Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
01 December 2003
William R. Morledge
Mojo's -The NEW Blues Bar
Soi 5 Synthesis -Will it make it?
Rumor Of The Month Award
December's Follies in review
At midnight on 21 November, Bangkok's Finest trundled two mobile medical laboratories down Sukhumvit Road, and swung into the adjacent Soi Cowboy Night Entertainment Area. They were followed by a task-force of between 100 and 150 uniformed and plain-clothed police, some of whom were from Bangkok's Tourist Police. Headed by a "senior police officer", the primary objective of this lightning swoop on Soi Cowboy was to test the urine of each and every Night Entertainment worker for traces of 'illegal drugs'. (Read: yaa maa or yaa baa - otherwise known as amphetamines.)
The search was nothing if not thorough; both ends of the soi were cordoned off, allowing only screened individuals to pass. Each of Soi Cowboy's 3 and 4 storey shop houses was searched from the attic on down, to insure none of the employees of the Night Entertainment Venues was hiding in an upstairs storeroom or hong nam. Bed checks were made on those few bars that have sleeping quarters on premises for staff who live on campus. Those interviewed indicated no stone was left unturned.
One of the lesser objectives of the crackdown search was, understandably, a check on each employee's National ID card, (baht prachachon). Current interpretation of the existing code is that all Night Entertainment workers be 20 years of age or older. Each employee's personal effects were also searched for drugs at this time.
The urinalysis itself was conducted by latex-gloved technicians in the two mobile labs parked at strategic locations within the soi. The test itself is performed by mixing a chemical with the urine; the mixture will turn a bright purple color in the presence of an amphetamine and/or it's metabolites.
Various eyewitness sources claimed different numbers of girls were detained by police as a result of failing the chemical urinalysis test. However the consensus was that approximately eleven employees were initially arrested. This writer encountered more than one amusing anecdotal episode where girls, due to anxiety and fear, found themselves unable to urinate on command. Bangkok's Finest had them wait until they could contribute adequately.
And here is the kicker - all eleven girls were released from custody while still being detained at Soi Cowboy - none was formally arrested, and none was taken away to a police detention cell, and perhaps most remarkably of all, none had to pay the arresting officers for his/her freedom. 'Why?' -you might ask. Why, indeed. Well, it seems that certain 'cold medicines', diet pills, and select other antibiotics also give a 'positive' purple test result.
If you are like me, this most remarkable last-minute disclosure gives pause for thought. A lot of thought. Are we to assume that someone from the laboratory at Police Headquarters came rushing down to the scene of this midnight drug-swoop with the breaking news that they just discovered several other drugs that give false-positives? Oh, I don't think so. This leaves only one conclusion - that they knew about the faulty testing procedure prior to midnight of the 21st.
And this, of course, begs the question; - Why then, did they proceed with the high-profile blitz in the first place? Was it just a roust - one that would instill the fear of authority? Not likely, in that a high ranking police officer would not have been needed for such a ploy. Was it meant to give face to the Government's war on drugs, while simultaneously highlighting its equally phrenetic crackdown on the newly perceived evils of 'Night Entertainment'? This is also highly unlikely, as the raid was only cursorily covered in the vernacular Press - not even obliquely mentioned in either the Bangkok Post or The Nation This leaves the only remaining conclusion, that it was yet another embarrassing SNAFU, a grand screw-up, which, incidentally, if publicized, would only go toward proving that Bangkok's Night Entertainment Areas in are in fact virtually drug-free.
Surprisingly, Farang patrons in Soi Cowboy were not subjected to urinalysis, as had been reported in past police swoops at other venues. However, initially, they were stopped at the top and foot of the soi and grilled as to whether they were carrying their passports as identification. Those not carrying passports were lectured and released on the spot. As the investigation wore on, the police seemed less interested in continuing with this line of harassment. One irate foreigner was overheard to say he would carry his passport as ID when the Immigration Police or Immigration Officials told him he had to, and that since no one told him to do so at the airport on the way in, it must not be a requirement. While we see little wisdom, and even less to be gained in getting cranked-off at the local constabulary in public, we like his style.
Curiously glaring by its omission, the immediately adjacent Cowboy Annex (Asoke Corner+Asoke Plaza) which has more Night Entertainment Venues than does Soi Cowboy, was left entirely out of the drug-bust fun and games. (History buffs will note that at the time of the raid, Soi Cowboy had 35 Night Entertainment Venues, while Cowboy Annex was comprised of 37 Pool Bars, bar beers, specialty bars and bar-restaurants.)
When, once we see that the New Social Order bunch are commencing midnight shock-raids on, say, the Oriental Hotel and performing mandatory drug testing on all the staff therein, we will know that these highly questionable raids are not just part of another Night Entertainment vendetta, another misguided attempt to "uphold appearances" and to nurture the Government's xenophobic perceptions of what Thailand should be.
