On the wall to the side of the bar hangs a poster. Soft light reflects off the clear plastic frame. The words are hard to decipher from a distance, but a closer look reveals a definition plucked from a personal dictionary. Stag · i · aire (plural Stagiaires). Etymology: French. 1. Trainee 2. Intern 3. A Stagiaire is a person undertaking an internship as on-the-job training… The need for definition would seem curious any place but this, Le Café des Stagiaires, an understated new bar occupying a five-story townhouse on Sathorn 12—a bar that owes its existence to dynamic, forward-looking interns.
Le Café des Stagiaires got its start in Shanghai, when a group of students from France and Belgium decided to jumpstart their professional careers before they had even graduated. Their modus operandi with the first café was to empower other interns, soliciting help from students at some of the finest hospitality management and design schools in Europe, especially from their alma mater in Lausanne. They wanted others to share in the experience as they had, to learn the ropes at every level, from toilet scrubbing to bookkeeping, and develop into entrepreneurs. One of their interns was Alan Cogels, a Belgian of Thai descent, who, at the precocious age of 20, had already worked or studied on three continents. Le Café des Stagiaires in Bangkok? That’s his doing.
The fruits of his labour have yielded a neighbourhood bar, part vintage and part a la mode. Le Café des Stagiaires feels lived-in, as if it has always been there, but the parquet flooring has been re-polished, the scaffolding exposed, the old fixtures replaced with deep finds at the vintage market. What was once a motorbike repair shop has been transformed into five floors of bar, restaurant, and living space. On the first floor is the café, where the ceiling is made up of old egg crates, the bathroom walls are decorated with CVs of the interns and employees, and a terrace draws after-work crowds. The third floor is earmarked for parties and events, and the second is a yet-unfinished restaurant. Cogels lives on the fourth floor, and the interns have separate bedrooms on the fifth.
“It was all designed by our team,” says Cogels, who beams with a blend of charm, confidence, and approachability often lacking in nightlife impresarios. “We wanted to add details that other places didn’t have, from the decorations to the service. We brought old signs from Belgium, a copy of Le Petit Journal that’s over 100-years-old. The brick walls—those are a bit of Europe. The café has to feel like home. And we wanted our interns to have a nice, clean place to stay while they’re here.”
While the convivial vibe accounts for much of the appeal, the friendly prices (B80 for a 25cl pour of Leo, B130 for house wine, B210 for a 33cl La Chouffe, and B100 for a Ricard during the 4pm to 8pm happy hours) and even friendlier staff invites customers to come back time and again. Earning regulars, in fact, is a vital part of the recipe that’s led to the success of the café’s Shanghai brethren.
“I feel my customers can be my friends, not just customers. You know, if they’re not satisfied, if they’re not happy, I won’t sleep well tonight,” says Cogels, adding, “We’ve tried to make it simpler and fairer. Better pours, no service charge, no VAT—it’s all laid out for you, there’s nothing hidden.”
Expats and locals trickle in for coffee, happy hour cocktails, and, before the bar closes, nightcaps enjoyed over conversation. On weekends, the first and third floors fill, sometimes for parties and events, but more often simply because the café has fast become a preferred haunt in Sathorn. Throughout the day and into the night, the kitchen whips up a variety of tapas and set meals (B310 for starter or dessert and main, B390 for starter, main, and dessert). The food is based on home recipes and the menu changes every two weeks. On Sundays, there’s a casual brunch featuring two options—French or American (B420/B480)—including the quintessential Bloody Mary (B160).
In other words, there’s a little bit of everything here, and it all fits within a communal and very laidback leitmotif. No dress code, no worries, just friends. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Le Café des Stagiaires
142/21 Sathorn 12 | 08 1207 3077 | facebook.com/csbangkok | Tues-Sun 11.30am-2am