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Bangkok's Night Scene In Review



Soi Cowboy Urine-Swoop
- MORE CRACKDOWN BUNGLING

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Bangkok,
01 December 2003
William R. Morledge
 HIGHLIGHT.GIF
Mojo's -The NEW  Blues Bar
Soi 5 Synthesis -Will it make it?
Rumor Of The Month Award
December's Follies in review





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         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'


         In keeping with the MIDNITE HOUR policy of reviewing other expat Night Entertainment areas of interest in Bangkok, this month we are highlighting Sukhumvit's Soi 5. Sukhumvit Soi 5's emergence onto the Night Entertainment Scene has been imperceptibly slow, but recently there have been signs that it may one day reach 'critical mass' and become a stand-alone Night Entertainment Area in it's own right.

         If we were to analyze Soi 5's particulars, it would seem that it has long had all the elements required to 'explode' into a self-sustaining Night Entertainment Area.  It is home to a large hotel, the Amari Boulevard, which would provide a constant source of clientele.  It has long had an international standard supermarket (Foodland), which should have/could have given Soi 5 enough exposure to the expat community in general.  It is directly connected by walking sois going to Soi 3, Soi 3/1 and Soi 7, all of which have large hotels and/or a large expat base.  It also has enough available real estate to make such a Night Entertainment expansion possible.

         Given all this, we are really begging the question, 'Why did Soi 5 NOT become a Night Entertainment Area before now?  The answer can only be surmised, but it is most likely the larger, more developed Night Entertainment Areas in the immediate vicinity had more than adequately filled the 'demand'.  Other areas of note in the adjacent sois are - Soi 4 (Nana Plaza), Soi 3 (the Grace Hotel coffee shop, etc), the Thermae (old and new), and for a while, Clinton Plaza and Sukhumvit Square.

         But whatever the reasons, assumed or real, it looks like Soi 5 is starting to make it's move, as is evidenced in part by the fact that most of the Night Entertainment Venues are of recent vintage, some of them reflecting a very large investment.  See our map here.

         Below is a brief review of Night Entertainment Venues found on Soi 5 -
    On entering Soi 5 from Sukhumvit Road, on the right is an archway over the entrance to the walking soi to Soi 7.  It's neon sign says, "The Tunnel - aka Pussy Passage".  Ignoring the infantile attempt at smutty humor, behind the archway is a respectable bar beer that has grown in popularity over the last months.  Immediately behind the bar beer is a row of karaoke booths.  Karaoke booths are a very "Thai" thing - almost never attracting Farang.  And this writer confesses, he just doesn't get it - what could possibly be the attraction of going into a glass-sided closet and singing?  But then, I never understood the attraction of the thousands of photo-sticker booths flooding Bangkok's malls these last two years, either.  I suspect a serious generational failure to communicate...    Nevertheless, the karaoke booths have survived the year, and are still getting some use.
   Just past the bar beer on the same side of the soi, is the Amari Boulevard Beer Garden.  (Yes, it's part of the hotel.)  Like all open-air beer gardens, it is seasonal - and as Bangkok heads into a three month cool season, the Amari Boulevard Beer Garden remains a popular spot -for locals and Farang alike- to kick back.
    A few paces deeper into the soi, we come to Club Ryu, and as the name suggests, it is oriented to the Japanese trade.
   Just across the street from the Ryu is a Japanese restaurant and the Himawari karaoke bar.  Also Japanese.
    A short distance further into the soi, we come to a Sub-Soi on the right hand side. Inside is a cluster of Night Venues -
  • Moody's Place 2 Restaurant - Bar
  • Sweet Heart Member Club
  • Darlin Club (Japanese)
  • Asuka Club (Japanese)
  •     Gulliver's Tavern.   This is a relatively new venue, the front being an open-air beer garden, while the interior, a large structure, is the actual 'tavern'.  Already a popular item on the soi, this multi-million baht venture looks set to be a Night Entertainment meeting point.  The 'Tavern' has 'opened up' the relatively unexplored 'deep end' of the soi, and has set the standard and shown the potential for entertainment development in the soi in general.
        Saddle Club.   An indoor-outdoor sports bar just this side of the through-soi to Soi 3.  This is another quality venue - someone put a lot of money into renovations.  If Soi 5 'takes off' the Saddle Club will be glad they got in while the getting was good.
        The Fifth Karaoke.   This is actually part of the Grace Hotel, but located on the Soi 5 end of that property.
        Scattered along Soi 5 are several other Massage Parlors of varying degrees of ambiguity.  These will be covered in more detail at such time as the soi reaches a 'stand-alone' critical mass.

