Angel City Diner is the latest attempt to replicate the old-fashioned American Diner experience in Bangkok. It’s been tried a few times before, but hasn’t quite taken off. Angel City seems to be a good attempt, although the new restaurant just opened at the start of 2013 may still have some fine-tuning to do. In fact, I’m going to spend more time than I usually do talking about the ambiance of this place, because it might just be what makes or breaks the experience for you.
The restaurant does a good job of replicating the look of the classic diner, with black and white checkered floors, big leatherette booths and even jukebox controls at each table. The room is brightly lit as well, but the lighting is almost all colored, which is a bit of a problem. Colors can have a surprisingly strong effect on how we feel, and these effects are amplified when the colors are from lighting rather than just paint and fabric. Red is a particularly powerful color. “Seeing red” is more than an expression. Red is a very aggressive color. A little splash of red can add excitement to the decor, but red lights can be almost dangerous. Flashing red lights can cause seizures in some people, but even red lights that aren’t flashing can still cause feelings of anxiety or aggression. The booths at Angel City Diner are lined with red LED lights, and the overhead lights have orange-ish filters in them, giving the entire place a heave reddish cast (which is why the color is so off in the photos for this post). I was feeling on edge not long after sitting down.
The music didn’t help. While not ear-splitting, the classic rock-and-roll was still being played too loud to comfortably carry on a conversation. One of the first lessons in restaurant management I learned some 40 or so years ago was about how music can be used to manage customers. My first job way back in high school was at a family restaurant and ice cream parlor that sported an 1890s theme. The restaurant had its own soundtrack of innocuous music to fit the theme, featuring things like barbershop quartets, banjo tunes and the like. Volume could be turned up or down, but never too loud. The place also had an old fashioned player piano. Kids could bug their parents for a quarter to turn it on, but what they didn’t know was that there was a switch in the back to turn the thing on without putting any money in it. There was a very good reason for this: if the restaurant was full and there was a queue of people waiting to be seated, the manager would turn on the piano, which was loud, and a little obnoxious. Unable to carry on a conversation, people who were finished eating would quickly ask for the check. It was a simple and effective way to manage turnover, and it’s a lesson many managers never seem to learn. Given how few customers there were in Angel City Diner – at around 7:00 pm on a Saturday night – there wasn’t really a good reason for the music to be so loud.
The menu at Angel City is a very good attempt at a classic diner menu, with a variety of foods from soups and salads to burgers, sandwiches and blue plate specials. For my meal, I decided on the roast turkey blue plate special, since it’s something you don’t usually see in Bangkok outside of the holidays.
The presentation was a little fancy for a diner, but it looked good. It also tasted good. The stuffing ‘sausage’ cakes were really delicious, as was the mashed potatoes. The turkey was also good, although not prepared in any special way. It may have even been a pre-cooked roll. All in, it was a good meal and a nice change from the usual Bangkok fare.
As western food restaurants go, Angel City Diner is certainly competitive. Most main dishes are 200 to 400 Baht. The blue plate specials are on the more expensive end of that range. So, the meal is going to be pricey, but certainly not expensive. The restaurant hours are expanding to eventually be open 24 hours, or close to it. Currently, they’re open before lunch time until very late at night.