Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
'13 Night Market' Reborn
- A PERILOUS FUTURE AWAITS -
Bangkok, 01 June 2003
William R. Morledge
Forecasters Of Doom consistently get the attention of those around them; they never seem to have trouble getting an audience of many. And we suppose that's the point - how else are these far-seeing diviners of global misfortune going to remain the center of attention? And, should worse actually come to worse, they would then be able to lay claim to having foretold the calamity's coming - thereby confirming their status as prophets among dweebs. Those less charitable might remark on the similarities between this brand of attention-seeker and the ever-present Conspiracy Theorists. Among the recent batches of Forecasters Of Doom that are currently keeping a low profile are those that said, "The US and Coalition Forces are being drug into another Vietnam quagmire, and as the interminable war goes on, so will our tourism suffer in equal proportion." The Forecasters Of Doom had a hard row to hoe here; first, the 'war' ended in a matter of days, and second, there is no historical precedent that war, including terrorism, hurts tourism. (People are already, or should I say, still going back to Bali, for example.)
The second group of Forecasters of Doom who have at least lowered the volume of their alarmist rhetoric to less painful levels are those who said that SARS would be the Plague of the New Millennium, causing catastrophic death and subsequent economic ruin as Earth's international commerce collapsed. Fortunately, at least so far, the SARS virus seems to be attenuating along the standard epidemiological curves of other less lethal viruses. Most countries are now seeing few if any new cases. We hope our projected estimate of a SARS "all clear" by August is still on track.
There are already some strong indicators that "tourism" is on the mend. MIDNITE HOUR contacts in the 'hotel industry' have indicated that over the last month the average 5-Star hotel occupancy rate has risen from approximately 30 % to just over 40 %, or an increase of slightly more than ten percent. (This does not apply to the smaller 3-Star hotels, as a large percent of their custom is from package tours from China and Taiwan.) The second indicator which tells us that things are turning around, tourism-wise, is in the several discussions MIDNITE HOUR has each month with managers and owners of the various lounges, pubs and bars. Most say they have seen increased revenues, if however slight. None have reported further erosion of gross income. The third indicator of a tourism rebound is that even during the worst of the SARS epidemic, there was no increase in Night Entertainment Venue closures or changing of owners (see last month's commentary). Further, there has been a recent overall increase in the number of new venues....which leads us to June's headline story...
Anyone who has been the length of Sukhumvit Road has probably seen "13 Night Market" and likely not recognized it for anything other than a tourist trap flogging locally made brik-a-brak and goods with fake labels. But It hasn't always been that way, nor is it that way anymore. The "13 Night Market" area indeed has a long history, at least as far as the Night Entertainment Scene is concerned. Many of the night-crawling long term residents and regular returnees to these shores consider this property sacrosanct. In 1965 the then-new-style 'fishbowl' massage parlor Thermae opened its doors. It had a coffee shop in the basement and had obtained, through influence, the permissions needed to stay open all night. It soon became an expat favorite as a 'meeting place', where friends would rendezvous after all the bars closed, and/or go to make new acquaintances of the now-off-duty Night Entertainment employees (who, likewise flocked there after 02:00 A.M.).
In spite of the Thermae's international reputation and unending success, it eventually succumbed to greed; the (reported) police general owners saw their chance to capitalize on the real estate boom of the early 1990's, and sold out. The Thermae closed in July of 1996 and was reduced to rubble by the end of that year. Within two years, after the rubble had been leveled, shanties were constructed on this 'sacrosanct' land, and sold everything from noodles to leather passport covers to the passing tourists.
At the end of 1998 the first beer bar opened there, to be followed by several others. By May of 1999, it looked like this compound and its next door neighbor (the future Clinton Plaza) were on their way to becoming a large Entertainment Area. But for unclear reasons, the bars opening on the "13 Night Market" side of the fence did not prosper. Instead they were plagued with frequent closings, sometimes only to open for another month and close again. It looked as though the compound was finished as a Night Scene.
But in January 2003, immediately after the pillaging of Sukhumvit Square across the street, new interest was taken in the area. Soon afterward, an unnamed bar beer opened, then another, then a third. By the end of April there were four Night Entertainment Venues 'alive and well' within the compound walls. But this was only a taste of what was to come in May of 2003. By the end of the month there were a total of 12 night spots operating there, some having moved from other Night Scene Areas (Cowboy Annex and Clinton Plaza as well as Sukhumvit Square). In the brief span of one month, the "13 Night Market" reached what our historian, Boge (Richard D.) Hartman refers to as "critical mass". He means that the location has become large enough to be a 'draw' to the expat community, that it is self-supporting and in a single, relatively contiguous area and that one is likely to say, "Lets go to 'this location' and spend all or part of an evening." This selfsame BANGKOK EYES co-conspirator, Boge Hartman, who is also to blame for all our 'unique' maps has recently completed the map for "13 Night Market", which can be viewed HERE. If you would like to look at the history of "13 Night Market" in more detail, click HERE for Boge's Thumbnail History.
