The Legend Behind Maggie Choo’s Bangkok
The Maggie Choo’s Bangkok legend has it that a beautiful young country girl was born into a life of poverty on the streets of Shanghai. A talented singer, it was not long before she was performing as a Thai cabaret star – earning her the attention and affection of a long line of potential suitors. In the end Maggie fell in love with a Japanese officer and began an affair so passionate, it resulted in the death of the officer by Maggie herself.
Fleeing the wrath of the Japanese army, she arrived in Bangkok in 1937. After purchasing a noodle shop that caught her eye in Bangkok’s Chinatown district, she began renovations to start her life anew. There was a problem however. While renovating the lower floors, the construction crew discovered a secret door leading to an abandoned bank vault. Maggie, ever the entrepreneur, leant on her show girl background- transforming the hidden vault. Upon completion, Maggie Choo’s was born.
???? Note: All photos in this article are straight from the Maggie Choo’s Facebook Page!
What’s different about Maggie Choo’s Bangkok?
From the moment you walk through the door, you can tell that that Maggie Choo’s isn’t going to be any ordinary bar. The first room feels bit like a Chinese shopfront, with paper umbrellas and lanterns hanging from the ceiling, but the further you venture into the venue the more otherworldly it gets.
A tall tale perhaps, but everything about Maggie Choo’s makes it easy to imagine that you are in prohibition era Shanghai. Designed by Ashley Sutton, the man behind Iron Fairies and and some of Bangkok’s best speak easy bars, the experience starts from the moment you arrive. An understated entrance down a flight of stairs brings you, without any real explanation, to what looks like the back of a Chinese restaurant. It’s only when the thick curtain on one side of the restaurant is pulled back that Maggie Choo’s reveals itself.
Pass through the heavy velvet curtains and you’re into another world. Once inside it’s vintage furniture, bespoke cocktails, and the creeping feeling that you’re not in Bangkok anymore Toto. Lithe performers dressed as 20’s ‘comfort girls’ adorn the bar, as well as reclining on swings dotted throughout it’s plush interior. Need a smoke? Head into one of it’s repurposed bank vaults. Fancy singing? Join Maggie Choo’s throughout the week for ladyboy karaoke. Want to feel like a smuggler hiding out in 1920’s China? You’ve come to the right place.
It oozes prohibition-era chic, with huge armchairs arranged around the walls, thick steels doors opening onto darkened smoking rooms and two-way mirrors adding to the sense of intrigue. Add to this the fact that the waitresses are all dressed in traditional Chinese cheongsams and it’s quite a heady mix!
Being one of Bangkok’s most sought after watering holes means that Maggie Choo’s isn’t exactly a hidden gem, but it is a gem nonetheless. It’s high profile is balanced well with it’s range of events to suit all tastes, and it’s location just a short walk from the Sky Bar at Lebua (think Hangover 2) and Chinatown.
What’s on the menu?
Sutton has continued his relationship with well-known mixologist Joseph Boroski who has created a bespoke drinks list specially for Maggie’s. He’s a big fan of using local seasonal ingredients so expect choices to change throughout the year, but fruits and botanicals always feature highly and the bar staff are highly knowledgeable if you want to ask them to invent something just for you.
Particularly recommended is the HMS Leviathan (340 baht, $11) which is made from a blend of honey syrup, honeycomb-infused bourbon, vermouth and some lemon to finish- it packs a punch so don’t expect to walk away unscathed. You’ll certainly feel the effects! If you’re in the market for something classy then a bottle of Chandon Brut champagne will set you back 2,000 baht ($65), although if that sounds a bit steep then maybe you could settle for a glass of wine at 300 baht ($9.60) instead!
Entertainment at Maggie Choo’s
No two nights are the same here, so if you’re a fan of one particular kind of music then make sure you check ahead to see what’s scheduled to be on. One night you might see a live swing band, whereas another it could be a live jazz singer or a DJ.
The one exception to this rotating schedule is Thursday nights, where the Chinese Delirium Theater performs hourly shows at 9, 10 and 11pm. If you like performance art then don’t miss it as the visuals are spectacular.
This is more than a bar, it’ a destination!
As you sit in a leather armchair looking at the Victorian-era portraits and heavy mirrors on the walls, you may well muse upon the fact that this is a pretty unusual place. Maggie Choo’s isn’t a cheap place to drink but it’s certainly a memorable one, and it offers more than just a place to have a few beers. Enjoying a night out here will stay with you for all the right reasons.
If you’re like a lot of us, your time in Bangkok is usually all about arriving, leaving or simply passing through. Friends are reconnected with, visa’s updated and plans made. Bars like Maggie Choo’s serve as a reminder that sometimes, treating ourselves is exactly what’s needed. You may be rushed off your feet, but investing just a small amount of your itinerary to this place will make you feel like you have all the time in the world, in a place that’s not quite of this time.