How These Bartenderse Survived the Pandemic in Thailand

Written by Wariya Intreyonk | February 24, 2022

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World Bartender Day

Bars were the first community to close during the pandemic and the last to reopen, resulting in some of Thailand’s gems being lost. Without many conveniences, many people in this industry changed their career path or moved to another country but there are some who chose to stay and did whatever they could to survive.

Today, 24th February 2022, is World Bartender Day. Gastronomer Lifestyle thinks there isn’t any better time than this for these men and women’s stories to be heard better, so we decided to talk with some of the leading bartenders in Thailand. These bartenders shared how they managed COVID-19.

Arron Grenden

Bar Manager of Tropic City

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This soft-spoken, Thai-British bartender represented Thailand competing in the Diplomatico Bartender Competition in 2017 when he was a bartender in Phuket. He later moved to Bangkok and has worked at Tropic City since. In 2018, Arron became a world champion by representing Thailand in Chivas Masters.

How Arron survived the pandemic


“During that time, as a bar, there was nothing we could do to make a lot of income because it’s hard to sell alcohol in Thailand.We decided to create a juicing brand called Juicy, where we basically did hand-pressed juices. The thing about Tropic City is we always do cold-pressed juices each day for our cocktails which I think is one of the key elements of Tropic City’s cocktails.

So we brought that over and made mixed juices. We actually sold quite a bit. Many companies ordered quite a lot of bottles, also friends and regulars. When the COVID-19 situation got even worse, we didn’t want to take any chances with our staff getting COVID-19 or passing it on to the customers through the delivery, so we stopped selling.

Two or three months after we stopped selling juices, we can serve alcohol again. From the bar side, it was all that we did. It was hard to think of anything. Everyone was trying so many things. I feel like everyone was doing the same thing, so people literally competed with each other to stay alive, which we didn’t want to do that.

Apart from the bar, I have a part-time job with Stranger & Sons as one of the brand ambassadors in Thailand. We’ve been doing online activities, like getting together online and workshops, and worked on bottled cocktails with Ronnaporn Kanivichaporn, Sugarray Apartment and Bar 335.

We basically have been doing things to keep our name out there. During the closure of bars, I tried to do something that would keep me active. I would go out to play basketball when we were allowed to do it, go for a run, stuffs like that. I also did some cooking and baking with my girlfriend in the first lockdown until we reached the point that we couldn’t do that anymore. I flew back to Phuket sometimes to see my family. It wasn’t like I was stuck at home.”

Attapon "Mr B" De-Silva

Group Bar Director of Teens of Thailand Group

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Mr B has been famous for his techniques and flavour combination since his time in Q&A Bar. The Former Head Bartender of the Q&A Bar had built this bar since day one. Under his leadership for seven years, the bar received many awards and gained popularity among bartenders and customers. They all adore him, which made his departure from Q&A Bar tough for many people to chew.

How Mr B survived the pandemic


“Drank, ate, slept. I’m actually an over thinker, but I know how and when to let it go, digest my thoughts, and I know how to say, ‘f*ck it’. During the bar closing, I had time to think about what I could do. I unlocked new skill sets and thought about how to survive. Q&A group launched a brand Qream and a new product, ice cream, while we were forbidden to open a bar and sell alcohol.

Q&A Bar became Qream, but we didn’t do it only to survive COVID-19, but Qream is here to stay. When we launched it, Qream was very well-received. The quality of the product and the flavours I created are like no others. The truth is I’m more fortunate than some of the people because I’ve been in this industry for so long, and I have enough savings.

My departure from the Q&A Bar wasn’t because of the pandemic. I had thought about this for a year and decided that it was the perfect time to leave and to let my juniors grow and challenge myself with new tasks.”

Buntanes “Pop” Direkrittikul

Bar Manager of Eat Me Restaurant

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Being a bartender for over a decade, Pop never competes in any bartender competition, but many bartenders consider him one of the bar industry royalties. He was picked by Tourism of Thailand to showcase his expertise and skills in making cocktails at International Tourism Fair 2020 in Madrid and World Travel & Tourism Expo 2018 in London.

How Pop survived the pandemic

“At first, nobody thought that the COVID-19 crisis would take this long. When we temporarily closed, in the first few months, I lived on the money from social security and the support from the company.

Things got rougher, and I couldn’t depend only on those payments, so I started Dong-D by Nah Pop (Uncle Pop), a Korean style fermented seafood delivery. I had never cooked before, but my girlfriend gave me the idea during the lockdown.

