Bangkok's Night Scene in review
PLUS - December's Night Follies
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Bangkok, 01 January 2003
William R. Morledge
MIDNITE HOUR presents the Bangkok Night Scene
'history-in-the-making' for the month ending 31 December, 2000 :
• SOI COWBOY •In the last days of December Soi Cowboy was 'raided' by Bangkok's Finest - the month-old rumors of an impending raid (somewhere in the City of Angels) had become a reality. The thrust of the police crack-down was ostensibly to see if any Night Entertainment Venues were employing staff under 20 years of age, and to see that they were operating under their licensed names. They found some of both types of violations.
The December Crack-down
Sounding like deja-vu all over again, MIDNITE HOUR decided to check the archives on when Bangkok's Night Entertainment Areas had been raided in the past.
Going back to late December, 1996, a crack-down in the Surawong - Patpong II area caught two of Patpong II's long-standing venues by surprise. The Pink Panther was not only using the copyrighted name but the logo as well. They were able to open for business once they changed their name to Bar & Pub The Pink. They kept the logo almost intact, changing its name to "Pantera". Likewise, the Playboy Topless bar was 'hit', and they quickly dropped the Playboy part of their sign, becoming the Topless.
Again, in late December 1998, authorities swept Patpongs I & II. Once again, playing the name game; all those not using their registered names were told to get the proper signs up or close. Some of the names being dragged out of the closet and dusted off were familiar from times past, others were entirely unfamiliar - those bars had never used their real names. Who among us knew the Kiss was really the Dear Nat, or that Gold Finger's was really Erotica? Or that SuperStar was really PP Super?
Not one to believe in coincidences, December seems like the best month for bar and lounge owners to get their houses in order. As MIDNITE HOUR covers the individual changes for Soi Cowboy this last month, we will attempt to report just the observable, and leave speculation to others.
The Long Gun, whose sign has read, Long Gun - Lucky Star since it opened (you had to read the fine print), has changed its name back to the original (pre-July 1994) Lucky Star. It was invited to close for two weeks, and reopened just in time for the New Year's Eve celebrations. Welcome back.
Its sister-in-arms next door, the Raw Hide was also carrying a second sign reading Long Gun II. That sign has disappeared, and they also were asked to close their doors for two weeks. They have also reopened in time to celebrate the New Year.
The Toy Bar was closed for two weeks. No indication of a name change, however. Likewise, they are back in action for 2003.
Joy's was also locked up tight during the two-week December crack-down, however they have not reopened. Coincidentally, it looks like a truck backed into their sign (!?) We will let you know if and when they reopen..
The Shadow Bar was not asked to close down, however it immediately removed its sign. The new sign, Cocktail Club, was up and shining brightly before the New Year.
The After Skool bar was closed down for two weeks, and now also sports a brand new Sunshine sign. The Sunshine name however, is not new; it was originally one of the "Soi 16" bars in the mid-70's (actually it closer to Soi 14). Moving to Soi Cowboy when Sukhumvit widened, it later became the Sunshine Dee Ja. It has gone through a few names (and owners) over the years, starting with "Bumble Bee" in July of 1994, Welcome back on the block.
The Apache was closed for two weeks, however no indication that a name change is in the offing. By New Year's Eve they were back to rocking and rolling.
Likewise, the Five Star was asked to take a fortnight break; a sign in front redirecting all willing traffic to the Five Star II, a couple of doors down. Seeing two bars with the same name, one suspected that at least one of them would undergo a name change, but, no, they are both back in action for the New Year.
Not all was bad news on Soi Cowboy, however. The Shark squeaked by just in time with a couple of new, very large signs reading (in Thai) The New A-Go-Go Duck, the name of its 'predecessor'. It has kept its pink neon Shark, however, so it will be easy to spot.
Tony's, which had been closed for a few months -and had a 'for sale' sign up- is back open, again as Tony's. Welcome back to the fray.
