A Chilip’s Guide to Thimphu: Cafes and Bars

While there is much more of a milk tea, masala tea or suja culture in Bhutan than there is a coffee culture, coffee is beginning to catch on. The advent of free Wifi has made several spots favorite chilip hangouts, and good places to set up a second office or schedule afternoon meetings. Most of the cafes open late and close by 7PM, so lunch and pastries tend to be the focus.

The local bar culture in Thimphu is mostly about Bhutan Hignland Whiskey and Druk 11000 beer. The latter is a staple, weighing in at 9%abv and coming only in single-serving bottles of 650ml, with a guaranteed headache in the bottom of every one. (Sort of like Crackerjacks for alcoholics.) If you are looking for a wider range of options, including Red Panda weissbier from Bumthang, a selection of imported spirits or even a glass of wine, check out the short list of bars below. Maps at bottom.

You serve peanuts, you get monkeys!

You serve peanuts, you get monkeys!

Cafe Restaurants: Self explanatory, with the added bonus of having free wifi. I’m actually not a coffee drinker, so I’m judging quality by what my friends and colleagues say!

Ambient Cafe: This lounge-y cafe is a favourite for chillips, and I never fail to bump into someone I know. The coffee is good and the banana milk shakes are better. Meals are simple and service is some of the fastest ad most attentive in the country. Ambient has free wifi and a book exchange, and is a second (or even first) office for more than a few people. Located near the traffic circle, Ambient is also one of the few places open at 09.00 AM!

Palden Roastery: Ostensibly the best coffee on town, Palden roasts and grinds their own beans, which must be unique in Thimphu. The coffee is possibly the best and the prices reflect the quality. You can even buy fresh ground coffee for your espresso maker or French press, all of which is reassuringly expensive. Plenty of tables and chairs and free wifi make it a quiet place to do some work, but I usually stop by for a vegetarian bibimbap at lunchtime. See below!

Karma’s Coffee: Located above town, this is a favourite of the local hip coffee drinkers. This place is a little darker than the other hangouts in town and is popular for Bhutanese and chillips alike. (It also features a smoking room in the back, which is a bit bizarre for a country that has banned the sale of tobacco.) I head to Karma’s on occasion for lunch with my colleagues or an afternoon meeting over a

Upstairs Restaurant (which also serves pizzas and an eclectic menu of Asian foods)  has a fancy capuccino machine and Lavazza coffee that Antonia loves. It is out of town and confusingly located in the innards of City Mall, floating between the My Mart grocery store and the City Cinema. The nest part is the outside terrace which has views towards Thimphu’s surrounding mountains and catches the morning sun.

Art Cafe: Centrally located, this is a great place for a mid morning or afternoon snack. The cakes seem to be the most popular menu items, but there are soups and sandwiches as well. Don’t hold your breath for the art, but there is usually wifi available and a small patio. Art Cafe is hidden on the first floor of a building just next to the Swiss Bakery above the main traffic circle.

Not making the cafe list are The Swiss Bakery (badly in need of a facelift and new management) and Brewmount Cafe (who is not serving coffee while the barista takes a month long break), and Cafe Klein (which I’ve never seen open).

 

Bars: Here are a few bars we will go to when we need a night out or have something to celebrate. For a lesser drink (i.e. Druk 11000 beer or Special Courier Whiskey), try any one of the 9000 (!) licensed “Restaurant cum Bar” establishments in Thimphu!

Hijinx: This one is a favorite. Just renovated within the Druk Hotel, this is a great lounge for reasonably priced drinks set in a wood paneled hotel bar. This is a nice quiet place with few patrons and a long(ish) drinks menu, making it a nice establishment at which one can become a regular. The bartender is a fixture and they even have some special Bhutanese spiced cocktails!

Mojo Park: Live music with a chilled out atmosphere and an outside terrace? Absolutely! The Mojo Park recently moved from out of town to a more central location across from Changlimithang Stadium. Reasonably priced drinks and a variety of musical events make this one a hangout for chilips and Bhutanese alike. Gets going after 9pm, closes around midnight, depending on how they are getting on with the police.

Ara: Located in the elegant Taj Tashi Hotel, the Ara bar has a nice and pricey selection of imported wines and spirits. Great for that special occasion when you don’t mind paying Manhattan prices for your Manhattan.

The Zone: Great for meeting a friend or having an afternoon Red Panda beer at a picnic table on the terrace. Also good for a burger and free Wifi!

 

And here is where to find them. Click to open in a new window:

Finally, a map for living, not sightseeing!

 

Here is a more detailed map of the center of town:

City blocks are numbered North to South, and lettered East to West. Not.

Thanks to Google Maps for providing maps with street names (that the locals do not use), and to all my friends for showing me the way around when we first arrived!

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2 responses to “A Chilip’s Guide to Thimphu: Cafes and Bars

  1. ‘Druk Pizza’ on Phendey Lam (opposite KMT bldg) is very popular with locals. They also do home delivery. A loyalty card is issued against each order. You can redeem 10 cards towards a free pizza.

    • Indeed, Druk Pizza is what shows up at my office whenever there is something informal to celebrate. I knew one chilip who ate it almost every night, but I would definitely categorise it in the fast food pizza category rather than the quality pizza category!

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