AT Sip, an intimate wine bar furnished with a sofa and easy chairs that lend it the feeling of a friend’s living room, the owner, Victor Gomez, was talking up Romanian reds while pouring glasses of Côtes du Rhône and tempranillo for customers that included three Japanese expats, two American tourists and a young Thai on short leave from his accounting job in Kuala Lumpur. “The pinots are earthy and complex,” he said, “and the feteasca neagra are getting better and better.” This scene unfolding on a Saturday night late last year would have been unsurprising had it not been for its location, in Bangkok.
Five years ago, the likes of Sip — low-key establishments offering a diverse selection of well-priced wines by the glass and the bottle — were all but absent from Bangkok’s night-life landscape. Onerous import tariffs limited consumption in Thailand to a small coterie of well-heeled expatriates and residents with a penchant for pricey labels and a tolerance for restaurant markups of 300 percent or more. Now higher levels of education, increased travel abroad and higher incomes are giving rise to a new crop of Thai oenophiles.
“Younger Thais have some money, and they want to drink something different in bars and restaurants,” said Keiichi Miyashita, a Bangkok wine importer and distributor who has been in the business for a decade.
As a result, in the last three years, a rash of wine bars and restaurants have opened in Bangkok that feature more than just name-brand labels and sell wines at less than stratospheric prices. The upshot for wine lovers is that imbibing in the Thai capital has never been more accessible or more interesting.
Over on Thonglo, Bangkok’s trendiest boulevard, a number of new wine bars have set up shop. Mellow (Penny’s Balcony, 522/3 Thonglo 16, Sukhumvit 55; 66-2-382-0065) opened in a semi-industrial space warmed by exposed brick and large windows that look out on the street. The bar-bistro serves several wines by the glass and more than 60 by the bottle. “Thais are drinking more wine but they usually don’t pair it with food,” said Ken Kamolvarinthip, the owner, who offers a menu that includes cheese and charcuterie plates. Mellow draws a crowd of young Thais on weekends and expat creative types during the week. But this is no stodgy place to simply consider bouquets: on weekends a D.J. starts spinning at 10 p.m.
Next door, the restaurant-wine bar diVino (Penny’s Balcony, 522/3 Thonglo 16, Sukhumvit 55; 66-2-714-8723; divinobkk.com) offers Bangkok’s largest selection of Italian wines, most of which are displayed on shelves lining the cozy dining room. Roberto Ferin, a Milanese chef who opened diVino on the first day of 2011, offers a menu of wines by the glass, but rather than supplying a list that includes bottles, he said, he prefers to “personally help my customers choose something interesting.” Such attentive treatment is befitting a restaurant where there are only 10 tables in the dining room and outdoor seating area, and the crowd — Thais and foreigners, from 30-somethings to retirees — tends to settle in for the evening. Reservations are essential.
The new wine bar openings show no sign of slowing. No Idea (8/3-4 Sukhumvit 22; 66-2-663-6686; noideabkk.com), a wine bar and gastropub that opened in a polished concrete and dark timber space two months ago, is already drawing attention for its extensive stock of antipodean wines. “I wanted a casual place where you’d be happy to come for great wine and a good steak but not at five-star prices,” said David Hallam, who modeled No Idea after the restaurants at vineyards in his native New Zealand. Its limited by-the-glass selection is more than compensated for by the 40-odd labels he offers by the bottle.
Sip (33/32 Sukhumvit Soi 63; 66-2-714-2223; sipwinebar.com), where Mr. Gomez circulates easily among his customers, is nearly a veteran here. It opened almost 15 months ago, with a mission that perhaps his fellow wine-bar owners share. “A lot of Thais don’t know wine and are embarrassed to ask,” said Mr. Gomez, a Filipino-Thai who caught the wine bug while attending college in Northern California. “I wanted to educate them.”
Source: New York Times