The Yard of Ale, Bangkok, Ca. 1970

The implantation of the English pub overseas has proceeded apace since the 19th century: in U.S., Canada, France, and many other places. The Irish pub followed in due course. I’ve covered early Canadian examples, in Montreal and Toronto.

Asia has not been exempt, due to the longstanding British trading and colonial presence in parts of the Far East, and perhaps the concomitant spread of pale ale and black stout.

Some years before Hong Kong was turned back to China by Britain, I spent a couple of weeks on the Island, touring different parts.

I recall twice patronizing a British pub in Wan Chai, in a modern shopping mall near the harbour. If I was in the city again I could find it. I wonder if the bar is still there.

It served Guinness with a “surger”, a device to raise the creamy head. I liked the stronger, bottled Guinness Foreign Export Stout more, but it was available in grocery stores, not the pub. There were a couple of foreign brands of lager, probably made in the region, I think Carlsberg was one.

The décor was a mix of Chinese and British motifs, with red neon lighting that cast a pleasant glow. The crowd was mixed, with all ages and races represented. Perhaps best I recall the icy interior, from the efficient air-conditioning.

My experience there 30 years ago was brought to mind when reading of the Yard of Ale, an English pub established in Bangkok in 1966 by Sam Scott, a pianist and entertainer who carved a career in Southeast Asia.

I am not certain of his origins but I’d assume English. A (1.4 L) yard of ale, the long bulbous glass, was hooked over the bar, and sometimes pulled down for trial as you will see presently.

The opening of the pub was advertised in 1966 in The Stage and Television Today, a British trade journal. A detail follows, via British Newspaper Archive.

 

 

Scott evidently ran the pub for some years, through 1970 according to ads in the same source. (After that I am not sure).

He was evidently part of a long-established expat scene in the city. He is remembered in a couple of columns by Roger Crutchley, for decades an editor at the Bangkok Post. In a 2016 column recalling pub names of his Hampshire youth, Crutchley wrote:

Yard of Ale

The first pub I frequented in Bangkok had a very English name, The Yard of Ale, a lovely little spot on the corner of Convent Road and Silom.

The pub actually possessed an authentic yard of ale, a tall thin glass holding a couple of pints or more, hanging above the bar.

On occasion, the yard would come off the wall as customers foolishly tried to drink the contents in one go. They usually ended up covered in beer as the bulb-like bottom of the glass made the beer gush out like a waterfall.

However, the ensuing spillage was much appreciated by the resident rodents.

The Yard of Ale was run by an amiable pianist, Sam Scott, who was particularly adept at Noel Coward songs…

In this Google Maps view, you see the intersection today, it is bisected by an elevated expressway. The side where Park Silom lies is new, the buildings of ca. 1970 long cleared.

The other side is older, and perhaps on one corner lay the Yard of Ale, recalling British ways for its diversity of clientele.

Perhaps Sam Scott held court where the tacos restaurant now is, or just across the street where (it seems) there is another restaurant, or bar.

Assuming the drinking age in Bangkok in 1970 was the same as today, 20, I was old enough to take in a show at Yard of Ale, had I been in the city and known the venue.

But I was very far away, with beer (viewed in intellectual terms) a faint glimmer on the horizon. Any hostelry I frequented was strictly local, in Montreal, with the odd sally over the border in Plattsburgh, New York.

The real action was where no ivories tinkled, certainly no beer gushed. It was in lecture rooms of the Arts Department and Department of Religion, McGill University. Not least, the McClellan Library.

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Yard of Ale, Bangkok, Ca. 1970”

  1. Hi Gary,

    One of the things I found refreshing on my visits to SE Asia a little over a decade ago was how many ‘English’ and ‘Irish’ style pubs completely avoided the tacky trappings we see here and in parts of Europe. No fake tudor plaster and beams, red velvet, cheesy ceramics, etc. In every way they captured pub life with beer selection, physical layout (even one Irish bar had snugs, but not decorated the same). The best part was many didn’t have televisions, so it was conversation or enjoy the live entertainment or go home, no blithering sportscasters yelling all the time. I almost feel the tiresome chain pub look here in NA becomes an excuse not to actually offer the best parts of the pub experience, just the Disney pastiche version. On the downside, the poor hygiene in the washrooms (men’s at least) pretty closely mirrored many chain pubs here!

    Reply
  2. I live in Thailand and know the area well so might be able to provide some context.

    The Mexican restaurant is at the foot of a small Soi of gay bars and nightclubs that, afaik, has been a gay nightlife area for a long time, but to the northwest of that restaurant is the (straight) red light district that still houses some pub style places frequented by expats and tourists alike.

    However, I suspect the Yard of Ale was on the south side where Soi Convent intersects with Silom Road, as it isn’t normal to refer to the northern side of the street as Soi Convent (Soi is road in Thai). On the east where Park Silom now is there used to be a popular Irish pub just a bit down the road which closed down about 5 years ago. That Pub’s facade looked ancient and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where the Yard of Ale was.

    There are still a smattering of English and Irish pubs in Bangkok, with Kilkenny, Guinness, and occasionally some Greene King beers on offer, all at a hefty markup due to import duties. These beers have become significantly harder to find since COVID-19 hit the country, but I’ve been surprised that a decade ago foreign beers were much easier to get here than in South Korea, Japan, or China (HK excluding). I assume the long history of many expats coming here both for work and pleasure are a big part reason for that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some English beers were sold here in the 60s as well.

    Reply
    • Hi Michael,

      I think you wrote in once before, maybe on Burma beer matters, thanks very much for this, very helpful. The Irish pub locale sounds quite probable for the site of the Yard of Ale.

      Gary

      Reply

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