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'Pool Bars' come of age

Bangkok, 01 November 2002
William R.  Morledge


     In the 1950's things were simpler.   A Night Entertainment Venue was almost always a Lounge or a Bar.
            By the 1960's, there were more variations on the theme.   The most notable was the "A Go-Go Bar" and its myriad of spelling variations; 'Agogo', 'A-Gogo', 'Gogo', and 'Go Go'.   The '60's also saw the beginning of the popularization of the 'Pub'.  And although the English and Australians among us at the time were often in a state of anguish at the liberties taken with the name, at least those venues calling themselves 'Pubs' had some similarities, even if only a darts corner.
            The 1970's saw more innovations in venue types; there were the 'Bar Beers', or 'Beer-Bars', and the 'Bier Gartens', or 'Beer Gardens'.   This era introduced the 'After Hours' places, which were half coffee shop - ala the Thermae Coffee Shop, and half 'Disco'.    Today, 'After-Hours' venues are almost non-existent, due to the ongoing belief by the Powers-That-Be that the besmirching of Thailand's pristine temple-oriented society can only take place after 2 a.m. in the morining.   Nevertheless, the "Discotheque" or 'Disco' which was generally popular world-wide in the 1960's, got its start as a venue type here in Bangkok in the 1970's.
            Other seemingly unrelated developments in the entertainment industry were also taking place.   The local Snooker Halls started taking off in the 1980's; getting their biggest boost when Thailand's own Wattana became a snooker champion of international stature.   Nevertheless, at that juncture, the game was mostly snooker, not 'pool', and mostly played by the Thais.   But all that was about to change.
            By the 1990's some of the 'Pubs' that had the space were including pool tables as part of the entertainment package.  The choice of 'pool' over snooker was primarily one of space; there was a readily available supply of mini-pool tables, or those that were at least smaller than 'regulation', and all were smaller than the 'pocket billiard" table used in snooker.   At the same time, the occasional Bar Beer, and even a one-off Beer Garden would add a pool table to the available options.   Lounges, space available, were often doing the same thing.
            Virtually all the Night Entertainment Venue owners that had installed pool tables were saying the same thing: "A couple of pool tables pays the rent."  At 30 baht to 50 baht per game, it hardly seems intuitive, but they say they average a little more than 4 games per hour per table, and the tables are usually busy from 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening to at least midnight.   That works out to give-or-take 1,800 baht a night if both tables stay busy.   Those two tables would bring a bar over 50,000 baht a month; very likely covering the rent.
            The 1990's also saw some other innovations; one that seems to be holding on is the "Sports Bar", but more and more, these "Sports Bars" which really only specialize in watching the cable sports channels on multiple T.V.s, are incorporating a pool table, or two....
            But it wasn't until the new Millennium that the Pool Bar came into its own.   By a process slower than osmosis, Night Entertainment Venue owners eventually realized that the pool table could be considered central.  The T.V.s, the hostesses, the free-lancers, and even the bar itself, were in fact the secondary items, at least from a financial stability standpoint.
            A typical example of evolution to a Pool Bar can be seen in front of the Ambassador Hotel, between Sukhumvit Sois 11 & 13.    It started out to be Bob's Big Boy, a popular 'Stateside burger restaurant.   While the food wasn't bad, they never did reproduce the original quality hamburgers of their founders.   They tried a sort-of hybrid division of space, where some of it remained 'restaurant' and some of it became a Bar Beer.    The restaurant soon disappeared, leaving the open fronted Bar Beer.    Pool tables were added.    The popularity grew, and they got the message.   They closed down for a brief period for renovations and opened as Big Blue, a full-fledged Pool Bar.    The rest, as they say, is 'History'.   Just this last October, a carbon copy, the Factory opened up between Sois 5 & 7.    It sports the identical blue lighting and has 2 floors of pool tables.  It was an instant success; the place has been full since opening night.  
            It appears that the Pool Bar as a Night Entertainment Venue designation has snuck up on us, and it looks like its here to stay.

       


October 2002 Bangkok Night Scene Review

Midnite Hour's monthly History-In-The-Making

       As predicted on the street last month, the recently renamed New Queen's Castle    PATPONG I   has changed names yet again.  As of October, it is officially Show Girls.  No change in format; it is still in the King's Group family of bars.

       The La Costa Massage & Bath    PATPONG II   was buttoned down tight on the last Saturday night in October.  Let's wait to see if this is a permanent closure.  

       Bua Luang Karaoke    PATPONG II   only recently opened its 4th floor extension, but at last look, it is now sporting a new, hand-drawn sign which reads (in Thai) "P.P.  Best Co.".   Not really a closure, as the Bua Luang Karaoke is still running hot on the 3rd and 5th floors (across the street from Foodland ).

      The two lounges in Patpong II we noted as under construction in September were completed by the end of October.   One is tentatively called, Wun Pub, and the other is yet unnamed.   Both are located next door to the now-renovating Thai Room.