             Although this review of Soi 5 is of more interest to the history buff, it does provide an interesting point-in-time 'snapshot', and will hopefully provide an additional awareness of the entertainment venues within.  In practical terms, however, Soi 5 is probably at least 2 years away from developing into an independent 'focal point' for Night Entertainment,

            To view the map of Soi 5 click here.  The map also shows Sukhumvit's Soi 7 and Soi 7/1.




    "Rumor Of The Month" Award
    'Where There's Smoke, There's Mirrors' Department

          "Rumors - conspiracy theories about less than 3 people..."    Nevertheless MIDNITE HOUR again presents the most outrageous / prevalent rumor to cross our desks this past month:

           "Bernard Trink, chronicler of Bangkok's Night Scene for the last 37 years, is to be terminated from his employment at the Bangkok Post effective 14 November 2003. "

    MIDNITE HOUR includes as part of our Rumor Of The Month an ongoing evaluation as to the accuracy of said rumors since the inception of the award.

    As of 01 December 2003, the Rumor Accuracy Quotient remains at -



    December's Follies
    begin here

          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 :

       PATPONG II  
               The "Thai Traditional Massage" on the 4th floor, Cosmo's stairwell, has reopened.  They live in darkness; if you don't walk down the unlit passageway and push on the door, you won't know it is actually unlocked.  In that they can be accessed directly by an overhead footbridge from the Foodland carpark, one suspects most of their custom slinks in by this means...   PATPONG II  

               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  


       NANA PLAZA  
               The mega-bar Carousel has completed its one-month renovations, and its door-shills are hustling potential imbibers through the curtained doors like there's no tomorrow.  The prime agendum remains A-Go-Go.  Welcome back to the dogfight.     NANA PLAZA  

               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  


       COWBOY ANNEX  
    For the first few months after the original July 2003 announcement that Cowboy Annex would close, the owner was letting attrition take its course; when a venue's lease expired, he would not renew.  The owner then commenced with the demolition of the empty bars; leaving the ones with valid leases to continue operating.  The final day was to be 30 December.  But he found himself ahead of his own headlights when Municipal Electricity cut the power to the compound, causing him to have to bring a generator in to service the remaining bars.  But more recently, he discovered that the paperwork for construction of the new structure on those lands was behind schedule, so he has instead been trying to cut his losses- he has allowed the bars whose leases were up before 30 December to stay on. City power was restored by the owner's initiative only this November, and the remaining lease holders are now no longer sure of when the 'last day' might be.  Nevertheless, all are certain they will be long-gone before the opening of the adjacent Subway station at the end of 2004.

                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  


       SOI  DEAD  ARTISTS  (Soi 33)  
                At the rear of 33 Complex, the Anego has completed renovations (again) and looks poised to reopen.  Look for it to throw it's doors open to the (Japanese) public before New Year's - as a restaurant-lounge.     SOI DEAD ARTISTS  

                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  


       WASHINGTON  SQUARE  
                The Alpine Steak House is battened down like a lifeboat on the Titanic.  Closed after only one month, perhaps they should have built that lounge bar within after all.  Better luck next time 'round.     WASHINGTON SQ  

       SOI  KATOEY  
                Last month they were "Roxy", but with a brand-new sign, they have displayed their full name at last: Roxy Bar & Club.  It looks like business is starting to pick up - one wonders whether it has anything to do with the outdoor boy-serbs changing their bleach-blond Kewpie-Doll hair styles for androgynous white see-thru Ghandi-pyjamas.  Hey, it could have been worse; they could have been wearing pink leather hotpants and sailor caps...     SOI KATOEY  

       " 13  NIGHT  MARKET "  
                The Red Dragon, after successfully devouring the remains of Walker's Bar Pub & Pool only last month, has gobbled up the next shop in front of that, making it an even bigger fish in that relatively small pond.  The new renovations are very respectable.  Keep on keeping on.     "13 NIGHT MARKET"  

       " TOBACCO  ROAD "  
                Sorry to hear that the Species Bar has stuffed its last chit into the plastic cup - the steel roller-shutter having been pulled down and padlocked to the concrete deck for the final time.    It was a simple case of - if you don't pay your rent for several months, the owner (current property lease-holder) will throw you out on your backside.  But what goes around, comes around.  The current lease holder hasn't been paying his rent to the owners either (Soi Zero rests on Government land, belonging to the Expressway  and  the National Railroad.)  Current gossip has it that the Government will be throwing the present deadbeat lease-holder out on expiry of his lease this New Year's Day.  At which time, they will renegotiate the leases with the current bar owners.  And if we can believe all we have heard up to now, the rents will drop from the current 25,000 baht/month to about 5,000 baht.  If all the above is true (emphasis on the IF ), the remaining empty bars will most likely fill up quickly, what with the Cowboy Annex poised for extinction.     TOBACCO RD  (Soi 0)  

       The No-News-Is Good-News Dept. 
                   QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA   
                   SOI COWBOY   
                   PATPONG 1   
           
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