Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beer, Glorious Beer!

Like Whitney Houston and cosmopolitans, the Bangkok beer garden is back, and bigger and better than ever. Although the cool breezes of winter may be infuriatingly sporadic at best, this is one City of Angels’ phenomena that’s reassuringly reliable. Well, at least for a couple months.

My pick of the bunch: the mob at CentralWorld in the heart of hipster down-town. These glorious beer gardens are the annual beer mecca for Bangkok’s hip brew connoisseurs. The big five brands – Singha, Chang, Federbrau, Tiger and Heineken – are all represented.

This year’s high point is Heineken’s Green Space, sitting smugly on the 18th floor (roof) of Zen department store (accessible via 7F elevator). The others are not far away, down below with prime real estate on the busy commercial shopping street; each with ample seating and a large, raised entertainment stage that’s put to good use.
Green Space by Greyhound, offers both ice cold Heineken beer and delicious, fusion food. There’s also live music that includes soft-jazz bands and the occasional “big” name. This is the place the glitterati come to see and be seen.

For something a little more “casual” head down to the square in front of Zen and opposite Big C and Gaysorn. Here you will find a parade of top choices, frequented by a young, aspiring middle class of Thai who want somewhere sanuk to hang out and have F-U-N.

We went for the Tiger venue as it was packed and we like the crowed atmosphere [nobody likes to drink alone].On offer: Tiger pitchers holding 1.5 litres for 170 baht or a 3-litre gravity beer pump giving you beer on tap for just 380 baht. And that’s quite a good deal serving a table of eight thirsty drinkers. Snacks run the gauntlet of popcorn and prawn crackers to papaya salad, meat kebabs, fried rice, steamed fish and whole chicken; all reasonably priced from 20- 200 baht.

The bands on stage are all Thai, preferring to feature Thai pop and rock with just a smattering of Western classics. Don’t let this put you off, the music is surprisingly first-rate and very enjoyable. You will find the spontaneous sing-a-long to Romeo & Juliet by Pru amusing to hear and/or participate in. Although I wasn’t familiar with a single song, I still found myself head-banging and toe-tapping along with the best of ‘em. And after three pitchers was even getting the urge for a little table-top dancin’ and gyrating a la Coyote Ugly [all perfectly acceptable btw]!

Warning: although the spaces are huge, the fights for sofas and front-row seats are truly epic. Seats fill-up as early as 5 pm [especially on Fri night], so try to be there early or have a friend go reserve a spot in advance. Or, do like us and “accidently” bypass the long queue by sneaking in through the back entrance; easily done by feigning ignorance and acting like a simple, non-Thai-speaking pharang. Note – this course of action may result in feelings of guilt and embarrassment and an average table way, way in the back. But, you will be drinking a good hour before those who chose the more honest and straightforward front-door approach.

Either way, sit back, relax and enjoy one of Bangkok’s best “winter” pastimes…

In addition, for those wanting to hit a slightly less crazed beer garden, try the delightful Chang rooftop one at La Villa Shopping Complex located directly beside BTS Ari.

Getting there: From the Siam City Hotel take the BTS from Phayathai station two stops (towards Ou Nut) to station Siam, from there follow the signs along the skywalk to CentralWorld then head in and out to the square on the east side. For those more active, you can easily walk there in a flat 15 minutes [ask our doormen for directions].

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