There was a time when a neon sign succumbed to reading ‘BAR’ or ‘OPEN’ only in bold pink letters, and if generous, it was accompanied by an uncomfortably geometric linear cocktail glass motif. A neon sign was used as an eyesore of a marker for a bar (or a bar that was open), and not much more than that. It’s bold. It literally glows in the dark. And it was very practical, albeit never truly cool. Until now.
With the rising popularity of artists like Tracey Emin and Olivia Steele, neon has honed a soft spot in the hearts of hipsters and interior designers alike. It’s no longer confined to the outdoors, and it’s no longer a bit of an iffy signpost for a watering hole. They’re hold-my-purse clutch-my-iphone cool now, with creatively cursive renditions and cheeky sayings often gracing the exposed brick walls of our favourite spots. One more (kind of major) thing: they’re also irresistibly Instagrammable.
Nevertheless, Bangkok and neon share a bit of an awkward love story. Our late-night noodle shop haunts have neon signs. Our roadside construction lights shine with them. And we’re not naming names or pointing fingers or saying words but, one particular kind of late night venue always seems to glow in a pink version of them. Yet where some give a mere nod to the neon, others are fully flourishing in it, and doing so in great taste and style. From funny sayings to sneaky phrases or a full-on all-out bright light, check out our favourite classy neon bars, and set your sights and hearts a-glow.
Avid bar hoppers (and diehard China Town Soi Nana visitors) will know and adore this one. The bar helmed by the same guys as the infamous Teens of Thailand, Asia Today sits just a stone’s throw away from the beloved gin bar, and does not shy away from poking fun at its older sibling. Whilst there is plenty for the eye to admire at Asia Today (think, a floating shark dummy, Pulp Fiction posters, tongue-in-cheek cartoons, and some erotic photographs), the highlight is definitely the neon pink sign above the bar. What it says? “This bar is better than Teens of Thailand”. Classic.
Asia Today, 35 Soi Rammaitree, Rama IV Rd., Pomg Prab, Bangkok, +66 97 134 4704, Open Tues-Sun 7pm-12am
Located on a rooftop overlooking the Chao Phraya, Barbon provides much to love from the get-go. The cleverly named bar is a combination of the words ‘good bar’ from the French and ‘upstairs bar’ from the Thai, and continues with its playful love for words in neon flair. Adorning the entrance in a warm cursive red, an inviting sign reads “on peut aussi rester se soûler” which means as much as “or we could just stay here and get drunk”. Straight to the point yet effective – and probably ten times cooler because it’s in French.
Barbon, 457/1 Hostel Urby, Songwat Rd., Bangkok, +66 2 043 6358, Open Tues-Sun 5pm-12am
Feeling Bar Ari
Here’s a bar that really cares about how you feel. It’s hard not to walk past Ari’s Feeling Bar and not want to enter and reflect. After all, the trendy hangout literally has a glowing red and blue sign that reads, “How are you feeling tonight?” It’s not just retro-coloured retrospection though, as the ‘feeling’ actually refers to the music played inside. Some days are ‘relaxed’ chill music, while others are ‘happy’ live music or ‘excited’ current hits. Paired with a moody pink neon interior, come for the sign, and stay for the music and the Japanese light bites and sips. You’ll feel better, no matter what.
Feeling Bar, 18D Soi Ari 4, Phayathai, Bangkok, +66 82 425 1515, Open Tues-Sat 6pm-1am
Signs are cute and all, but if you’re looking to go for the full neon experience, feast your eyes at Brainfreeze. From the team that brought Bangkok Sugar Ray You’ve Just Been Posioned, Q&A Bar, and the amazing Thaipioka, Brainfeeze comes as a psychedelic dream of neon pinks, greens, and purples with a futuristic yet down-to-earth vibe on Soi Thonglor. Between slurpee machines and slushy cocktails, bob your head to some cool underground beats for an experience far from the traditional swank and speakeasy you may be used to. In the words of Brainfreeze: ‘May the Frost be with You.’
