My friend me (AKA Dave) exemplifies the phrase ‘functioning alcoholic’. Granted, he has the alcoholic part down pat, the functioning half of the equation, not so much. But he’s one of those heavy drinkers who gets happier and happier the more he drinks. And a happy Dave makes for a fun-filled night. The two of us have travelled the world together. I focus on pesky details like airline tickets, where we’ll stay, and all of the touristy things the guidebooks say we have to do. Dave hones in on the locales’ best watering holes. Even before the internet made that an easy task, Dave always managed to hit the ground knowing exactly where the best places were to hang out at night. I never could figure out where he got his information, or if there was some genetic code deep within his soul that just automatically lead him to a city’s best bars, pubs, and nightclubs. But whether it was some hole in the wall dive serving the world’s strongest drinks, or the city’s ritziest bar renown for its menu of a world-class selection of scotch, Dave knew about the place.
Bangkok, being the city of shameless excess that it is, quickly became one of our favorite foreign haunts. And though we spent far too much time hanging out in Patpong while making sure there was no bar, club, or gogo within Bangkok’s infamous red light district that we didn’t try at least once, Dave’s bohemian spirit in its never ending search for the ultimate buzz often led the two of us further astray. Soi Cowboy also got its fair due, as did Nana Plaza, neither of which today holds a candle to what they were decades ago when pure raunch was the name of the game. And since booze always trumped boys in Dave’s mind, we spent time debating with drink in hand whether Balcony or Telephone was the better pub, and laughing about Dave – who continues to insist he is straight – always being the one that attracted the guys working at the gay gogo bars. With the city’s thousands of hotspots where you can exchange baht for booze, the possibilities for a night out were and are endless. Not that that stopped Dave from trying to hit every one.
We eventually migrated to Khaosan Road, where despite the hordes of backpackers who put the neighborhood on the map, bar after bar after pub after dingy bar offered a great place to tie one on as well as a never ending source of cheap and free-flowing booze. And a party crowd filling a surprising amount of places offering live music. A local band singing English pop songs from a decade ago while Euro-trash and Canadian backpackers intermix while trying to look cool and above it all is the perfect if somewhat surreal ambiance for downing cocktails that have little to do with the mixes their name supposedly signifies.
But as fun as any city’s puke-in-the-gutters hotspot may be, there are those sweet venues that siphon off the creme off the top, local hangouts open to foreign visitors where the pretentious meet the truly artistic, and where you can get totally shit-faced without paying the ramped up prices fixed by what the locals assume a foreigners would be willing to pay. Not far from Khaosan is one of the better ones Dave mysteriously knew of, and a local hangout I’ve been back to countless times since.
Phranakorn Bar, across Rachadamnoen Road and a block down a small soi called Klang Tai, is just an arm’s length away from Khaosan but a world away from its hype. It’s a bar, a restaurant, a pool hall, an art gallery . . . an eclectic mix of purpose that perfectly matches its decor, ambiance, and clientele. And its open-terrace rooftop bar is the perfect place to watch the sun set over the Old City with views of the Golden Mount and Democracy Monument.
Attracting a mix of students, local artists, and travelers from all around the world, the grubby first floor is a dodgy cafe that looks like a Thai art bar trying a bit too hard. But looks can be deceiving. One floor up the place turns into an art gallery with ever changing exhibitions featuring the work of young local artists, many of whom hang out at the place. The one exhibit space that doesn’t change is the Phranakorn Bar’s owner’s who fancies himself a photographer and really isn’t all that bad. Be a bit more effusive over his work and you’ll likely score a drink or two on the house.
If the art scene isn’t your scene, one more flight upwards lands you in a small, sparsely furnished pool hall – and bless them, its not one of those places that threw a pool table or two in as an afterthought that forces you to try to remember which 6 ball you had to designate as the missing 13 ball – where the music piped in changes to a mix of indie, house, or ’80s retro tunes. With cheap booze and never much of a wait for a game, not to mention a steady stream of suckers who think they know what to do with a cuestick, Phranakorn’s third floor alone makes the place worthy of devoting a night or two of your time to hanging out there.
But the best is yet to come, and a rainbow of quirky retro furniture lit by candles and Christmas tree lights is where you’ll bag a killer rooftop vista without the usual killer prices on Phranakorn’s fourth floor. This ain’t the Sky Bar at Lebua, so don’t expect expertly mixed cocktails – even though the place does offer an extensive list – grab a beer or a bucket of whiskey instead and kick back while enjoying their menu of authentically Thai drinking snacks and main dishes – just as reasonably priced as the booze – while a weird mix of Thai pop, jazz, and classical music plays softly in the background. It’s not a glamourous place, nor does it hit the dingy hole-in-the-wall atmosphere that real drinkers seek out; it’s more of a student’s bar, a bit retro, a bit funky, and charming to a fault. It’s Cheers without the annoying blonde waitress or soon to go postal regular hogging the best seat in the house.
Phranakorn Bar is also set right in the middle of Ratta
Phranakorn Bar is also set right in the middle of Rattanakhosin’s mini-gay neighborhood (primarily geared toward the local university population) with the popular Sa-Ke and TG Street clubs just a stone’s throw away which means a lot of the late night dance crowd starts their evening off at Phranakorn. Just in case you prefer your eye candy gay.
Located at 58/2 Soi Damnoen Klang Tai, Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, Phranakorn Bar is open daily from 6p.m. to 1 a.m. – which can mean 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a nice change from the touristy Soi 4 bars, and while it may not quite offer the killer views of the Sky Bar, drinks run a quarter of the price and you’ll be tempted to spend your entire evening kicking back, enjoying the breeze, and watching Bangkok’s art crowd at play.
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