Chandelier grandeur: Bangkok’s vintage hotel lobby bars

Chandelier grandeur: Bangkok’s vintage hotel lobby bars

Bangkok 1979 had style. Relive the era of Harvey Wallbangers and panache

Long before downtempo beats in hyper-minimalist lobby bars became the bland norm of modern hotel cool, the glamorous aesthetic of the watering holes for the world’s travelers dazzled with gleaming brass, white-crystal chandeliers and shiny faux-marble walls. Full bands performed nightly as guests lounged in leisure suits and miniskirts. 

Bangkok circa 1979 had style.

Though many of those bars have disappeared as the years have ticked by and hotels have renovated, there are still a few spots left in the city to experience that fading glory of the late-1970s and early-1980s. Harvey Wallbangers may or may not be served.

Asia Hotel Bangkok

Asia Hotel BangkokBangkok's Asia Hotel has done a fine job of preserving its 1970s splendor. Asia Hotel Bangkok’s unique charm is found in its meticulous preservation of 1970s-era splendor.

To walk through its wonderfully obsolescent lobby, worn marble and sparkling teardrop-shaped chandeliers reflected in a massive panel of mirrors that stretch to the ceiling, is to step back into another time.

Little has changed since the hotel was built in 1967 -- and hopefully it never does.

Located in the rear corner of the lobby, past a long check-in counter where clocks show the time in New York, London, and Dubai, the Crystal Bar, with its illuminated, dark-tinted glass walls, is an ideal spot for soaking in this surreal scene while tipping back a few pricey mugs of Singha. 

Get there around 7 p.m., when package tourists begin parading through the lobby on their way to the first of two nightly drag performances at Calypso Cabaret downstairs.

Many of these tourists, unwitting participants in the hotel’s aura of vintage grandeur, are often dressed as if it really were still 1979. 

At 7:30 p.m., the inimitable Jaruek Wiriyakit, Thailand’s premier Elvis Presley impersonator, takes the stage in the Tivoli Coffee Shop for his first 30-minute set, with another at about 8:15.

Beyond the obvious kitsch value, Wiriyakit brings indefatigable enthusiasm and seasoned showmanship to his performances, and provides a welcoming jolt of fun and liveliness to a lobby ambiance that can at times border on somnambulant. He’s perfect.

Asia Hotel Bangkok, 296 Phayathai Road. +66 (0)2 217 0808

Bangkok Palace Hotel

Bangkok PalaceBangkok Palace harks back to a time when wood, red carpets and marble were considered aesthetically pleasing. Dusty marble floors run into dusty swaths of old red carpeting. Glass-paned columns capture the glitter of small crystal chandeliers hung from the low wooden ceiling.

An enclosed smoking section faces one side of the granite-topped bar, and on the other sits a slim one-hole putting green and vintage pool table. (“Attention: If you are novices please be aware of the risk, for damages to the expensive velvet pool table.”)

All the Bangkok Palace Lobby Bar needs to complete its magnificently dated setting is a resident 1980s-era barfly -- perhaps, say, David Hasselhoff -- ice cubes clinking in his half-empty whiskey glass as he belts out “American Pie” on karaoke at the large performance stage opposite the pool table. 

For now, they settle for a Thai pianist covering the likes of Henry Mancini during the near-empty Happy Hour (2-for-1 Singha draught from 5 - 8 p.m.), and variety act Bangkok Station rocking out from 10 p.m. to midnight (except on Monday), when Singhas are 4-for-3 and 3-liter towers are priced at 965 baht.

Loosely modeled after the interior of a traditional Thai-style wooden house, the dimly lit Lobby Bar can accommodate up to 100 people in its sprawling seating area filled with old couches, padded chairs and glass-top tables.

The day there’s anywhere near 100 people here, however, is the day The Hoff tops the Billboard Hot 100.

Like the Asia Hotel, Bangkok Palace attracts an odd mishmash of wayward travelers, which makes people-watching here over overpriced cocktails a peculiar treat.

Bangkok Palace Hotel, City Square, 1091/336 New Petchburi Road. +66 2 253 0510

If you’re feeling it, also check out:

Indra RegentBangkok's Indra Regent lacks the sparkling chandeliers of its 1970s hotel counterparts, but the large golden halo is a fine substitute.Prince Palace Hotel -- The somber funeral home-like atmosphere of the 11th-floor Lobby Bar in this old high-rise near Bo Bae Market is a serious downer, but the old-school Sky Lounge & Karaoke, featuring seven private rooms, affords sweeping views of the city from its corner location on the 32nd floor.

This is a sneaky spot to surprise your friends for some well-off-the-beaten-path debauchery.

488/800 Bo Bae Tower, Damrongrak Road, +66 2 628 1111

Narai Hotel –- It’s all there in this Silom budget hotel’s Scenery Lounge: granite pillars, marble-top tables, black-striped wicker chairs, a floor-to-ceiling mirror wall, and puke-colored carpeting.

In other words, it’s perfectly, proudly drab. The over-the-top Tom and Jerry Band perform six nights a week from 8:30-11:15 p.m., and Happy Hour features 2-for-1 beers and cocktails from 5:30-7:30 p.m. 222 Silom Road, +66 2 237 0100.

Indra Regent –- The amazing second-floor Chandelier Bar was unfortunately shut down in 2010, apparently for good.

The Lobby Bar has significantly less panache, but some seats do look out on the Indra lobby’s bizarro vintage centerpiece: two massive (fake) elephant tusks on either side of an arrangement of plastic white roses.

No oversized chandeliers in the lobby, but the large golden halo will do.

120/126 Rajaprarop Road, +66 2 208 0022

Montein Hotel Bangkok -- Her Majesty Queen Sirikit was present during the Montein’s opening ceremonies in 1967.

The Garden Lounge likely looks the same as it did then, with standard trappings of yesteryear elegance, such as padded wicker couches and chairs and a marble staircase with brass railings, brightened by triangular skylights.

54 Surawongse Road, +66 2 233 7060


Brian Spencer is a travel editor and freelance writer who for the past year has split his time between Bangkok and Brooklyn, NY.
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