Another is a bar in Bangkok's outskirts called Parking Toys. It has an imitable kitchen (for a roadside live music bar) and features a wacky array of antiques and art, and you can hear great live music there. It used to be a car garage, hence the name. It took me several visits to figure that out.
The final one was in the Hongdae District in Seoul, and it was called Reggae Chicken. Predictably, they served fried chicken and played reggae. I liked the goofy simplicity of this concept, even if the chicken didn't quite carry the load (good, but not great).
The restaurant I'll open began as an expression of the way I like to eat and is inspired by the places I've most enjoyed eating. At the Atlantic, I wrote an article last year about fried chicken, and that is one menu item that will anchor my little ship. But there are many other motivations for starting my own space, and those come into play too.
Like the fact that it's difficult to get a decent drink when you're eating Thai food in Bangkok. Wine is foolishly priced in most restaurants, and street food places usually serve just whiskey or beer. Flipping the coin, it's very hard to get decent Thai food if you're in a place that serves good drinks. So here it goes:
I wanted to open a restaurant that serves good drinks, and great fried chicken and street snacks, with comfortable décor. I would call it Wat Gai (Temple of Chicken). When I told my Thai landlord, she made a face, as if something smelled bad behind me.
First miscalculation. Thais like quirky things, but not quirky things like naming your fried chicken bar after a place of worship. Before I'd even gotten started, I was back to the drawing board.
So I called a Thai food writer I respect, and we ate lunch. At this point I was writing quite a bit about the nascent organic movement here, and soon my fried chicken bar had evolved into something more: a produce-driven street food restaurant (with good fried chicken, mind you). I was going to bring the sidewalk inside, and spruce it up a bit.
After kicking around names for a few hours we settled on Duum Khao (Drink, Rice). It's sort of a play on a Thai phrase about eating and drinking. I wanted people to know that's what they were supposed to do, and it sounded funny. Plus, as my friend mentioned, "The beer here is mostly rice anyways." But when I told Western friends, their brows furrowed. And so I remained in a nervous, searching state.
I invited people to dinner and we would eat and discuss what to call this place I was planning. I made lists and emailed them to friends. There was always a snag, a cultural misstep or lame alliteration. The interior is inspired by Japanese izakaya—Japan's great gastro-pubs. So I lobbed up "Iza-Thai-ya" one night during dinner, and all the air seemed to escape from the room. "Just kidding," I said, smiling. I wasn't kidding.