Nine months from now, Cheap Charlie’s, and a handful of other popular bars and restaurants on Sukhumvit Soi 11, will be closed to make room for real estate development.
The owner of Cheap Charlie’s, beloved outdoor expat bar, has revealed that the one-rai parcel of land, where the bar has sat for 34 years, has been sold and the bar will be closed as of March 2017.
Ekkachai Budkajang, 32, son and partner of the original owner, Satit Budkajang, learned about this sad development last month when he got a letter from the owner stating that his lease could not be renewed next year. The lease is up in March of 2017.
Ekkachai said, “Yes, it’s true, the owner of the land has sold it.” The owner of the land is the owner of Suk 11 Hostel and Restaurant. Ekkachai believes that all of the businesses from Cheap Charlie’s down to Suk 11 Hostel and Restaurant are in the same position.
The sale of the parcel opposite Villa Market is between the owners and, Ekkachai believes, Indian Capital Group along with some foreign investors. He’s heard that they plan to put up a hotel or condominium on the one-rai parcel. He believes the papers have already been signed and the land sold for THB2,000 million.
Cheap Charlie’s isn’t the only business that patrons will have to bid adieu to. The small alley off the main road of Soi 11 is home to many popular bars and restaurants that sit on the sold parcel. Moghul Room, Stash bar, The Alchemist, Snapper New Zealand, Charley Brown’s, Tapas Cafe and, of course, Suk 11 Hostel and Restaurant as well as some tailors and other services that sit in the alley and directly on Soi 11, according to Ekkachai.
When asked if he was upset about the sale, he said, “It’s big money. It’s like my father says, ‘Look around at this street, we always knew this day was coming.”
Back when the bar opened, 34 years ago, the street was mostly tiny restaurants and massage parlors. Those still exist but, as the area has become a glitzier nightlife district, most have given way to big hotels, clubs and pricy rooftop bars.
Ekkachai said that he will “look for a good place and right place” to possibly re-open the bar, but it would have to be outdoors and downtown to keep the same atmosphere. He’d also prefer to open in an area that’s popular with foreigners, since most of his clientele in non-Thai.
“We would never open inside a room, it’s not us,” he said. “If we move to a new place, it might not be the same though, it’s very sad,” said Ekkachai.
Cheap Charlie’s stands out on Sukhumvit soi 11. It’s an outdoor bar in an alley where you can show up in shorts and flip-flops, in the middle of a district of bars and clubs catering to more hi-so crowds.
Ben Freeman, 35, is bar regular from Australia that goes every Thursday. He described it, with a laugh, as, “like going to ‘Cheers’…except no one knows your name.”
The bar is made of very old wood and crazy decorations that look time and weather-ravaged. As they should, considering that the bar has withstood decades of hot sun and wet monsoons.
When asked if they could relocate the bar itself, since it’s just placed on top of the concrete, Ekkachai said they could try but he’s not sure it would survive a relocation.
The “Charlie” in the bar’s name comes from Satit’s brother, called Charlie, who had the idea for the bar and supplied many of its unusual decorations, including tribal statues and an electric toy train that runs above patrons heads. The rest of the decor is made up of gifts from customers over the years.
Charlie moved to Bangkok from Saraburi and sold cigarettes on the street on Soi 11. He saw the empty space in the alley where Cheap Charlie’s now stands and envisioned a little outdoor bar, where he imagined the Thai people working nearby could gather for a drink after work.
He didn’t have the money but shared the idea with his brother, Satit, who was working as a mechanic. Satit saved up some money and they opened the bar.
Ekkachai has spent his whole life at the bar, it opened two years before he was born.
“At first, it wasn’t popular, just two or three people came each night,” said Ekkachai. Eventually, it caught on with expats, which the owners never expected. In the last several years, the patrons of the bar have been 80 percent foreign and 20 percent Thai.
American expat and Bangkok University professor Mark Shaw has been a regular at Cheap Charlie’s for over 15 years. He’s had countless good times at the humble little bar. “Now, I’ll be coming here to cry into my beer,” he said about the bar’s closing.