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The rockin’ sounds of Pastel

The Pastel Bar and restaurant in Phuket Town is on Phuket Rd, just 200 metres south of the clock at the Surin traffic circle. Only five metres wide, it’s not an easy bar to find, despite the shiny Harley-Davidsons you may see parked outside! When you do, you will find just inside a table and seats made out of the front of a Cadillac motor car. Nearby is a petrol pump and air supply pump as if from a 1950s American garage. A drum kit, PA and amplifiers stand ready for action and music videos play on TV screens around the bar.

By Andy Tong Dee

Saturday 6 February 2021, 11:00AM

Carry on walking, and you’ll find the other half of the Cadillac is now a sofa, with fully functioning rear lights. This is clearly a live music venue, but what is less obvious is how it is very different to the others and very unique.

Phuketian ‘Jack’ Piyabut Voratumapon started the restaurant and bar in 2010, and his mother still does the cooking. A pastel colour is a mix of two or three others, and Jack chose this word for the bar’s name to express his vision for it – a place where people of different nationalities and races can hang out together, united in their love of music. 

Consequently, you may well find one of the amateur bands it hosts playing there in the evening. The atmosphere is so casual and relaxed, it is difficult to know if they are rehearsing or performing at times. Usually, it is a bit of both! Jack drums for them if needed, but the Pastel Bar Band is his regular band, which plays Thai ballads. The bar’s Facebook page has well over 1,000 friends now and shows live videos of performances.

One band, Mary Jane, is led by a young virtuoso, a Thai lead guitarist called Nine who plays rock and blues classics. Pre-lockdown, Nine was often seen performing in Patong, but now he uses the Pastel Bar to get ready for better times.

Another band is a trio fronted by Ood, a Thai engineer who likes to play classic rock and pop in his free time. An ‘Indie’ band, The Vanguard, plays jazzy and funky Thai and Western songs and is run by PJ, a well-known local Thai event organiser and drummer. This band is the largest band playing in the bar, with a trombone, trumpet and saxophone brass section.

Jack is very proud of a sign that hangs near the bar’s entrance which says, “Pastel: Blues Power Phuket”. Blues Power is a Thai charity started by legendary blues guitarist and singer Yamin who lives in Bangkok. In March 2016, Yamin created quite a stir when he came to Phuket to play in the Pastel Bar and other locations around the island to raise money for good causes. Blues Power has bars around Thailand that support its efforts. The Pastel Bar does this in Phuket.

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Jack is always keen to create opportunities for Pastel’s bands to play elsewhere in what he calls ‘Pastel on Tour’. Hence these bands are often seen playing for free on Sundays in Phuket Town’s walking street at various locations such as Soi Romanee, 43 Guesthouse and Ngor Kah Kee. In this way, Jack helps support these venues and spreads his message: “Phuketians, the Pastel Bar is here for you!”

However, this was sadly not the case during and after the COVID lockdown last year when Jack had to shut the bar for four months. Happily, he was supported during this difficult time by his friends and fellow musicians. 

So I hope you can understand now just why this bar is so different and unique. This is no ordinary live music venue with an owner and customers, for Pastel is a community of people, rather than a business.

As Jack himself might say, the Pastel Bar in reality doesn’t belong to him. Pastel belongs to everyone who hangs out there, me included!

– Andy Tong Dee

Local expat Andy Tong Dee is a live music enthusiast and musician living in Phuket. 

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