Cheap Charlie's: Bangkok's favorite Sukhumvit dive bar
For anyone who's walked by the infamous Sukhumvit 11 dive Cheap Charlie's and not stepped up to the bar to enjoy a drink with the noisy outdoor crowd -- - there is no inside -- the place can be something of a curiosity.
Cheap Charlie's was founded by a man named, yes, Charlie three decades ago in 1982. Back then the place was a small outdoor bar at the side of a small alley in Sukhumvit Soi 11.
Fast forward 29 years, and the place is still a small bar at the side of a small alley in Sukhumvit Soi 11.
But that’s not to say it hasn’t changed a bit over the years. While Cheap Charlie's is basically just a bar counter with seats and a couple of tables, its unique and ever-changing décor is a sight to behold.
“People bring things and add them to the bar whenever they pass by or come back,” says owner Satit, brother of the eponymous Charlie, who died 12 years ago. “We have a lot of return customers and when they come back they add a little bit of their adventures to our place.”
These souvenirs include gigantic snake heads, wooden carvings and fake boobs. There's a little bit of each patron present, in the same fashion that people contribute old music videos to Wong’s Place, another legendary Bangkok dive bar.
The wall behind the bar is festooned with old license plates. All 50 U.S. states are represented, as well as some from random countries like Mauritius and Dubai.
Even the bar’s tiny toilet has gained notoriety -- for being one of Bangkok’s worst; its “no shit, only pee” sign is as much a part of the bar's charms as its eclectic décor.
'It's the good life, really'
The clientele is also notably different from many establishments' in Soi 11 -- patrons are mostly expats rather than tourists. This was confirmed at the time of the interview when four older gentlemen walked in and greeted Satit with a big hug and sat down to recant their memories of Thailand at top volume.
Over the years Cheap Charlie's has welcomed a variety of customers; one side of the bar is adorned with business cards, old and new, donated by everyone from freelance translators to heads of companies and CEOs. It is even said that a former U.S. Ambassador frequented Charlie's during his downtime.
Back in the 1980s, most of the clientele came from the International School, when it was still located on Sukhumvit Road. Students and teachers alike were known to pop by and share a few drinks with Charlie.
“He always loved to have fun,” remembers Satit, adding that before opening the bar Charlie made ends meet selling various odds and ends.
Since then Cheap Charlie's has come a long way. Sathit has even opened up a Bangkok guesthouse and another bar in Hua Hin.
“It's not too hard, I quite like it, I know all my guests and have the occasional drink with them, it’s the good life really,” says Satit.
Cheap Charlie's may not suit not everybody, but it definitely is somewhere to visit at least once for a drink and to share a story or two. After all, the mosaic of the place evolves only with the addition and help of friends.
To get to Cheap Charlie's, walk down Sukhumvit Soi 11 and turn left at the alley opposite Bangkok Bank and head straight to the end, before the road takes a sharp right. Open from mid-afternoon till late.