More women than men filled the two long tables in the narrow Chinatown shophouse, and when the three-piece cover band near the door kicked into the chorus of Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” one of the bar’s owners broke into an exaggerated, arms-rolling shimmy in what little standing room remained in the back of the place, near the tap wall. In another city, I may have grated at the song, and in another place, I might have gagged at the owner’s self-aware public performance, but this was Bangkok, and this place had too much personality to get bogged down in the one-white-guy-trying-too-hard details.
This place… sometimes, there’s a bar. And I’m talkin’ about Let the Boy Die here. Sometimes, there’s a bar, well, it’s the bar for its time and place. It fits right in there. And that’s Let the Boy Die, in Bangkok.
If you didn’t know it was there you’d probably never see it at all. It’s a decent little walk away from the revitalized – or perhaps we should say commercialized – block of bars and cafes clustered at Soi NaNa, and a few blocks north of Charoen Krung and Yaowarat roads, Chinatown’s two main thoroughfares. Let’s just say Let the Boy Die is a little out of the way for locals and a lot out of the way for tourists; let’s also say that’s part of the beauty of the place. It’s a scientifically proven fact that good beer tastes even better when you have to put some effort into finding it.
And find Let the Boy Die you should.
This is the rare beer bar where it’s not all about the beer, though the beer is just fine. It comes, mostly, from Golden Coins, an “underground” Bangkok craft brewery whose head brewer is also the bar’s co-owner; the shophouse, actually, has been managed by the guy’s family for some time. There are six beers on tap, a range that on any given night could include an IPA, maybe a kölsch, perhaps an APA (American pale ale), and brews from other local hush-hush operations. Priced at 160 – 180 baht for a US pint, these are probably the most affordable craft beers in town—not the best, but perfectly fine and sure to get better over time.
As I say, though, beer is only part of the package here: Let the Boy Die has that intangible “it” that pulls patrons from across the boozing spectrum, from beer connoisseurs to light drinkers who just want to have a fun night out with friends. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Credit the cool setting in a cozy shophouse that’s been stripped-down and shined-up. Chalk it up to the live bands and DJs – a staple of the best Bangkok bars – during the weekend. Know, too, that the timing couldn’t have been much better for Let the Boy Die when it opened in October 2015.
Craft beers have in recent years inched closer and closer into Bangkok’s mainstream twenty- to thirtysomething drinking culture, with one of the bigger roadblocks to further saturation being the higher pricetags, compared to Thai beers like Singha and Leo, attached to the wave of imports pouring in. Here, Thais can not only drink Thai craft beer priced more than 50-percent less than a big glass of imported stuff at, say, Mikkeller Bangkok – of which I’m a fan – but they can also do it in a place that has a homely, distinctly Thai ambiance.
A friend from Singapore, where he manages a few successful bars, was with me that night, when the jazz trio lit up Let the Boy Die and when it was standing room only. He at once loved and loathed the place. “You couldn’t do this in Singapore,” he said. “You couldn’t have this, with the mixed crowd and the music and the vibe. In Singapore it’s just too…”
“… just too sterile?,” I offered.
“Yeah. You just couldn’t replicate this there.”
No, you couldn’t.
Sometimes there’s a bar for its time and place—right now, that bar is Let the Boy Die, and that place is one of the greatest, silliest cities in the world.
Let the Boy Die is located at 542 Luang Road in Bangkok, Thailand. +66 082 6759 673. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 6pm to 12am.