COCONUTS HOT SPOT — The Thai booze, Thai xylophone band, and Thai steak has officially made Tep Bar first on my list of Thai restaurants to take my foreign friends. To impress non-Thais and Thais alike, this speakeasy bar has everything you are looking for.
Before you even get there, the whereabouts of this secret little gem is a big part of its charm. Tucked away in a very small (and dark… almost to the point of being dodgy) alley of the old town street near Hua Lamphong, the two-storied restaurant has absolutely zero signage to elicit walk-ins from uninformed customers. That aside, even those with a planned itinerary and a GPS navigator can still manage to get lost and give up midway when they may be just feet away from the entrance.
Finding and arriving at the place does make one feel like a discoverer of something exciting, and that’s part of the reason why people seem so eager to share their check-ins at the covert spot. But although it is hidden away, Tep Bar is well known among a certain clique. It is packed on weekend nights, and therefore reservation is strongly recommended for Friday and Saturday evenings. Call in for a very warm and enthusiastic welcome by Khun Sak—the staff I interacted with over the phone, and later, at the restaurant. (He will give you the most impressively detailed directions of the restaurant like it’s been recited a million times.)
Once you actually make it to the bar, you’ll immediately get what I mean; it’s Thai-ness translated into the look, sound, and taste.
LOOK: From the bamboo bench outside the wooden front door decorated with a fresh flower garland to the old-town-feel interior decors inside, ornamental items on the bar top, hanging mobiles from the tall ceiling, reservation cards made of banana leaf, chalk-board-like menus and all sorts of rare traditional eating utensils, the place feels like my high-school Thai literature textbooks coming to life. The beautiful juxtaposition of countless archaic elements against a rather modern setting of today’s Bangkok community and people makes Thai culture that much more real, and much less like a museum.
SOUND: On the Saturday evening that I visited, at exactly 7:30pm, a Thai xylophone band was ready to make some noise. Over the next hour or so, two xylophones, a Thai cymbal, a Thai flute, and a Thai barrel drum filled the air with joy and energy. My table was just feet away from the musicians and I was sure I had never seen a Thai instrumental band play so up-close and personal. Contrary to the popular preconceived idea that Thai music has to be formal and serious, the show here proves that all wrong. The beauty of Thai music at Tep Bar turns heads and captures attention. As a Thai, I couldn’t be more proud.
TASTE: Last but not least, it’s the eating and the drinking at the place that turned out to be quite a learning experience for me. Let’s just say a rich “Cultural Education” lesson, maybe?
Staying true to the theme, Tep Bar’s drink list is fully scripted with names and terms used in ancient Thai literature. To understand these codes and how they playfully describe the cocktail menu (especially, after a few drinks,) I, for one, call it brainwork.
Nevertheless, the overall idea of Tep Bar cocktails is simple: adding tweaks and turns to Thailand’s very own home-brewed herbal liquors. All the exciting cocktails, namely Ya Sanae or “Love Potion” (rum with roselle and butterfly pea juice — THB250) and Bangfai Phayanak or “Naga Fireball” (beer and herbal liquor shot — THB250) are creations based on the Thai traditional brews we normally see in the upcountry. For the first time, I had the guts to try these boozes without the fear of finding an animal skull or a snakeskin in my glass.
What you must not miss: Tep Bar’s signature items are a set of three (very strong) herbal liquor shots (THB350) with the following names: Pra Apaimanee, Ratchasee Kamram (Roaring Lion), and Phaya Suea Khrong (King of Tiger). With them three being herbal extracts, of course, they promise you certain medicinal benefits. The waiter will descriptively explain to you upon the set’s arrival that they are for 1) better sex 2) better sex 3) better sex. No kidding.
Perhaps for even for more “better sex,” you can try “Up-To-You Cocktails,” where you can pick your very own mixture for THB420. Pricey, but you might think it’s worth a try.
The food list is just as fancy. Nuea yang bai tong hom (premium grilled beef in pandan leaves — THB250) boasts high-quality dry-aged beef from a Thai organic butcher, and clearly, how it tastes reflects the quality of its ingredients.
Moo Sarong (pork balls fried in yellow noodle wrap — THB160) is a rare dish, as its cooking method requires quite the craftsmanship. Khao Kriab Wow (rice cracker served with chili paste — THB150) perfectly accompanies the strong booze and comes in an impressive size; it almost covered the entire space of my small table.
Then last on my recommended list is Namprik Makham Kapi (THB180), a fine rice dish with sweet and spicy tamarind paste, decorated with a beautiful selection of local veggies. I couldn’t decide if it tastes or looks better.
Like I said, people who make it here have made a point to be here. They don’t just randomly pass by with a hungry stomach or a thirst for alcohol. To most, if not all visitors, this is a place to be seen in and a sub-culture to be identified with. Tep Bar has certainly done us Thais proud. Everything about Thai culture portrayed through the light of this place is hip, young, and cool.
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday, 5pm.-12am/ Friday – Sunday, 5pm – 1am
MRT Hua Lamphong