Hallelujah and pass the Sangsom, Bangkok’s drinking time goes from 9pm to 11pm, pending approval from the relevant authorities. Restaurants—you know, “restaurants”—can get patrons absolutely legless in yellow and blue zones, provided they meet SHA+ or Thai Stop Covid 2 Plus standards starting January 24.
Bangkok bar owners and restaurateurs are understandably gun shy. Not only do they have to wait for the approval of the municipal authorities, but opening, staffing, and stocking only to be shut down the next time Covid numbers hit five digits is unnerving.
“It's frankly ridiculous. Especially in the past year, it feels like the alcohol industry here has been targeted more than ever,” says bartender Susan van der Mespel who has been hoping to open a new venue, Something Wicked, during the pandemic. “Every time there's a spike in cases, our industry is often the first to have restrictions imposed and the last to see them lifted.”
Alcohol consumption hours were only extended to 11pm in November before being quickly yanked back to 9pm to combat the Omicron variant. Even with the official go ahead, rules come down to the capricious Governor Aswin Kwanmuang. Bangkok will hold an election for governor this year—the first since 2013, prior to the 2014 coup.
Currently, patrons in Bangkok establishments are only able to drink from 5pm to 9pm.
“We couldn’t sell much during the four-hour window [the government] gave us,” Teens of Thailand co-owner Gun Leelhasuwan told BK Magazine in a recent article. ToT made headlines last year by switching to selling kratom drinks during the booze ban.
Other than police officers with an unhealthy tea habit, few citizens pay attention to—much less verify—the standards upheld by SHA+ or Thai Stop Covid 2 Plus, and entire areas of the city are openly flouting the alcohol rules.
Last week, Coconuts Bangkok reported on an unnamed citizen who was being sued under Thailand’s alcohol laws for merely commenting that they enjoyed craft beer on social media, a bizarre escalation in the Kingdom’s increasingly maniacal crackdown on alcohol and the people who drink it.
Nightlife workers were said to have received SSO payments from the government during 2021, but many unofficial workers remained unpaid. Bangkok’s alcohol proponents have been fighting the vicissitudes of government restrictions for some time, including almost a year ago when bar owners and brewers poured alcohol down a storm drain outside the Health Ministry
The news of the extended drinking hours came as the beleaguered Test & Go system is being put back into action for tourists on February 1.
“I'd love to see some hard data connecting public alcohol consumption to a rise in COVID cases,” says Susan. "But the reality is these restrictions are merely a face-saving measure that has a huge negative impact on real people behind small businesses.”