Bold health claims have returned to the century-old home of a famed historical titan of Thai traditional medicine.
Instead of herbal tinctures offering to cure all ills, outrageous claims to treat everything from impotence to cancer are on the menu in a swank Art Deco dungeon serving herbal remedy-themed cocktails.
To the delight of cocktail-swilling Pathumwan, Bangkok last week welcomed a new cocktail bar – a speakeasy literally hidden underground – called Philtration, the name that plays with “philters,” or potions, as promised in its panacea-chalked menu.
Though Philtration just opened and there’s a lot to cover, it’s impossible to talk about it without considering its backstory, which stretches back over a century. The home above the bar belonged to Boonmee Kasemsuwan, best known among Thais as “Moh Mee,” the doctor who launched his own snuff brand Ya Nut Moh Mee in the late 1890s.
It was peak snake oil targeting Thais of means with a promise to cure all manner of ailments. His name is still known among many Thais these days as part of a tongue-twister: “Ya Nut Moh Mee cures abscess and scabies, Ya Nut Moh Chit cures scabies and abscess.” (It’s potentially quite naughty – ask a friend to explain.)
Since the doctor’s passing, the home has been handed down through the family to what’s now the fourth generation: Nachapol “Na” Kasemsuwan.
Inspired by hidden bars he encountered while studying in Europe – such as Paris’ laundromat-concealed Lavomatic – Na decided to transform the unutilized underground former medicine storage vault into a cocktail bar.
And he couldn’t think of a better throughline than splicing the drinks with his great-grandfather’s medicines.
“It’s the new meeting the old,” Na said.
Bringing it to reality involved a deep bench of partners from different backgrounds.
Gopinath and his team whip up a dozen signature drinks – all remedy-infused. Instead of breaking down their contents, each menu entry advertises quirky (if dubious) health benefits, from “good for pregnancy” (The Antique Cup of Tea) and “helps control obesity,” (Opium Den) to “helps with impotence” (The Walking Street) and “reduces chance of Alzheimer’s (The Jack of Pathumwan).
In that sense, the supreme elixir couldn’t be other than the Moh Meetini (THB400), which puts a twist on the classic by adding a ruddy, Moh Mee-made herb Uthaithip. The gin-based drink then adds lemongrass, sweet fennel, black pepper and cumin all topped with a kaffir leaf – giving a big bouquet both fragrant and bitter. Hate it or love it.
Those seeking a more reliably refreshing drink should opt for The Antique Cup of Tea (THB420), the one with the (we hope) tongue-in-cheek pregnancy claim. It’s main oolong tea flavor is combined with Bénédictine D.O.M., Roku Gin, elderflower liqueur and lime, all served in a teapot and tea cup (feel free to ask for more cups to share with friends).
Fancy a fragrant cocktail with floral notes? Customers can try the lavender-colored cocktail Opium Den (THB400) that matches the menthol and freshness of El Jimador tequila with bai cha plu wild pepper leaves, grapes, egg white and Chiang Mai-hailing blue lotus.
According to Na, the bar will add live bands and finger food in the future.
All in all, the bar is worth checking out, not for being yet-another speakeasy in a scene overrun with them, but for actually being a place with a sense of place and story that retains traits of the old times remixed with modern design. And of course the unique cocktails that stir in Thai herbal remedies handed down through generations.
Philtration opens 7pm to 2am every day except Monday. It is located near the end of Soi Kasem San 3, a few hundred meters from BTS National Stadium. There’s parking for up to 40 vehicles.
Soi Kasem San 3, Wang Mai, Pathum Wan District, Bangkok
7pm-2am every day but Monday
Phone: 092 282 9005
BTS: National Stadium