       An interesting twist in the "name game" is now taking place in Patpong II.   In January 1997 the authorities caused several Night Entertainment Venues in Bangkok to cease and desist in using internationally copyrighted names.   Two venues in Patpong II were affected.   The first was the Playboy Topless Topless Topless and the other was the more famous Pink Panther.   The Playboy Topless Topless Topless came upon a simple solution; they changed their sign to read just, Topless Topless Topless, a name they used for succeeding years.
        The Pink Panther, however, made not one, but two name changes.   The upstairs portion was renamed The Pink Piano Bar & Lounge, while the downstairs was renamed Bar & Pub The Pink.   These changes, it seemed, satisfied the authorities, even though the newly renamed Bar & Pub The Pink kept the original Pink Panther logo and a small roll-away sign that still read "The Pink Panther".   So contrary to popular perceptions, Bangkok, technically, hasn't had a "Pink Panther" for the last 5 years.  
        However, nothing, not even a Bangkok copyright crackdown, lasts for ever (ahennnh...).   At end of October, the upstairs portion, The Pink Piano Bar & Lounge, changed its name back to the Pink Panther, complete with a brand-new sign and the trademarked logo shining brightly out on Suriwong Road.    They have either just recently obtained the right to use the name legally, or they have taken a calculated risk that they will be able to attract enough additional trade for both upstairs and downstairs before they are "caught" again by the authorities.   Which ever way this is unfolding, welcome back, Pink Panther    PATPONG II  .

      Clinton Plaza, once a Night Entertainment Area in its own right, is but a shadow of its former incarnation.   Withered to well below the 'critical mass' criterion, it cannot any longer be considered to be a draw on its own.   Nevertheless, the street-side venues continue to draw a good custom; --the Living Room lounge, Monica's bar beer and Bill's Coffee Shop bar beer are cooking along - business as usual.   Even the You & Me bar beer made a tentative attempt to reopen this October.    It should also be noted that, at least in the eyes of the courts, these hangers-on could continue to operate until June 2005.    However, smart money says the Sofitel group will buy them out long before then, no matter what the price...   Wait and see.  

      The Turtle Bar    TOBACCO RD   closed this October, its roller shutters down and padlocked.   This is a continuing and very unhealthy trend for "Soi Zero".  With the exception of the larger places near the main road, it looks like most of the bar beers are just barely keeping their collective head above water.   Let's hope the current cool season breathes some life back into this Night Entertainment Area.

      The Sukhumvit Square 'explosion' has slowed to a more sustainable pace, nevertheless, there was a substantial amount of activity there in the month of October:-
          The California Bar, a bar beer in the Happy Today 8-Pak   SUKHUMVIT SQ   has reopened in the same location.   Welcome back.  
          Speto    SUKHUMVIT SQ   has also reopened after a 6-month hiatus.   Bigger and better than ever, it is now on the other side of the compound.  
          The Winner    SUKHUMVIT SQ   opened in October.   Bar beer is the format.   Welcome aboard.
          The Remember Pub    SUKHUMVIT SQ   has opened its doors in the central area of the Square.  Welcome, and best of luck.
          Likewise, the Calaluna Pool & Pub    SUKHUMVIT SQ   has just opened its doors at the end of October.   Pool Bar is the format, it is located at the rear, center of the compound.  
          The Greenhouse Bar & Massage    SUKHUMVIT SQ   looks about 99 percent ready to open.  Look forward to seeing them join the fray in November.
          The Rushour    SUKHUMVIT SQ  is closed for renovations and expansion.   It is the bar beer at the western-most corner, facing Sukhumvit Rd.   Look for it to be in full swing by the end of November.
          Noteable for their LACK of activity however, were the new bar beers under construction in the central 77 Sunset area    SUKHUMVIT SQ   and the A Go-Go bars that were to have been completed by the end of October.   They wouldn't want to delay much longer; the tourist season is already upon us.  

      The Las Vegas and the Wet Lips Bar    SOI COWBOY   are undergoing a massive overhaul which will end in their combination into the Soi's next 2-shophouse-wide Night Entertainment Venue.   It doesn't look like it will be finished until at least mid-December.

      Nice Bar    SOI COWBOY   has closed its doors; - probably from a lack of business - the katoeys that hung around outside touting the place were often more than a little abrasive.

      This last October, the My Lady Bar    SOI COWBOY   changed format from A Go-Go to a Pool Bar.

      One of four seminal bar beers in Cowboy Annex, the Siam Smile Bar, appears to have closed.   As everything is still intact, and not shuttered down, let's wait and see whether it's a permanent closure or not.   Will keep you informed.

      The Princess Bar   COWBOY ANNEX   has reopened; business as usual.  Pool Bar is the format.  

      The Isisdur   COWBOY ANNEX   has reopened in the 4-Pak.  Welcome back.

      The Oasis II in the 8-Pak    COWBOY ANNEX   has closed again.  Its sister, Oasis I, next bar over, appeared open, but without customers (!?)

      The Request    COWBOY ANNEX  , a single shophouse bar beer, has closed; roller-shutters down and locked.

      Ban Rim Chong   COWBOY ANNEX   has changed from a Thai restaurant to a bar beer.   Wish it the best of luck.

      Vixens / Rock Hard   NANA PLAZA  , a second floor A Go-Go bar, has called it an evening - doors locked, lights out.  Rock Hard's fortunes, at least in Bangkok, seem to continue to dwindle.

      By the end of October, the sign, Temptations had appeared above the still-renovating 2nd floor bar that was previously the Spider's Web     NANA PLAZA  .   Look for it to open in November.

      The Wine Gallery in the Peep Inn    SOI DEAD ARTISTS  looks to be moving downstairs to much improved digs.  Looks like their daytime business has been good to them.  

      The long-awaited opening of The Maxx    QUEENS PARK PLAZA   has come to pass.   Sport Bar is the format, with a super large projection screen and plenty of air conditioning.  This is the reincarnation of one of 2 seminal bars, the Ngan Hang, which preceeded even the construction of the Square as it is known today.   Best of luck.  

      As noted last month, the new incarnation of the original No ! Bra   QUEENS PARK PLAZA   has now been completed, to include the absorbing of the Why Not, and is back in full swing.  

 Datzit Fernow.

2002, Bangkok Eyes / bangkokeyes.com

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