Zoning, which has so much to do with how places sound, is never an entirely formal process. Although cities usually do their best to centralize decisions about where people live and work, they have to contend with other, much smaller and more local political economies. When one hears something from an establishment that’s completely out of place, that establishment is often getting protection from someone whose main gig isn’t urban planning, to put it nicely. This happens a lot in Bangkok, and accounts for surprising – and special – aural aberrations.
WV recently came across an impromptu bar set up on the sidewalk of a decently trafficked road in the middle of Bangkok. The proprietor, a 34-year old Bangkok man, has been running the place for about eight months. Against a corrugated metal fence that hides an empty field, he set up one big pink light and one big blue one, and in front of the fence an array of tables and chairs. A small shelving unit holds mixers and a selection of whiskeys and vodkas. He DJs from an ipod plugged into a small but pretty loud pair of speakers.
The bar exploits the same kind of free space as an average street stall – indeed, it might occupy the exact real estate of a daytime noodle stand – but its decor clearly hews to a “hi-so” (short for high society) aesthetic. The music, to a song, could be Hot 97, and there’s a kitschy, if never quite ironic vibe, in everything from the vintage furniture to the small plate of potato chips that comes with each drink.
One of the best things about this lounge is how unexpected it is. Without the festive lighting and pop music cranked up to fill the block, the corner would feel pretty dead, precisely as it had the last several nights when I walked by the exact same empty spot. This street has some foot traffic, but most of the restaurants are quiet, indoor-type spots, with little or no presence on the sidewalk. Cocktail’s Lounge stands out sharply.
As the owner explained to me in the recording above (right after you hear the music mixing with a sputtering tuk-tuk engine), he was able to set up shop without receiving zoning permission from the city because his brother is a police officer. He’s certainly lucky in this respect, as others in his situation would have to pay a bribe.
After closing up for the night, the owner said, he planned to join the evening’s rally.