The Managing Director of Siam@Siam Hotels, Pranai Phornprapha, shares his views on sustainability, Bangkok’s cocktail culture, and weathering the rough waters of the F&B industry amidst a global pandemic.
Things haven’t been easy for Bangkok’s F&B scene, and the blow has been particularly hard on the bar industry — with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, followed by a sudden ban on booze and constantly changing regulations. Thankfully, the worst seems to have passed, and bartenders in Bangkok are back in full swing, with exciting new spots appearing all across the city. Among the openings to stay tuned for, there’s been a lot of buzz centered around a particular spot — Paradise Lost, Siam@Siam’s new, pastel-pink rooftop bar.
Slated to open its doors this September 3, the neo-tropical venue offers a refreshing burst of tropical vibes meets sustainability, complemented, of course, by world-class cocktails specially curated by head bartender Gabriel Lowe. With striking candyfloss pink interiors, accentuated by lush greenery and an array of eye-catching day beds, Paradise Lost offers something Bangkok’s nightlife hasn’t quite seen before — and for that, we are more than grateful. We spoke to Pranai Phornprapha, the Managing Director of Siam@Siam Hotels, about his views on the local cocktail scene, implementing sustainability into his businesses, and opening a bar in face of Covid-19.
Tell us about your latest venture, Paradise Lost. What sparked this project?
Paradise Lost started off as an idea to convert our existing rooftop bar into something else. Our previous rooftop bar was actually one of the first to exist in Thailand, and it’s been around for over eight years. But with the recent trend of new rooftop hangouts opening in the past four to five years, I guess you could say we’ve become a bit old fashioned, so as we’re already rebranding the Siam@Siam image, we decided to also give our bar a revamp.
What was the result of this revamp?
So the initial idea was really to create something very different, and Paradise Lost was the result of us talking about sustainability. The simple idea was to create a place where we can tell people that we should treat the world better — we wanted to become a platform to voice out this belief, and use the bar as a message carrier. So what you get is a very conceptual bar. The space itself is supposed to exist in a post-apocalyptic world. Imagine the world has already blown up, and there, you find this hidden neo-tropical sanctuary that’s Paradise Lost. It’s like a secret oasis where people can come and hide — we really played around with this concept, and you’ll find elements of it in our drinks, our menu, everything.
There’s a lot of talk about the environment. What role do you think hospitality plays?
Actually, I think we’re not perfect. We’re trying to do things now to reduce the damage, or the bruising of the world, but I think that it’s inevitable that in hospitality we will produce a lot of waste. We do use a lot of things, waste a lot of things, and we also do a lot that isn’t aligned with sustainability. But I think that even if you’re in an industry where you can’t perfectly support sustainability, it’s still better to do what you can, instead of doing nothing at all. So at Paradise Lost — and Siam@Siam in general — we try and follow through in nearly all possible touch points.
What initiatives are you taking to help the world?
We work with a lot of partners — for example, we joined hands last year with Eco Spirits. So what they do is, they try to reduce the carbon footprint of a lot of bars, by providing a whole system that offers barrels of alcohol, instead of the one-use bottles that are usually just thrown away. These barrels can be refilled, and actually reduces a lot of waste. We’ll probably be the first bar that’s implementing this concept in Thailand, and on top of that we also have other partners like Plantastic, who replaces our straws with plant based biodegradable products. We’re also working with companies like BOPE, who make a lot of our wine coolers and place mats with materials like rice husks or recycled materials.
What kind of experience do you hope to create at Paradise Lost?
With a lot of our new stuff, and all the F&B outlets we’re rolling out this year, we really believe a restaurant or bar experience now revolves around the word “escapism”. We believe that when people want to go out and eat, or have a drink, it’s not just about good food or a good drink anymore — sometimes people just want to escape from their day to day lives. So that’s why we took Paradise Lost down a super conceptual route, so visitors kind of feel like they’re in another world. Actually the hotel itself is going through changes too — if you look closely at our Marketing and Communications, you can already see the difference. We’re trying to convert form just a design hotel, to more of a lifestyle hotel. A space where creatives can meet and get inspired.
Do you have any favourite bars?
Well, since I’m creating a new bar I’ve been visiting different places with a new perspective. I think that different bars have different key traits, whether it’s their music, the food, the decor, or the drinks themselves. I’d say every bar has it’s own selling point, so I wouldn’t necessarily say I have one favourite bar, but I guess I have preferred bars for different moods. I quite like Lennon’s at the Rosewood Bangkok because of their vinyls theme, and Bamboo Bar is good for their drinks — it depends on what you’re looking for.
How has Covid-19 affected your bar opening?
This is a big one, yeah. I don’t think any F&B person could say they haven’t been affected. The pandemic has actually delayed our opening by quite a bit. We’ve been trying to monitor what is right for us to do, and what isn’t, so it’s been rather difficult in terms of planning — especially with the constant policy changes. Our target market has also been heavily impacted, because we were trying to draw in an international crowd, but without people flying in, we’ve lost maybe 60 to 70% of our customer base. We’ve also had to adapt a few things to attract a more local crowd.
A more local crowd? What are your thoughts on the Thai market?
The local market is very developed, but there are still areas where we need to adapt. The cocktail market specifically is still very new for Thai people — and I don’t mean in terms of the standard cocktails. Our head bartender flew in from San Francisco, and with these guys, they’re like chefs. They create all the cocktails in so much detail — each drink is like a masterpiece. So I think with our current local market, we’re still gradually being educated on treating each drink as something more special than just the alcohol that’s in it. If you really try to understand it, the whole process behind a cocktail is actually really interesting — some of our drinks are prepared for days before it comes into the glass.
What suggestions would you have for others tackling the same obstacles you’re facing?
I think the biggest challenge is to learn to be flexible. When you’re running a business, you’re used to planning ahead — normally I’d already be planning for 2021, and making sure everyone is aligned, but with the pandemic everything we had planned has just been thrown away. We’re reworking our strategies every week, so we’ve really had to adapt.
Where do you see the future of F&B after Covid-19?
It’ll probably take a while to get back to normal — we’re looking at two to three years, to be honest. I think with a lot of F&B, and hospitality players right now, the key is to stop the bleeding as much as possible until things get better. The market is really different now — with the uncertain economic situation, people have to be more careful with spending, so at the end of the day they will choose to spend on what they think is worth its value. I think realistically not every restaurant will survive for a long time if the pandemic goes on, there will be less restaurants and bars around in the next year or two, but the quality for those existing would probably improve since they have to really lift themselves up and focus on real experiences and quality. People will choose quality over anything else.
To find out more about Paradise Lost, visit the Official Facebook Page.