One Night in Bangkok – the early bird gets the Blues

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Sometimes the key to making sure you have a good night is starting early. That’s what I did last weekend. My first stop for the “evening” was the new home of Check Inn 99, a legendary live music venue that lost its home a few months ago.

They’ve since commandeered the second floor of Zak’s, a well-known eating and drinking establishment on Sukhumvit Soi 11.

 

 

On Saturdays from 4-8pm, Check Inn 99 is host to an open-mic blues jam put on by the Blues on Sukhumvit Group. This weekly event is orchestrated by the hardest working man in Bangkok’s live music scene Keith Nolan, bandleader with the blues group Cottonmouth and host of the weekly TV show Access All Areas.

When I showed up, several guests and musicians were engaged in a rousing discussion about whether or not 4pm was technically “day drinking”. Then somebody started ad libbing a blues song called “Day Drinking Blues” and the show got started.

The band began with three members and grew until nine people of all ages and origins were on stage. A 70-year-old horn player from Scotland, a 40-something drummer from the US, a Thai kid on lead guitar who couldn’t be too far out of high school. They came to jam and worship the blues.

The audience grew along with the band, downing pitchers of draft beer, noshing on Zak’s extensive menu and waiting to see who plays next. The highlight of the evening was when the young Thai guitar player known as “Q” shocked everyone by pulling up to the mic and singing the Bill Withers classic, “Ain’t No Sunshine”. He sang it with passion and guts and even scattered along during his guitar solo George Benson-style.

Four hours flew by and lucky for me the next stop of the night is only a two minute walk down Soi 11 to Oskar’s Bistro. This posh and popular spot has been a favourite of mine since last year. First they hooked me with their wine menu, boasting 15 wines by the glass. Next it was their entrées like marinated black cod and two different duck dishes. These days I’m all about the selection of skewers. Beef, pork belly, tiger prawns, lamb … perfect for sharing, but I gobbled down a fistful of them by myself and made my way on into the evening.

 

 

 

An old friend sent me a What’s App message that simply read “come now” and gave a GPS location. Sucker that I am for a good mystery, I took the bait. Deep in the bowels of Thonglor I found him. Down a back alley, with only an antique motorcycle marking the entrance, bellied up to the bar at J. Boroski, a former bartending school turned hipster cave. Dark, wood-n-iron, 70s’ tunes oozing out of hidden speakers, badass cocktails being shaken, stirred and consumed … my kind of place. I downed two Maker’s Mark Manhattans and left a trail of breadcrumbs so I could find it again.

 

 

 

By then, the skewers from Oskars had worn off and we had one of those discussions … “What do you want to eat?” … “I dunno, what do you want?” One BTS station away is W District in Phra Kanong; the perfect solution. They have everything.

 

 

W District has been called a community mall, an urban art gallery and a night market. In fact it is all of those things, but for me it is like a big beer garden surrounded by a whole bunch of really good mini-restaurants. It’s as if someone rounded up all the food trucks in town and formed a circle.

Every cuisine you can imagine is represented – pizza, sushi, burgers, seafood and surprisingly good gourmet French. Just order your food, find a table under the stars and wait for the beer girl to come around. So far my favourites are the Vietnamese Ban Phi sandwich and the Mexican joint. Fresh, delicious and cheap!

 

 

My friend and I gorged ourselves on tacos, worked our way through a beer tower and people-watched to our heart’s content. I may have started out the evening with the blues but I ended up with the chills as this place is just too damn cool!

Made it home just after midnight … beer buzzed, belly full and with a half-dozen old blues tunes rattling around in my head.

Just another night in Bangkok.

 

by Bangkok Bart

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