As planned, the Cowboy II reopened in December, and business looks brisk. Some of you will remember that the old Cowboy II (Pizzeria) became the Wet Lips in May of '99... Welcome back; the new digs are an improvement.
• SOI COWBOY •
• COWBOY ANNEX •The Siam Smile bar has reopened after a 2-month hiatus. Although you swear you never closed, welcome back, anyway.
Welcome to the Funny Bar, which has opened in the old Luc's Bar location. They have promised that a new sign would be up for the world to see by the end of January. Bar beer is the format. Wish them luck as they toss their hat in the ring.
The '527' bar has been taken over by the Titano people. It is now called Titano Asoke Bar. This is Titano's 3rd bar to carry its name, the other two are at Sukhumvit Square. Welcome to the Annex .
In the 8-Pak, the Oasis 1 has changed names again. This incarnation is the Unit Bar, or will be, once it gets its sign put up. Bar beer is the format, as are all the bars in the 8-Pak . Welcome to the toil.
The Fantasy Thailand bar beer in the 4-Pak has called it an evening - Christmas lights unplugged, barstools upturned on the bar. --A forlorn magic-marker 'For Sale' sign tells the tale.
• COWBOY ANNEX •
• PATPONG I •The recently reopened Lipstick has closed. Judging from the many complaints of its recent customers, no love lost. It had turned into a pay-for-show bar - and all that implies.
The Fire Cat, which revolutionized the "upstairs bar" concept in the '80s has reverted to its original Wild Cat appellation of 15 years ago. Some of you may remember during the crack-down of December '99 that it had briefly reverted to its old name until the heat was off, then switched back to the more familiar Fire Cat tag. With the severity of recent crack-downs, we might likely expect the Wild Cat moniker to be with us for a long time to come.
• PATPONG I •
• PATPONG II •On The Ramp, the sudden closure of the Three Ladys Cocktail Lounge took long-time residents and return visitors by surprise. But what was even more surprising was its replacement;- the Side Line A-Go-Go seemed to rise immediately from the ashes. It is a pay-for-show bar, with a cover charge of Baht 300, which includes the first drink. One patron, who wisely asked the price of the drinks before sitting down, was followed back outside by touts and further verbally harassed. An unseemly location and the seamier side of pay-for-show bars doesn't bode well for its future.
Also on The Ramp, the Dome Juniority Club, closed last month, has reopened this December. Hope they enjoyed their holiday.
One of the long-standing denizens on The Ramp, Royal Salute appears to have made its mind up to stay open.
The new, unnamed lounge next to the Thai Room is still playing at being "open". Unless and until the customers can expect it to be open the next time they drop around, there is not much likelihood of building a customer base....
Bua Luang has karaoke venues on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors above Cosmos Club. It has recently renamed its 4th floor place Baan Bua Luang Cafe, but the format is still "plaeng chiwit". (Mostly Thai clientele.)
• PATPONG II •
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •The Divas bar beer resides in abiding darkness, having pulled its roller shutters down and padlocked them securely.
Likewise, its next door neighbor, the OB-1 Bar bar beer has lights out - barstools stored off-campus.
Next door again is the One More Bar bar beer. It too, has seemed to have winked out of existence.
The Maxx, which showed such promise as the Plaza's first big-screen sports bar has called it an evening - windblown leaves decorate its abandoned doorstep.
The Lee Lee Bar has replaced the Laguna Restaurant. Bar beer remains the format. Welcome to the melee.
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •Washington Square will often go for months without any bars closing or opening, so it was a little surprising to see that, this last December, the long-established Crystal Bar lounge had windows and doors battened sill-to-sash.
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •
• CLINTON PLAZA •The gangrene of attrition continues to consume the last of the Clinton Plaza bars. December saw three bar beers go belly-up, leaving only those Night Venues facing Sukhumvit Rd still standing.
The Top Down Grill has disappeared from the rear of Bill's Coffee Shop. Along with it went a good recipe for American-style pizza.
