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Bangkok bar owners get creative to beat long Covid slump

BANGKOK: As gin bottles gather dust, a Bangkok bar owner is trying to keep his joint going through a Covid-19 booze ban with fruity mocktails seasoned with kratom, a recently decriminalised tropical herb.

The Thai capital's once-legendary nightlife has been hammered by a seven-month ban on alcohol service imposed to curb the coronavirus, leaving pub and bar owners with a major headache.

Thailand has registered around 1.7 million infections, the lion's share since April when the government called last orders after an outbreak traced to a cluster of high-end nightclubs. With no government support, bar owners have been left with the choice of struggling to survive, flouting the prohibition rules or getting creative.

Before the pandemic hit, bar-hopping gin lovers flocked to Teens of Thailand, a lively cocktail bar on the fringe of Bangkok's Chinatown.

Now Teens has reopened at 60 per cent capacity serving mocktails made with kratom, a leaf from the coffee family long used in parts of South-east Asia as a mild stimulant.

Kratom, which stimulates the same brain receptors as morphine but with much milder effects, came off the Thai government's banned list in August.

The move threw Teens owner Niks Anuman-Rajadhon a lifeline, though kratom mocktails sell for just US$4 (S$5.40) compared with regular gin and tonics at US$11.

"We don't have any choice, 15-20 per cent of income is enough to pay the team, pay the rent. That's it," Mr Niks said.

Mr Thanakorn Kuptajit, the head of the Thai Alcohol Beverage Business Association, told local media he expects a 50 per cent drop in the value of the US$9 billion sector as a result of the ban. - AFP

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