Brainfreeze BKK, Arena 10 Thonglor Soi 10, Khlong Tan Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok, +66 87 507 9999, Open Tues-Sun 7pm-2am
Happy Endings Eats & Bar
Before you say or think anything at all: please hear us out. Yes, it’s a neon pink sign. Yes, it says Happy Endings. Yes, it’s located in Silom. But goodness, Happy Endings Eats & Bar is far from what it may first appear to be. The restaurant and bar is incredibly cool, and vividly edgy, serving up Vietnamese food and drinks in neon-drenched interiors with stylish pastel tables. Enter beneath a glowing neon pair of chopsticks, and take a snap of the sneaky Happy Endings sign. It’s extremely tongue-in-cheek, and your followers won’t know what hit them.
Happy Endings Eats & Bar, 1/5 Sala Daeng Soi 1, Bangkok, +66 80 961 4524, Open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm and 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-11pm
Cat on the Roof
Cat on the Roof has something of a New York vibe. Think, a barbecue on a rooftop in Brooklyn. You took the fire escape stairs to get there. You’re drinking beer and eating grilled skewers. It’s comfortable and relaxed, like getting together for a casual catch-up with friends. Cat on the Roof brings exactly these vibes to the city, between a cool lawn outside for sunset, and a charming loft-style wood and steel interior. A purple neon sign reads, ‘Alice why would you leave wonderland?’, and on looking around and taking it all in, the sign kind of has a good point.
Cat on the Roof, 466/1 Phahonyothin Rd., Bangkok, +66 98 571 0411, Open Mon-Thurs 5.30pm-12am, Fri-Sun 5.30pm-1am
ShuuShuu Hidden Place
ShuuShuu’s neon sign is highly Instagrammable for starters simply because most people can’t even make out what it really is. ShuuShuu is a secret hidden bar in Yaowarat, and doesn’t sell anything other than Umeshu plum wine. Do you see the link? It’s a plum telling you not to spill the secret, in a very cute way. And indeed, ‘cute’ seems to be ShuuShuu’s overarching theme, what with a small and friendly interior, and staff dressed in pink firefighter suits. The bar has something of a hipster hidden bar in Japan vibe with the quirky neon icon to prove it.
ShuuShuu Hidden Place, Songwat Rd., Yaowarat Bangkok, +66 62 229 8947, Open Fri-Sat 7pm-11pm
The Cassette Music Bar
For those who still actually know what a cassette is, Cassette Music Bar in Ekkamai is a must-gram. The live music pub is themed around the 1990s, playing both chill and pop-rock hits from the trendy decade. Enter next to a neon sign and a giant pink cassette, and admire the outer pink wall lined with over 12,000 pieces of old tape. Adorably nostalgic, here’s one for all those who want to capture the charm of the ‘90s in pretty and pink flair. They also serve lychee rose beer and pink burgers, so you really get to go all out here.
The Cassette Music Bar, 5/1 Ekkamai 10 Alley, Wattana, Bangkok, +66 61 654 6666, Open daily 5pm-1am, +66 2 714 4249
Funky Lam Kitchen
Here’s where to head when you’re in the mood for both a party and some Laotian food. Combining bold flavours and strong cocktails with fiery Northern favourites, Funky Lam opened as the brainchild of the people behind some of Bangkok’s greatest, from Bed SupperClub to Sing Sing Theatre and Cactus. The food is prepared with a modern approach and an intriguing choice of ingredients, whilst rare grooves and ethnic tracks swirl through the space for a truly feel-good experience. ‘Keep the funk alive’ is written in neon yellow lights above the bar, proving that neon need not always be red, purple, or pink, but it certainly is always funky.
Funky Lam Kitchen, The Taste Thonglor, 235 Soi 11, Soi Sukhumvit 55, Khlong Tan, +66 2 050 0469, Open Sun-Mon 6pm-11.30pm