When we were just tasting, I realised that fermenting seafood is the same method as infusing alcohol and drinks. Dong-D by Nah Pop became popular, and we have some regular customers because we are different. Our recipe is more than just soy sauce, ginger and sugar. We are still open for pre-order, but not as often as when bars were closed and alcohol banned because I’m back to Eat Me Restaurant now.”

Kitibordee "Gov" Chortubtim

Co-Founder of wasteland and Midlife Crisis

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Thailand Diageo’s Bartender of the Year 2019, Gov, was one of the co-founders of the now defunct institute, Backstage Cocktail Bar. He is also one of the founders of Thailand’s first sustainable bar, wasteland, which lost its shop due to the close of renowned Thai fine dining, Bo.Lan, during the second lockdown. They couldn’t find a new place to establish their bar, so he and his team have made sustainable craft soda pops under the wasteland brand. Occasionally, they join forces with like-minded people to host a food pairing experience or pop-up bar. Gov is still involved with wasteland but resides in Chiang Mai and opened Midlife Crisis with some friends.

How Gov survived the pandemic

“Luckily, I don’t have an employee or employer. I know what I’m doing, who I am and what I’m good at. Instead of being frustrated and getting mad at the situation, I sought my way through the loopholes or gaps from COVID-19 regulations that I had and did whatever I could to survive. I didn’t do things that most people do.”

Pongpak "Ton" Sudthipongse

Co-Owner of Sorrento Sathorn

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Ton was Glenfiddich’s World’s Most Experimental Bartender Global Champion 2019 and represented Thailand in Diageo’s World Class Bartender 2015. Apart from his passion for making drinks and being a restaurateur, he is also a financial advisor. He and a few friends saved one of Thailand’s oldest Italian restaurants and have kept it open until today.

How Ton survived the pandemic

“I have more advantage in running a business and financial management because apart from being a restaurateur and bartender, I’m also a financial advisor. How did I survive this? It was probably because I kept myself sane, filtered a lot of news, didn’t panic, evaluated risks, planned the restaurant’s cash flow, predicted the future based on facts and knowledge and was truthful to my employees.

The most crucial thing was knowing who we are and why we are loved by our loyal customers. When restaurants and bars were closed, most people panicked, and many went in different directions. Many tried doing delivery, but we decided to close. For me, I see my restaurant as a ship. I’m the captain, and all of my staff are crew.

If you see a storm coming, would you want to set sail or stay at the dock? I chose to stay at the dock. As I mentioned earlier about being truthful with employees. I was honest with them, told them about the situation, explained my plan, and never kept them in the dark. While I was waiting for the better days to come, I read the regulations very carefully and renovated my restaurant to make it safe for my customers when we could open our door to welcome them again. I admit that I lost some of my crews, but many came back.”

Prapakorn "Pok" Khonglee

Bartender at Find the Locker Room

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Recently crowned Bacardi Legacy Global Champion 2020, Pok is a family man with a toddler daughter. He loved her so much that he invented a cocktail inspired by the time she was in her mother’s womb. That drink is called Out of Sight, which won him the title. Before his fame and working in Bangkok, he was a bartender at Tiki Box Samui. He is known for his big signature smile, but as a southerner through and through, he’s a natural-born fighter.

How Pok survived the pandemic

“I think I was lucky that during the alcohol ban and bar closure, someone I know asked me to invest in a used car shop. I put some of my savings there, and the result was immense. Although the profit is good, I never wanted to quit my job as a bartender, so when I heard that bars were allowed to open, I just came back to Find the Locker Room and work.”

Ronnaporn "Neung" or "Ronny" Kanivichaporn

Co-Founder of Find the Locker Room and Mahaniyom Bar

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Many people may have known Neung or Ronny as the consultant and creator of cocktails for a Thai movie called One for the Road released in February 2022, Bacardi Legacy Global Champion 2019, two-time Thailand’s representative in Diageo’s World Class Bartender Global and one of the founders of Backstage Cocktail Bar.

How Neung/Ronny survived the pandemic

“First of all, maintain my sanity and physical strength. I knew for a fact that if I stayed at home the entire time during COVID-19, I would go insane. I went out to do my errands, but I was conscientious. I protected myself with vaccination. When we temporarily closed Backstage Cocktail Bar, I did a cocktail delivery for a while until the bars opened again.

Still, I could not work at Backstage Cocktail Bar because our venue was inside the boutique hotel, which was temporarily closed at that time. However, I was fortunate that Taiki Tsubota from Homeburg was generous for letting me share his space to make my cloud cocktail bar. We announced to close Backstage Cocktail Bar for good because we could not carry it anymore and the future is full of uncertainties.

