I must have seen it a hundred times, the sign as I drove down Thappraya Road, the transition from Jomtien to the central Pattaya city in Thailand. Each time, their sign appealed to my (wanna be) artistic side, and I vowed to come back sometime soon: the Sketchbook Artists Café.
But each time, I would whizz right by on the back of a motor scooter taxi, as there were other bigger, better, places to go and see. And the strip of busy main thoroughfare the café is located on doesn’t exactly lend itself to making a sudden stop (unless you want to get flattened by a mega bus full of Chinese tourists). But I envisioned it full of sophisticated and learned people from all over the world, reading books on deep topics while sipping coffee and, of course, brushing their latest amateur masterpiece in watercolors. Perhaps they were wearing berets? I’m not sure, but I thought that the Sketchbook Café MUST be something special in a city pumped up on steroids for fun but sorely lacking for culture.
I was wrong.
I finally did get to stop into the Sketchbook Café, as my buddy wanted to hit there for a coffee just to show me and, as all of my friends know by now, give me the next topic up for my daily reviews here. Once we arrived, he toured me around the front outdoor seating area of the café almost apologetically, as he understands what I quickly gleaned – that the establishment was based on a fantastic concept, but poorly executed and completely mismanaged.
In fact, after my first fifteen minutes in the café, in which time I looked around, we got the menus and ordered, my out loud opinions was, “This place needs to be on Restaurant Impossible” and then “How are they still in business?” That’s never a good sign when you’re trying out a new joint.
Ok, so the rundown: the outside is supposed to be a funky and eclectic sitting area among nature, with little pockets of gardens, swings, flowers, and shrubs, and one seating area you access by a little ladder. All cute and well-intentioned, right? But it’s all miskept, overgrown, and even ratty looking, to the point where I wasn’t sure if the fading wood and chipped paint was by design as a distressed look or just actual distress.
Inside, the space has potential, with absurdly high ceilings and plenty of seating areas like reading nooks. But it was sporadic, mixed in with bookshelves and a few stations with smocks and paints, but not laid out in any organized way to express a universal theme. There were plenty of paintings around on the walls, ostensibly done by the patrons there, and while I’m not judging the quality of the art, of course, they weren’t properly presented, crowded on one or two walls but left off the others.
The Thai lady working wasn’t too interested in helping us with a friendly smile, and there were three other young Thais in there that I couldn’t figure out if they were employees or patrons. The menu was titanic, like a thick textbook (never a good sign) and the prices were pretty damn outrageous.
I just got a cappuccino (good enough) and the apple crumble with ice cream at my buddy’s suggestion (pretty good), but the whole time, I was going through the motion and waiting for the bill (and they added a hefty service charge automatically) until I could escape. Skip the Sketchbook Café and find your cultural fix elsewhere!
Other things you can do around here: