Eating/Drinking  •  Cocktail Napkin Review

Cocktail Napkin Review: Ku Bar

2Mag goes cuckoo for the cocktails at Ku Bar, a secluded, standing-room only watering hole tucked away in a back alley off old town’s Phra Sumen Road.

April 07, 2017

When we heard that there was a new little bar, down a dark alley in Banglampu, that was inspired by the teeny-tiny, secret watering holes of Tokyo, we could not wait to try out it. Once we discovered that this cozy old town bar does not allow standing, we booked some bar stools and eagerly anticipated our Friday night visit.

Imagine arriving on Phra Sumen just when the jazz players of Brown Sugar are winding down their last set. You amble down a short alley to discover a small door beside a plaque announcing that you are in the right place: Ku Bar. After ascending a derelict stairwell to the 3rd floor, you pass through a smooth wooden door akin to those found at sushi restaurants and arrived at one of the best new cocktail bars in Bangkok.

The room is dimly lit by the kind of neon that you typically find in Chinatown or an art gallery (the ones that have a preference for Dan Flavin and Bruce Nauman), and your eyes settle on one long bar, a minimalist objet trouve made into the most intimate drinking haunt in the city. A hammock is strung in one corner amidst a flickering light installation that serves as an homage to Flavin. We opted not to sit at the bar (nor in the hammock) and settled for another corner of the bar, where an old tile bench (the kind you find in a garden) has been converted into a low table. A stunning art deco lamp, in all its shiny gold glory, provided the right amount of glow.

Both the bar and the cocktail menu are the brainchild of Kong, who is an artist—explaining why Ku feels a bit like an art installation with drinks, as well as decor, expressions of his creativity. The cocktails are experimental but made with meticulous attention to detail. There is a Japanese touch here too, along with something of a minimalist vibe that extends to the menu of only eight cocktails. No tiki-bar vibe here, but something perhaps—dare we say—conceptual. The cocktails are subtle. They don’t hit you with a bang but, as you sip, you discover that there are layers.

Rose features both liqueur and rose water, and is accompanied by rose essence, which is misted into the air as the cocktail is served. Banana is a cocktail dream version of a banana-Nutella crepe. Gooseberry reminded us of those Japanese drinks with little jelly bits inside: an interesting take on a fruity tea-like drink. And finally, Soya (recommended by the server as something totally unique) was definitely of an acquired taste in the tradition of those milky cocktails: this one with a touch galangal (tom kha gai much?)

We did not get a chance to try Lavender as, when it was served, the glass slid down the imperfect old bench-cum tabletop and our cocktail spilt. Alas, it was the last serving of Lavender for the night. Another drink we tried is the 10 Herb; though a signature drink that is inspired by the old Chinese herbal stores of the area, we probably won’t order it again as it tated a bit too much like Chinese medicine—we’ll leave this one to the connoisseurs who may venture here simply for its medicinal properties.

***A note on the annotation of this cocktail napkin review: we spontaneously decided to score them on squares: the first square means 3 stars, the second means 2 stars and the last means 1 star.***

Taste: ★★★★★- Subtle, layered, and strange at times, these are definitely the kind of cocktails that inspire both lovers and haters, nothing in between, so that once you find your fave, that will be the one that you crave. A commonality of the four cocktails in our review is a light touch: each were strong without being overbearing. Not one cocktail was like another. And despite their aromatic, almost ethereal qualities, they are definitely not short on liquor. You just don’t realize it at first—not until you have to exit down the stairs!

Presentation: ★★★★ - A touch of Japanese wabi sabi doesn’t hurt. Banana wins for dramatic flair: the whole glass is dipped in cocoa. Rose, like its name, is pretty, and the whole rose scent spritz effect is just amazing (as if your tastebuds just took a trip to the spa!) Served in the ambiance of a dimly lit room, we say three stars for overall cocktail presentation.

Ambience: ★★★★★ - Cooler than thou: intimate, as if you’re privy to a secret or a member of a special club, one of artists drinking strangely creative concoctions. Conducive to conversation. Dimly lit, but in a way that makes everyone glow.

Tips: Very intimate, so chances are that, if they’re there, you’ll literally bump into someone you know, but the strict no standing policy means that you’ll all either need to get there early enough, know the owner, or don’t mind cozying up to your neighbors; otherwise, this probably is not your spot. Not a big menu, with only eight cocktails on offer at any one time, but you will likely find your favorite and stick to it, or simply sample one of each—they’re all so totally different. Either way, you’ll definitely be coming back. We know we will.