Fairy Tale of Bangkok

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Cedric Arnold

Ashley Sutton is covered in tattoos, swears like a sailor and was once an iron-ore miner. He also believes in fairies. That belief has taken him on a journey from his native Freemantle, Western Australia, via China to Thailand. There, he's become a leading light of Bangkok's chic Thonglor district, thanks to his Iron Fairies Wine Bar and Restaurant, tel: (66) (0)84 520 2301.

The venue takes its look and name from a series of popular children's books Sutton published between 2006 and '09. The titular fairies are on display everywhere. A live jazz band positions itself around a wrought-iron spiral stairway to nowhere in particular. Hand-tooled leather-bound books recount arcane fairy legends. In the bathroom, candles bob in an exquisite beaten-copper and wrought-iron bathtub. Patrons sip absinthe and wolf down the kind of hearty hamburgers found in Australian diners.

Sutton, 37, says that working as a miner in his youth gave his imagination a kick start. "You'd be underground for so long, you'd just about lose your mind," he says. He took up drawing as a hobby and chose as his subject something as far removed as possible from the tough life of a miner. "I started thinking about fairies," he says. "Then I started doing some sketches.''

Sutton eventually moved to China, and made his fortune manufacturing iron boot scrapers as accessories for designer Australian porches. When his sales manager chanced upon some old fairy sketches, he urged Sutton to turn them into a book. Some months later, the first of three beautifully hardbound volumes of Iron Fairies was born. The books tell the story of some unlucky miners who, instead of gold, strike iron ore and set about making fairies with their haul, leading to all sorts of mischief and mayhem. Over 200,000 copies have been sold in four languages.

Sutton next developed a line of beauty products based on his fairy characters. He also began casting minifairy sculptures at a foundry in Dalian in China's northeastern Liaoning province. They are sold in retail outlets across the U.S. and Australia and now in his Bangkok premises.

On the back of Iron Fairies' success, Sutton has opened two more Thonglor hot spots. Fat Gutz, tel: (66-2) 2714 9832, is a "fish-and-chips saloon for sexy people," and Clouds, tel: (66-2) 2185 2365, a minimalist bar of glass and steel built around a venerable banyan tree. He is also creating a black-magic-themed bar in the same area. For a man who's spent much of his life away with the fairies, Sutton hasn't done too badly at all.