Published on December 28, 2007
For the past few years, Sukhumvit Soi 11 has become a prime nightlife destination in Bangkok. Thanks to high-end clubs such as Bed Supperclub, Q Bar and the newbie Twisted Republic, the strip is a vibrant playground for big-spending clubbers and electronic music lovers. But hanging out in Soi 11 does not have to be pricey and frilly. About 100 metres from Sukhumvit Road there's Cheap Charlie's, a long-standing bar offering drinks at super-low prices in an easygoing atmosphere.
For nearly 25 years, Cheap Charlie's has been a watering hole for clubbers to warm up their alcoholic appetite for the long night. Some expats gather with their friends for a few drinks after work, and tourists just couldn't help but drop in for a few drinks after seeing the bar.
You would do the same if you saw how rustic and funky the "bar kiosk" is.
Cheap Charlie's is nothing more than a bar on the street, with a few stools lining the length of a wooden cart that serves as a bar, and a few tiny wooden tables close by. There's no air conditioning and no big stereo system. There're just a couple of wall fans to blow away heat and street fumes, and a dusty CD player and a small speaker softly sending out oldies rock 'n' roll music from the '60s and the '70s.
The charm no one can resist is the memorabilia and knickknacks and occupying almost every inch of the bar. There's a buffalo head, all sorts of animal miniatures made of wood, licence plates from pretty much all over the world, bamboo lamps, souvenirs, coins and banknotes of different currencies. One side of the bar is a "wall of fame", onto which guests are welcome to staple their business cards. Look close and you might see a card of someone you know.
It looks and feels like a friendly bar, but ladies without companions, especially Thai ladies in scanty, revealing outfits, are not here. There is a sign in Thai asking Thai ladies not to sit alone at this bar, and another one addressing male foreigners not to make out with Thai girls. Positively speaking, without a sense of being sexually discriminated, Cheap Charlie's is just trying to make clear that it is not a "pick-up joint", unlike many other bars in the area. Another good thing about this is that local female drinkers can go down there, in proper clothing of course, and have fun without being misinterpreted with a certain business agenda.
There's only one person in charge, 55-year-old Satit Bootkrajang is the owner and barman. The Saraburi native moved to Bangkok 25 years ago and opened this bar with his brother whose nickname is Charlie. When they started off, the bar was simple and there were a few knick-knacks. Travellers from around the world came to drink and gave the brothers souvenirs while Satit got some items by himself when he went upcountry. At the time it was mainly Charlie running the bar as Satit was working on and off in the Middle East. Charlie passed away 10 years ago and Satit has been running the bar by himself ever since.
Knick-knacks have piled up over the years, in contrast with the prices, which have been kept as low as possible. The simple selection of beers include Heineken, Tiger, Chang and Singha at Bt60 for a small bottle. Easy cocktails such as whisky and soda or coke or gin tonic are also Bt60. The most luxurious drink here is probably red and white wine, at Bt100 a glass. No snacks or food is served here.
Though it is just a shack by the street, Cheap Charlie's has a tiny toilet to accommodate the guests. Just don't go down there with an urgent bowel problem, as you can only pee there.
Sukhumvit Soi 11 (BTS: Nana)
Monday to Saturday, 7pm to 1am