An intoxicating portal to Old Shanghai
From the Victorian steam-punk of Iron Fairies to the eco-futurism of Clouds, Aussie entrepreneur Ashley Sutton has already proved himself as the Terry Gilliam of Bangkok’s bar world, conjuring up drinking hole after drinking hole shot through with a magical realist quality. Maggie Choo’s, with its decadent atmosphere redolent of dandyish early 20th-century gambling dens, is no different.
Clomp down the staircase and you find yourself in a noodle bar. One that could pass for an old Shaw Brothers movie set. Pictures of old Chinese movie stars line the jade-green walls, a ceiling of paper umbrellas dangles fantastically overhead, and in the centre of the room is a caged iguana. “Very cool,” you think, “but where’s the bar at?” Then, right on cue, someone ushers you through another door, beyond which lies the cavernous main room.
It is in here that Maggie Choo’s (fictional?) back-story – Shanghai cabaret owner who fled to Bangkok in 1931 stumbled across a derelict bank vault and converted it into a cabaret – kicks in. The brick vaults lining the sides, we’re led to believe, were once used to store spices by the British but now serve as private little cubbyhole rooms, while the bar looks like an old bank counter.
However, the main decoration – and they are just decoration – are the leggy cabaret girls. Every evening at about 9pm about half a dozen walk out from behind a velvet curtain and proceed to fan themselves while rocking back and forth on swings, or sprawled atop the bar. With their deep red, figure-hugging cheongsams and short bobs, these coy sex kittens are there solely to bat their eyelids at the punters. This shouldn’t work in the year 2013, but it does.
The roster of live music includes R&B, blues and soul from Keithen Carter, a veteran of the Chicago scene who has worked with Chaka Khan, Ramsey Lewis and Curtis Mayfield, among others. When he’s not crooning and finger clickin’ beside the piano, there might be a DJ spinning or a set from Jul & Co, a French duo who fuse live lounge grooves with Daft Punk-style vocoder.
Even more closely tied into the theme is the cocktail list by Sutton’s mixologist of choice, Joseph Boroski. Strong, aromatic concoctions such as the Cape Horn’s Remorse (bourbon, pineapple and apple juice infused with cinnamon; B340) draw their inspiration from the iconic places, aristocracy, slang and even artillery of the Pax Britannica period.
Destined to go down in local bar folklore, this is Sutton’s most intoxicating assault on the senses. Book ahead if you want a seat, especially on weekends
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK MCGRATH
Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom | 6pm-2am | 02-635-6055 | facebook.com/maggiechoos