The Soi 5 synthesis
- Approaching 'Critical Mass'
MIDNITE HOUR presents the NEWS on the Bangkok Night Scene; - the 'history-in-the-making' for all major Night Entertainment Areas - for the month ending 1 DECEMBER, 2003 :
It appears that the Bar-sign Gestapos are once again cracking down on Night Entertainment Venues for not displaying their real (registered) names. For the last two months, Bobby's new place had been running under the banner Balls Joint Bar & Grill. While the Pool Bar is still in operation, the sign has been unceremoniously removed, giving the appearance that it is now part of his Marco Polo. Shake it, don't break it.... • PATPONG II •
Also falling victim to the Bar-sign Gestapos this last month was the upstairs The Pink Panther. Adding insult to injury, they were also required to tear down their brand-new neon Pink Panther cartoon logo. This is deja-vu all over again for them. History buffs will remember that an identical crackdown ensued in January of 1997. Up until that first crackdown, both upstairs and downstairs were called The Pink Panther. After that, the downstairs portion became the Bar & Pub The Pink, and the upstairs became The Pink Piano Bar & Lounge. As recently as October 2002, the upstairs management decided that the authorities were in deep hibernation, and invested heavily in new signage, restoring it to it's original "Pink Panther" glory. Alas, this glory is no more; a roughly cobbled 'fix' to their current sign now reads; "The Pink LA PantherA" - La Panthera being its legally registered name. We should not be surprised if the Bar-sign Gestapos are less than mollified by this shoddy paint-over. • PATPONG II •
Renovations completed on schedule, the Trade Winds has reopened, and is looking good - if somewhat smaller. They have dropped the "Pub" from the new sign, but -rest assured- no change in the pleasing atmosphere. We welcome them back to the sharkpool. • PATPONG II •
Likewise, the Star of Light has reopened after their flurry of renovations, which, after a visit from the Authorities, included the dismantling of their 'back room'. This has satisfied the Authorities, in that it gives the 'appearance' of no longer being a 'specialty bar'. However long-term customers advise that the modus operandi is unchanged, if slightly more public. Indeed. • PATPONG II •
The Lollipop and the Voodoo are playing 'switchem'. Before, the Lollipop had a Pool Bar out front, while the Voodoo had a bar beer. By New Year's, all that will be reversed. Both being Crown Group bars, one wonders how this heavy outlay of investment can possibly affect their bottom line. The interiors of both venues continue to rock on, with high boots and chromed poles. • NANA PLAZA •
Long time sign-less. the Siam Smile has a brand new sign and a name change - sort of. The new sign is a little bit difficult to read in context, but perhaps the best way to read it is; Scandinavian Siam Smile Bar. Or perhaps it is meant to be read Siam Smile Scandinavian Bar. Names aside, the bar beer continues to party. • COWBOY ANNEX •
The Richiy Bar Pool has tarped its sole pool table and doused the lights. With the adjoining space on the Soi 23 side is now being demolished, these may have been its last days. It's better half, the Richiy Bar bar beer, however, continues to cook. • COWBOY ANNEX •
The building just past 33 Complex is nearing construction completion. It is comprised of 7 large shophouses, and they have let the word out that they would be amenable to letting the premises out for lounges and/or bars of the type already in operation on the soi.. By all appearances, we should see physical completion around New Year's. • SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
Within the confines of the Peep Inn Complex the old Yokohama Japanese Club's renovations are nearly complete. If we may infer anything at all from the two Japanese gentlemen who were scouring the premises inside and out, and discussing things in animated tones and gestures, it will likely be another Japanese club. It also looks set to open by January 2004. • SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
In Sub-Soi 3, just past the Wall Street Bar, the Mondrian has sold out to an Australian gentleman, who has modified the facility generously and reopened it as the Lookie-Lookie Gallery Bar. It currently sports both signs, however the Mondrian sign will be removed soon, they say. By "Gallery Bar" they mean 'lounge-with-pool-table'. Long life in these interesting times. • SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
The Bar Za Bar / Shoku Sai has completed renovations, and is once again open for business. Wish them luck, as they throw their hat back in the ring. • SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
Mojo's Bar & Restaurant have officially hung out their neon shingle. After a closed-door dinner and orientation on Thanksgiving day, they had a soft opening on the 29th of November. But why a soft opening? They are waiting for the 'live music license' which should be through the red tape some time in mid-December. Mojo's has a main floor and a mezzanine. Food, drink and live blues are to be it's bread and butter - they don't plan to have hostesses. Visiting by chance on the 29th, I was given the Cook's tour - literally. The kitchen's main feature is Big Bertha, which consumes apple wood chips from Chieng Mai and produces the best smoked ribs since Mitch & Nam's on Soi 16 in the 1970's. There's just something about the blues and ribs... The management group have a history, with fingers going back to Check In 99 on Sukhumvit, Tequila Reef in Pattaya, and the Tivoli Bar & Grill in the now defunct Clinton Plaza. May they prosper at the feet of the night-Gods. • SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
• SOI COWBOY •
• PATPONG 1 •
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