January’s last weekend saw crowds of hip Bangkokians flock towards the riverside for the highly-anticipated Bangkok Design Week. Amongst all the exciting exhibits and food and drinks, however, was a particularly special event: the inaugural Charoenkrung 28 Block Party, hosted by the district’s humble yet big names Jua, 80/20, 100 Mahaseth, Tropic City and Black Pig Tattoo.
The first of what is to be a series of block parties, 28 Block Party #1: Local Motive–The Communal Table was gastronomic affair that blended perfectly top-tier culinary talent and down-to-earth interactions, inspiring us to hear from the resident hosts of the party themselves why Charoenkrung is a place you just want to keep coming back to. Here's what they said:
Philip Stefanescu, Tropic City
"I hope this area keeps its charms as an authentic arts district. It’s very relaxed and I love that there’s no pretentiousness."
“We love the area because people are friendly and working towards the same goals instead of trying to undermine or compete," says Philip Stefanescu, one-half of the hip tikibar Tropic City. One of the newer members of the Charoenkrung 28 family, he's quick to notice a commonality among the residents: that everyone is talented and doing their own thing but with a similar attitude. "It’s not like someone is coming in here with a bunch of money and building a restaurant out of the blue. It’s all very personal. The owners of these restaurants work here everyday."
Chet Atkins, Jua
"It’s an area that seems more relaxed than other places and the community itself is really cool."
A face you always bump into when you're down this alley is the smiling one of Chet Atkins, one of the creatives behind an elegant but also very cool izakaya at the end of the street, Jua. Chet muses on the location's proximity to the river when we ask him to talk about his favourite aspect of the area. "It's cool because it's near the river. You almost always have a breeze and the environment is just nicer in general. It's still the Old Town and Talad Noi is right here." Always friendly and down-to-earth—even when the restaurant's at its busiest—this guy often tricks us into forgetting that he was the mastermind behind the F&B at Ce La Vie (formerly Ku De Ta) and comes with some of the highest skills and tricks in the trade.
Napol Jantraget, 80/20
"We’re all newcomers to this neighbourhood and we don’t want to come here and just make money and leave. We want to make this network better. We want to be the first neighbourhood that promotes sustainability. We are a small community but I think we could affect the rest of Bangkok.”
Making a comparison to other happening areas in Bangkok like Sukhumvit, Napol or Joe, head chef of 80/20, emphasises that businessowners in Charoenkrung are deeply invested in their craft, rather than just tending from a distance. "Everyone here actually knows what their product is, and it's a shared love for what we do that brings all of us closer." Since owners, investors and staff seem one and the same on this street, there's a unique bond that happens among the businesses. "What I really like about this area is how sometimes when I run out of things—like, say limes—I can just run down the street, borrow a few and return them the next day. This is very special. Also, we all drink at each other's places. We'll go over to Jua, for instance, and end up together at Tropic City."
Saki Hoshino, 80/20
“This is my hood. I love this place; there’s a lot of art, a lot of culture and tradition from Chinatown and Old Bangkok."
The block's sweetest pastry chef, 80/20's Saki Hoshino, recognises her neighbourhood's history and its impact in modern times. "Charoenkrung was the first street in Thailand and I think that has a lot of effect on what it's like today. It’s not a party place. It's quiet. It's chill. And it feels more mature and wiser than the rest. I think that's why we attract a more mature crowd that's a little more appreciative of the arts." At the end of the day, the talented chef couldn't help making our interview with her about her friends and inviting everyone to the party: "Jua is great! It's a little sake bar with a lot of creativity. Tropic City is cool too. I want more people to come and experience everything that's here!"
Luke Satoru, Black Pig Tattoo
"I’ve worked in all these other places [in Bangkok] and you kind of feel like you could be in any major city in Asia. But here in Charoenkrung, you get to interact with people who are going to be here for generations so you feel like you’re a part of something."
Thai-Japanese and American-born Luke Satoru has been in Bangkok for 12 years, but it wasn't until moving to Charoenkrung only a couple of years ago that he really start to feel at home in this city. "Funny enough, after I was here for a year I found out this was the area my father grew up in. So life kind of came in full circle for me here. I think everyone shares this spirit of wanting to be a part of something rather than changing what's already here." The painter and tattoo artist also credits the caring community mindset of the neighbourhood to why he keeps his second-floor shophouse studio and business modest. "They tell me when I leave my lights on or when there’s a strange guy hanging around my place at night. It has inspired me to be respectful of a place."