I always envy bars abroad where some celebrate their 10th anniversary, but if you can not keep it going, you have to cut ties. I work with another group, Find the Locker Room Group, a more extensive organisation than Backstage Cocktail Bar. We had two bars, Find the Locker Room and Find the Photobooth. We hired Ping Chareonsri to manage the whole group, and he is the right man for the job. We decided to fold the Find the Photobooth until we can find a new location for the bar when things are back to normal.

The reason I decided to open a new bar, Mahaniyom Bar, this time is because this bar was supposed to open last year. The venue is inside 100 Mahaseth restaurant, not a stand-alone bar, so the risk is not much, so I would say it is safe to open this bar this time.”

Suchada "Fahbeer" Sopajaree

Co-Founder of wasteland and Group Bar Manager of Josh Hotel

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Fahbeer was La Maison Cointreau Winner Thailand 2018 and Bar Manager of Find the Locker Room before becoming one of the co-founders of wasteland and taking the role of group bar manager at Josh Hotel. This boutique hotel has gained popularity among local Gen Z-ers. Being one of Thailand’s leading female bartenders, she had helped the industry for years and is nicknamed The Red-Haired Fairy.

How Fahbeer survived the pandemic

“It’s been three years that we have to live with COVID-19. I had done so many things to stay alive. After the first wave of COVID-19, we opened ‘Wasteland’ inside Bo.Lan. We wanted it to be the first sustainable bar in Thailand, but we couldn’t sell alcohol because selling alcohol was banned. We transformed the bar into a café, but it didn’t work.

Alcohol banning doesn’t change people from drinking alcohol to drinking more coffee or tea. We opened our bar from 11am until we should close according to the Thai government regulation. After a year, other co-founders and I realised that we should have a new product to sustain our income. Our sustainable craft fizzy pop became our product, and it is well-received by cafés. We also partner with The Okura Prestige Bangkok to make the hotel’s special sustainable craft fizzy pop.

Being a business owner, you can’t be lazy. You have to be responsible and disciplined. We still make craft sustainable fizzy pop, but I also want some security and applied for a job, and now, I’m Josh Hotel’s Group Bar Manager.”

Tamaryn "Makham" Cooper

Bartender at Asia Today

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This Bali born bartender is young and new to the industry yet talented. Makham became Campari Bartender Competition Thailand Champion in 2019 and was the First Runner-Up in the Asian round. She used to work at BELGA Rooftop Bar & Brasserie, Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel before moving to Asia Today.

How Makham survived the pandemic

“I just started my career, and then suddenly COVID-19 happened. I felt disadvantaged because everything was going so well. I just got back from competing in Campari Bartender Competition Asia in Milan in mid-February, and then the first COVID-19 happened at the end of February. When we had a lockdown, I went home and luckily, Niks Anuman-Rajadhon, my boss, supported us financially and tried to provide us with some salary so we could survive because he didn’t want to lose any of the staff. We were lucky at that time, so I went to my hometown doing nothing.

I just felt sorry for myself, wallowed and self-pitied for a while. We were able to work again in July 2020, and the COVID-19 second wave struck again in the new year 2021. We had a lockdown again. Niks told us to go home and stay safe. I stayed in my apartment for a month. The supermarkets were closed. I ate only rice with whatever was left in the fridge. Niks brought food to us staff. It was so sweet.

After that, we could go back to work again but couldn’t sell alcohol, and Niks came up with the plan to sell coffee and Sui Mai. We did that for a while, and it went really great for the first month, and things went quiet after that because we couldn’t compete with the restaurants and cafés. Then the third wave struck, Niks told us to go home and wait for him until he figured out the new plan. I went home again.

I used all my money to buy a tattoo machine and practised tattooing for five months because we got called back. This time we sold Kartom water. It went great because we were the first to sell that, but the government told us that we couldn’t sell Kratom but could give it for free. We had to find our way around by selling mocktails and giving the Kratom away for free. Many people started to do the same thing, and we became less popular, but luckily we got the green light to sell alcohol again.

While I was waiting to go back to work, I also had to sell some commissioned artwork and a lot of stuff that I had to pay my bills and rent. After all, I didn’t want to lose my apartment in Bangkok because I wouldn’t have a place to live if I got called back. I used up all of my savings with three lockdowns. Luckily, my landlord was very generous when I called him to reduce my rent for 2-3 months, and I would pay him the rest when things got better again. I know that not all landlords are generous. I remain a bartender because I don’t want the situation or something that wasn’t my fault to determine me to change my career.”

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