Nuea, Watthana
Styled like a 1950s pre-revolution Cuban hangout, the dimly-lit bar requires a four-digit code to enter, which you dial in a telephone booth next to an inconspicuous door. (Don’t worry; anyone can call the bar earlier in the day for the code.) Once you’re in, the temptation to dance may strike—Latin music plays around the clock, and patrons start to salsa later in the evening—but stay focused and head directly towards the bar, where an exceptional menu of rum-based cocktails await. If you down too many, order their Cubano—it’s one of the best sandwiches in the city.
55 Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana
Navigating the popular Thong Lor bar, designed convincingly like an ironsmith’s workshop, is a bit of a journey—the dark, tight space is full of secret doors and confusing staircases. You may not even spot it right away (I passed it three times.) Once inside, you likely won’t find a seat at unless you arrive promptly at 6:00 p.m., when the doors unlock, but the tremendous cocktails and selection of beers (even Thai ones) make any fleeting discomfort worth it.
Teens of Thailand
76 Soi Nana, Pomprab
Okay, we’re stretching the definition of “speakeasy,” but we couldn’t bear leaving out Bangkok’s coolest bar, located on a once-sleepy Chinatown stretch that has become a low-key cocktail hub. (Ba Hao, a few meters down the road, has a Chinese negroni worth the 20-hour plane ride.) The elevated, heavy wooden door and windowless façade guards a gin paradise—they serve over 100 varieties, including Bangkok’s own Iron Balls. The extensive menu’s highlights include the Thai Tea GT, an aromatic and bright take on your classic gin and tonic, and the Mr. Cop-Peler, a perfectly bitter blend of gin, orange, Campari and sherry.
125 Sukhumvit 55, Klongtonnuea, Watthana
Disclaimer: If you can’t tolerate loud, crowded and dark spaces, cross this one off your list. But if you can stomach the somewhat-clubby vibe—and elevated prices—swing by for some cocktails that several Bangkok mixologists say are the best in the city. Again, make sure you have Google Maps ready to go because Rabbit Hole is not the kind of place you stumble upon (no signage, no demarcations on the doors.) The Cosa Nostra, a slightly sweet, Cognac-infused drink that does time in a cigar-smoked shaker, is a wonder.
235/13 Soi Sukhumvit 21, Khwaeng Khlong Toei Nuea, Khet Watthana
You’ll feel like you’re in a top-secret drinking club inside the ‘20s-style, speakeasy-inspired place, which is, predictably, very hard to find. (The green-marble door is virtually impossible to spot in the dark.) Our advice: Get a reservation, and drink as much as you possibly can. These mixologists are wizards.