I have written about drinking experiences pretty much everywhere I have been but not Bangkok, particularly in the Phra Khanong area. It’s been a decade of drinking in this neighbourhood I call home. Being part of the community allowed me to see constant changes and meet all walks of life. Ten years…it’s about time to cherish those vibrant memories.
Before moving into my first property in 2013, I had been living in the area for two years. However, Phra Khanong Junction, the heart of the ‘hood, wasn’t much explored. On the façade, it looked like a typical Bangkok cityscape: heavy traffic, many alleys (soi), and rows of shophouses. There was little expectation.
During that time, the only interaction I had with foreigners in the area was ordering food for two middle-aged white guys in a mom-and-pop diner (which became one of my regular places). Things have changed since then.
Establishing Third Place
Noticeably, the demographic has changed with the influx of expats from newly erected condos. One of them housed a beer garden in the complex—W District. It became one of my first places to drink. It was pleasant but not much happening then. I longed for a good street view to watch some actions.
Pridi Soi 2, the strip connecting a tollway exit to Sukhumvit 71 Road, ticked the box. From end to end, the Soi offered it all: food stalls from shophouses, street vendors, convenience stores, pharmacies, massages, barbers, and of course pubs. There were a couple of spots where I settled in with beer and immersed in the ambience. One was the cornershop at the deep end—Uncle Jong’s Kitchen (ครัวลุงจง). It was unpretentious: a shophouse in the corner with a kitchen in the front, folding tables on the street, local 70s-90s music, patrons getting dinner, some hanging out for drinks, and the world passing by.
The perfect pub spot would be in the middle of the Soi, across from a Chinese funeral supply shop. Seats on the patio were like ones in front of a stage theatre. While sinking in, it revealed layers of activities from shophouses, street vendors, customers, commuters, school kids, migrants, beggars, cats, dogs, rats, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, taxis, garbage trucks, and so much more. The scene has mesmerised me since then.
Ultimately, it was the people at the joint that got me hooked. It was run by a Polish-Thai couple, attracting farangs in the hood. Lubliner, after the city where the publican was from, became an establishing third place. Next thing, I found myself drinking with Polish and Thai regulars as well as other expats from around the area. At this point, it was like another version of Cheers, with far more uncanny diverse characters in the organised chaos backdrop of the soi. Their stories were captivating. Well, that’s a polite way to say lots of dramas!
Crawling Third Place
Nonetheless, all good things must end. The pub couldn’t bear the financial pressure and was taken over by a new establishment. It became a som tum diner with no name. The Polish owner went back to his country, the girlfriend partner went to her countryside in the Northeast, and the small Polish community slowly dissipated.
I drank there under the new management a few times but the vibe wasn’t the same without the old crew. The expat customers, led by the Brits, sought a new hangout spot and ended up anchoring at W District. I followed them—back to the beer garden. Even though the street scene on Pridi Soi 2 was still longed for, the fellowship was engaging. Besides, it was hard to ignore a party on the route home.
By then, the place got bustling with more customers, international food vendors, and bars. We became regulars of a new bar that challenged the OG of the beer garden. The rivalry got heated sometimes. More people joined our drinking group. Networks of drinking acquaints organically expanded.
Meanwhile, a new pub opened at the end of the Soi—the Rovers. I’d say it was the first English-style pub in the Soi, an upgrade and a potential. Phra Khanong had come so far since that morning I ordered food for random farangs a few years earlier. You could witness its gradual development by sitting in different types of pubs and bars.
Eventually, I have to move to DC for the new job. That was the first farewell. Drinking in Phra Khanong would be one of the things in Bangkok I missed the most. But it didn’t end there.
To be continued…