The bar beer You & Me has also finally called it an evening. They are now swallowed up in the "Danger - Restricted Area" of the Plaza.
The Happy Prosper has similarly winked out, having seen happier and more prosperous times, it has finally fallen into the black hole of history.
Following suit, Janny Bar Beer has pulled down its blinking Christmas lights and taken its barstools home.
Lek's Boozer, after having battled the powers-that-be for the last 2 years, both in Clinton Plaza and next door at the old Thermae location, has finally pulled up stakes and moved on down the highway - to who-knows-where.
• CLINTON PLAZA •
• SUKHUMVIT SQUARE •Like the Baby Huey of old, the Sukhumvit Square giant continues to grow, but never seems to mature. This Night Entertainment Area now has 60 venues:-
Titano has added its new Titano Soi 10 Bar to its inventory. Bar beer the format. Welcome to the party.
Welcome Bar also joined the fray this December. Bar beer the format. Another big welcome.
Likewise, Counter 7 has drug out its best chrome barstools and switched on the colored lights. Everyone welcome.
Little Shinjuku would be a bar beer but they have windowed it in and air-conditioned it. They reopened in December, but it looks like the only reason they did was so they could illuminate the new For Sale sign taped to the inside of the window.
A tiny bar beer has opened for business in the center section; no sign - it looks like it is still in the process of converting from a brick-a-brack shop. Lets wait to see what happens on this one...
The long awaited opening of Studio 54 A-Go-Go finally took place Christmas Eve, 2002. If one buys into all the rumors, it is supposed to be the first of several A-Go-Go bars to open in Sukhumvit Square. Originally planning to open the end of October, then again at the end of November, they finally got it together. Welcome to the circus. The front area is pool tables - with so many pool tables available in so many pool bars, something is going to have to give - Bangkok is either going to have to get a lot more pool players, or some of these pool bars are going to have to rethink their business plan...
At last we are seeing some serious construction activity inside the 77 Sunset area, The biggest of the new venues to open within is The Loaded Dice. This is a brand-new "format" for Bangkok night venues; reminiscent -at least to some of our staff- of a 'gaming room' built in the back of Steven's Gay Nineties Restaurant in Saigon in the early '70s. It is a windowless 'inside' venue with air-conditioning. The game plan, -at least for starters- is the customers may sit around the outside of an oblong bar, while the hostesses sit Thai-style on cushions on the raised portion within. Games of chance are played using the roll of the dice. Winners will have their drinks bought by the girls. Losers will buy the girls a drink. But remember the name of this unusual lounge... One wonders whether or not the authorities will consider this a form of illegal gaming... Wish them all the best as they cast their lot with the rest.
Also within the 77 Sunset area is a small bar beer called Made In Heaven. The owner was a former manager at the Soi Cowboy Jet -Set Lounge, and is only now trying to make a go of it for herself. Welcome to the melee, and lots of luck.
While still under 77 Sunset's roof, the Lucky Milk Bar has also "opened its doors" to the public. Here's to prosperity for the New Year.
Still 'inside' the 77 Sunset area, the Check Inn 69 has opened in December, casting its lot with the others. Welcome to the grind.
• SUKHUMVIT SQUARE •
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS •In the Peep Inn complex we see a new sign reading Janso Utopia, however no Night Entertainment Venue corresponds to this name. Time will reveal all.
The Athena Massage has also opened downstairs in the Peep Inn compound. Can't say much for the location; they will have to depend on the Japanese trade from within, as there is no foot traffic past its door. Best of luck, you will probably need it.
The "33" in the compound of the same name has called it a night - shadows dance in their doorway and only darkness shines from their windows.
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
• No-News-Is-Good-News Department •It's status-quo-ante for the following Night Entertainment Areas:
Soi Katoey (Silom Soi 4)
Tobacco Road (Soi Zero).
© 2003, Bangkok Eyes / bangkokeyes.com