During the 1920’s and early 1930s, the “sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages” was prohibited in the United States. Human nature being what it is, this resulted in the proliferation of ‘speakeasies’ – anonymous and illicit drinking spots where customers entered after whispering the correct password to the heavily armed guy behind the door.
“Prohibition” as it was called in the United States was a dismal failure. Illegal distilleries proliferated and everyone seemed to be making beer and wine in their basement. Gangsters and organised crime became commonplace and guys like Al Capone, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano and their Mafia cohorts controlled crime and vast segments of American cities. On the other side of the fence, crime fighters like J. Edgar Hoover and Eliot Ness became household words and heroes to those interested in combating the evils of booze and organised crime.
In retrospect all of this seems fascinating and glamorous. Never ones to pass up a chance to create something new and different, several Bangkok entrepreneurs have established drinking establishmentsreminiscent of the speakeasies of the past. Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about a raid from the FBI, a visit by the likes of Machine Gun Kelly or the dangers of drinking a home-made brew in tawdry surroundings. On the contrary, the atmosphere will be elegant and exclusive and the booze and drinks the finest money can buy.
The bar in Bangkok that feels most like a speakeasy from the 1920s has got to be J. Boroski off Soi Thonglor. Even Eliot Ness, the FBI agent famed for busting up speakeasies all those years ago, would have trouble finding this place – and that’s the way the owner likes it. There is no sign at the entrance, the facade is plain black and illumination is provided by a single low-voltage light bulb.
Inside is a dramatic dimly lit interior designed by Bangkok’s impresario of bar and restaurant design Ashley Sutton. Why the secrecy? Proprietor and noted mixologistJoseph Boroski puts it this way. “I want it to be difficult to find. If people take the trouble to find it, they really want to come. I don’t want it to be a place filled with tourists or casual passers-by.” But filled it is. In spite of its anonymity, J. Boroski is jammed with many of Bangkok’s beautiful people, all enjoying the opportunity to drink in an exclusive venue that others don’t know about.
The popularity, however, doesn’t come only from the intriguing speakeasy atmosphere. Boroski’s skill is legendary and he is responsible for cocktail menus at several of the city’s leading hotels and bars. There is no drinks list. Drinks are created to reflect a customer’s specifications or according to the whims of the person making them; hence tipples at J. Boroski aren’t cheap, but their unique character and the bar’s remarkable ambiance make them worth the tariff. This is definitely a place for the adventurous.
If J. Boroski is difficult to find, Sugar Ray borders on the impossible. The proprietor doesn’t attempt to keep the location a secret, he’s just not into signs and advertising. To find it try the following: Go to Ekkamai Soi 21, proceed about 100 metres down the soi until you come to Moose, a popular watering hole; across the road is a small subsoi; proceed about 50 metres down the sub-soi until you come to a construction site; on second floor in the building being remodelled you will find Sugar Ray. And remember if all else fails, you can ask someone in the neighbourhood; everyone seems to know where it is – probably because they are being constantly asked.
At the present time, Sugar Ray possesses a couple of small dimly lit rooms. The main room has wooden tables, some leather sofas, an area for mixing drinks and a table for a DJ who plays some classy jazz. Many patrons like to spend time in the second room where there is simply a large wooden table at which you can sit and watch as the bartender mixes your drinks.
Classic cocktails created with the best ingredients available are Sugar Ray’s specialty. A popular item is the Old Fashion (B350), created with bourbon, orange syrup, soda and bitters and served with an ice-ball, lemon twist and a house-made infused cherry. There is, of course, a lot more, but you’ll have to discover that yourself.
One of the most enticing bars in Bangkok is U.N.C.L.E. (United Nations of Cocktail Lovers Everywhere), a poshlittle hideaway that exudes class. Located above Lady Brett, a popular tavern on Sathorn 12, it is entered by proceeding down a narrow passageway on the side of the tavern. At the end of the passageway, you come to a
small door; enter (you’ll have to duck) and climb the dimly lit stairs. After a couple of flights, you will see a doorway covered with a piece of black velvet. Push it aside and voila, you’ll find yourself in U.N.C.L.E.
authentic classics, he serves a variety of unique drinks and will be happy to create something based on a customer’s specifications. To top things off, drinks are served in Schott Zwiesel Hommage range glassware.
If you are feeling peckish, U.N.C.L.E. serves food from the menu downstairs at Lady Brett and also has a few selections of its own. Especially tasty are the Moules Frites (B790), 800g of green-lip mussels served with fries and a choice of sauces.
If you are into quality cinema, our final hideaway has got to be on your hit list. The Friese-Greene Club is a member’s only club where guests are always welcome. It is located on the small sub-soi immediately after what used to be the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Just walk down the soi until you come to the Usman Restaurant. Three doors later you will find the anonymous entrance to Friese-Greene; ring the bell and wait for someone to let you in.
Inside you will discover a haven created by Paul Spurrier, a film director and passionate lover of the cinema. There are two floors to the club. On the ground floor there is a bar with a very reasonably priced selection of drinks: wine, for example averages around B1000 per bottle, a shot of Johnnie Walker Black is B105 and a bottle of Leo costs B90.
The atmosphere is very ‘club like’ and there is a goodly selection of film books and reference materials like the Hollywood Reporter, Screen International and American Cinematographer. The walls are filled with photos and posters connected with the cinema and there is a selection of memorabilia from Paul’s collection. But what really makes this place special is found on the second floor. Here there is a tiny cinema with 11 airline type seats and state-of-the-art projection equipment that shows a wide-ranging selection of classic and cult films. Showings are free of charge to members and guests. Reservations and precisely what is being shown can be found on Friese-Greene’s website or on the mobile app that can be downloaded from the website.
Examples of what have been shown in the past include All the President’s Men, Casablanca, A Clockwork Orange, Freaks and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. For a list of future showings check out the website.
J. Boronski Mixology
Near Soi Thonglor | facebook.com/pages/Jboroski-Mixology
Open every evening if you can find it
The Friese-Greene Club
Sukhumvit 22, in the sub-soi immediately after the (now
closed) Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel | fgc.in.th | Open Tues-