Near the top of Soi 7, which has been dubbed “Soi Public Toilet,” there’s a vacant lot behind a scary corrugated tin wall. In front of it is a Pinterest party-style chalkboard sign proclaiming that, if you walk through a break in the wall, you can experience the “Vacant Lot Restaurant — Bangkok’s Most Unique Dining Experience.”
Never being a news team to walk away from a sketchy streetside food experience, we headed into the lot on Wednesday afternoon. The setting was as promised — a vacant lot dotted with rubble and a weird patchwork of tiled floors left behind by the businesses that occupied the space before being demolished two years ago, according to Vacant Lot Restaurant owner Suda Chumpang, 55, who said it was formerly a complex housing bars, karaoke rooms, snooker halls, and massage parlors.
Red steel tables sit in one corner of the large lot, near an outdoor kitchen, big blue ice cooler, and somtam stand. The mostly empty space provides a view of random debris and the JW Marriott Hotel in the distance. A few Thai women in short dresses were eating while one older white guy nursed a warm Chang while giving serious ‘forgotten farang husband’ vibes.
The humble al fresco dining option seems to be popular among all types of people including foreign tourists, local Nana sex workers, and Thai laborers.
Nampeung, the restaurant’s waitress, quickly greeted Coconuts staff with a smile. She spoke English fairly well and got us started with a couple of small local beers for THB100 each and waters for THB30 each.
Owner Suda said that she didn’t come up with the idea for the sign or its verbiage herself, but that an American customer who used to regularly dine at her restaurant brought the sign for her as a gift because she didn’t have one.
Restaurant owner Suda.
We should have known. That sucker has American wholesomeness written all over it.
She said, after putting the sign on the street recently, her stall has attracted more foreign customers.
Compared to the cost of eating elsewhere in the tourist area, Suda’s restaurant offered a tempting deal. We got a shrimp pad thai for THB50 and stir-fried morning glory for THB40. No dual pricing here.
Suda had much to say about foreigners and Thai food. As someone who has been in the F&B trade for many years — she used to have a restaurant in Ayutthaya — she said that farangs know much more about Thai food than they did just a few years ago. They used to stick to pad thai and fried rice, but now they can handle spice, eating larb with aplomb and ordering krapow like a local. “They even eat somtam with pla ra (super-stinky fermented fish)!” she said with delight.
The dishes served in the Vacant Lot are simple, tasty Thai food. It’s not fancy and it lacks the flourishes that you might get at a tourist stall. The only bad thing we can say about it is that it’s pretty salty, which isn’t too bad if you’re drinking heavily, as most people in the area are.
When asked about the bathroom situation on Soi 7, since Coconuts recently published a searing exposé on the lack of toilets on the drinking street, waitress Nampueng laughed and pointed at a suspect lean-to in the corner. She said, “The toilets here are terrible!” but later came back to clarify that it was a joke and she didn’t mean people should relieve themselves in the lean-to. However, it kinda seemed like she had meant that but regretted telling us.
Meanwhile, Suda said that customers could use the toilet at the Soi 7 Beer Garden next door, but they have a sign prohibiting non-customers from enjoying the facilities and we have heard from locals that the ban is enforced.
As we were enjoying Suda’s street food, an older disheveled white man walked with drunken purpose into the vacant lot and peed 50 meters away from us, slowly and without shame. It was 5pm.
Dude’s totally takin’ a leak.
To offer some final thoughts: Do we think the Vacant Lot Restaurant is unique? Yes. Bangkok’s Most Unique dining experience? No. But it’s pretty cool.
Photos: Prae Sakaowan and Laurel Tuohy
Vacant Lot Restaurant
Sukhumvit Soi 7