Over the course of 65 years, the Mandarin Oriental’s signature bar has hosted some pretty special guests. Mick Jagger, Sean Connery, Christopher Lee, Audrey Hepburn and Dionne Warwick have all pulled up a rattan chair amid its seductively tropical decor to enjoy the smoky sounds of visiting jazz artists. Singers take the mic at 9pm daily, accompanied by music from a baby grand. Then there’s the head barman, who cut his teeth in the sacred cocktail-making ground of London’s Artesian bar.
1/F, Mandarin Oriental, 48 Charoenkrung Soi 40 (Oriental Avenue), 02-659-9000. Open Sun-Thu 5pm-1am; Fri-Sat 5pm-2am
Situated smack-bang in the middle of Patpong Road, this watering hole achieved legendary status during the Vietnam War (prior to the area’s go-go bar explosion). Step through the iconic green facade and it’s almost like time has stood still. The shock-red walls covered in fading photographs and bullfighter posters, checkered floors, green leather dining booths and army of middle-aged wait-staff feel a world away from the red-light shenanigans of outside. From burgers to ice-cold bottles of Singha to khao pad American, the menu does it all—and you can still find crusty old expat journos who’ll tell you Madrid’s thin-crust pizza is the best in town.
78/3 Patpong Rd., 02-234-6905. Open daily 6pm-1am
This kingpin on the local jazz scene is guided by the musical stylings of music legend Sekpol “Koh Mr. Saxman” Unsamran. The 46-year-old star of five solo albums takes the stage every Monday from midnight onwards. Surrounded by red brick walls and with barely a window in sight, the band performs right in front of guests as they sip on draft beer (B150) from saxophone-shaped ceramic tankards.
3/8 Phaya Thai Rd., 02-245-3592. Open daily 6pm-2am. BTS Victory Monument
Only for the party crowd with real staying power, Wong’s remains open while the rest of Bangkok’s nightlife scene is sleeping. The legendary dive bar wears its age with pride, its walls plastered in photos of customers who’ve found a friend in owner Sam—or, further back, his brother, the eponymous Wong—all swept in a red hue from Chinese lanterns. The only rule is: you must buy a drink or get out.
Soi Sribumphen, Rama 4 Rd., 081-901-0235. Open daily 10pm-very late
Bangkok’s longest-running gay club celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. The original concept of having landline phones on every table so you could call the people you fancied has long been made obsolete, but Telephone remains a central Silom hub for people to meet. Head upstairs for Soi 4’s favorite karaoke spot.
114/11-13 Silom Soi 4, 02 234 3279. Open daily 6pm-2am
This drinking den beneath the Landmark hotel set the template for many a Bangkok British pub that followed. Button-back leather and acres of dark wood make you forget the tropical, sunny climate outside as you knock back pints of Guinness (B330), take in the match and chomp on cottage pie (B350). Visit on the weekend for the roast (Sat 6-10pm; Sun 11:30am-2:30pm, B850 per person).
G/F, 138 The Landmark Bangkok Hotel, Ground Floor, Sukhumvit Rd., 02-254-0404. Open daily 11:30-2am
Tucked round the back of Victory Monument’s Soi Rangnam, this spot keeps the torch burning for Thailand’s 1970s protest movement. Live musicians take the stage to play pleng phue chee wit (songs for life), a form of Thai folk music with its roots in political activism, surrounded by buffalo skulls and other Thai cowboy cliches. Big beers range from B130-160.
Soi Rangnam, off Phya Thai Rd., 02-245-7230. Open daily 6pm-1:30am
The grand dame of gay clubbing just never seems to get old. Packed to the point of making dancing near impossible on weekends, DJ Station has come to define Thailand’s gay nightlife for many visitors. Even after 25 years, it still remains one of the biggest gay clubs in town.
Silom Soi 2, 02-266-4029. Open daily 10pm-2am
Stories from the People Who Know Bangkok’s Oldest Bars Best
SAKOL WONGKUMPU, 68, OWNER OF SAXOPHONE PUB
“I almost opened Saxophone to be just a blues music bar but decided I would include jazz as well. A lot of people have tried to open the same kind of bar as mine but they don’t last long as they don’t have enough patience—to wait for the customers, to get the right music—and so they switch the music to something more commercial after just a few months.”
HERMAN WU, 33, OWNER OF JUST A DRINK MAYBE
“The first time I went to DJ Station was 12 years ago. For me, it was the must-visit venue if you were gay and traveled to Bangkok back to then. We would go there literally every night. You got to experience the most fun gay scene there. These days, I don’t think DJ Station is as influential because there are other places like Maggie Choo’s, and it’s not as cheap as before, but for tourists, it’s still a must-go place.”
PONGSUANG NOTE, 37, FOUNDER OF DUDESWEET
“I started going to Wong’s around the end of 2010, when they still played music from video tapes. Then they switched to DVDs and I felt the place lost its charm a little, but I still kept going back regularly for four years. When I organized Dudesweet parties, people would ask where I was going afterwards, and they would follow me. But it’s really not the kind of place for dressed up women because the bathrooms are just so terrible. I used to make Wong’s mix CDs to play back then, which they still play these days.”