But even as MIDNITE HOUR relates this at-least-temporary respite, we still need to remember this is yet another "opportunistic" Night Entertainment Area, and that it is only a matter of time before the redevelopers will come calling. In discussion with the owners of some of the establishments within, they have remarked to MIDNITE HOUR that Clinton Plaza's new owners, Sofitel, will begin construction in two months' time. Their fear is that the land they now sit on will be, or already has been acquired by the same owners, and that they will be 'eaten' along with all the now defunct bars that previously populated Clinton. Given recent Night Entertainment Area history, this is probably not paranoia; while they don't expect another Sukhumvit Square outrage, they are keeping their investments relatively low.
• May'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 31 May, 2003 :
• PATPONG I •Although the status of Night Venues seldom changes on Patpong 1, we noticed that the Pussy Collection was bolted down for the long term. It has experienced recent closings and relocations, so best to keep an eye open for another re-emergence.
• PATPONG II •The Bua Luang on the 5th floor (stairwell, opposite Foodland was closed for "renovations" last month, however now it is just plain closed. When you think about it, the exact same Bua Luang karaoke is on the 3rd floor, so you begin to wonder how it lasted as long as it did...
• NANA PLAZA •The ground floor Morning 2 Night open fronted bar beer facing Soi 4 has been ignored by this writer since it opened several months ago. It is the BANGKOK EYES / MIDNITE HOUR policy to only include those bars that are a contiguous part of a definable Night Entertainment Area. Our failure (easier to say than "my failure") was that we didn't look closely enough. In truth, the Morning 2 Night is physically located in the Nana Entertainment Plaza complex, and in fact, one may enter the rear of said bar from inside the Plaza, next to the Lollipop. Our (my) apologies, and welcome, belatedly to the fray. (Open afternoons and evenings.)
Temptations, having been resoundingly reminded by the "Influences" of the difference between the legal minimum age of Night Entertainment Workers and the enforced minimum age, is now once again open for business. Welcome back to the tussle.
The Fantasia is now closed. A Crown Group A-Go-Go bar, the magic-marker sign taped to the door now informs us to which sister bar the staff have been temporarily transferred. Expect to see them come out of hibernation before the end of the month.
• NANA PLAZA •
• SOI KATOEY •The Speed (downstairs) / Hip Hop (upstairs) is once again closed down for "renovations". Yes, well.... they have been moving upstairs, then downstairs, then renaming, then renaming again, then knocking out partitions, etc, over the last ten months. We sincerely fear that among their real problems is they do not have any regular customers - they couldn't. (See last months 'now we (think we) know'.) We wish you constancy.
The third-floor g-4, is closed again - this time it looks like they are out for the count. A sign on the door reads in Thai and English, "FOR LEASE".
• SOI KATOEY •
• COWBOY ANNEX •The on-again, off-again Prime Bar is now 'on-again', having reopened for real in May. We wish you luck, but even more so, constancy (as it equates to regular customers - really.)
The Marigold bar beer has taken over the reins from the New Lady Bar. Nothing has changed except the owner, and -all in good time- the sign. Welcome to the hustle.
• COWBOY ANNEX •
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS (Soi 33) •The Athena Massage, ostensibly a traditional massage with a substantial 'ambiguity quotient' has called it an evening. Located in a relatively secluded area within the Peep Inn compound, it would surely have had difficulty competing with the several other massage venues on the main soi.
The 33 Barber / Massage / Drinks has added the "drinks" back into the equation, and is now once again a 'functional' Night Entertainment Venue". This is the 'revitalization' of the old 33 Center Pub which has been closing and reopening with alarming regularity since April 2002. It operated without a sign for a while before fading away, only to reopen as a massage parlor. We hope this most recent transmogrification works for you.
Po Massage has reopened. A traditional massage for the most part, it has a minimal 'ambiguity quotient'. Welcome back to town.
. • SOI DEAD ARTISTS (Soi 33) •
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •Popeye 2 has reopened after a month 'holiday'. Good to have you back.
The Morenice has leased the back half of the No ! Bra and have hung out their neon shingle. Beer bar is the format, the pool table having been inherited by the No ! Bra. Did you really mean to spell it 'Morenice'?. Is that "more" and "nice" or really a single word? . We hope this is not another case of . In any case, we welcome you to the wolf pack.
The Monkey's But, which was closed last month, but said it was busily hiring staff, is now closed. And 'closed' means 'closed' -- this time, instead of putting a sign out to hire new staff, they have one taped up which reads, "FOR LEASE". Maybe there is something in a name, after all.
In May of 2002 the Ngan Hang, one of the two founding bars, sold out to the The Maxx sports bar. The Maxx, after expansive and expensive renovations, had a hard time keeping its front door open, and was finally and totally swamped by the realities of the Night Entertainment world in January of this year. Something to do with its regular customers not being able to get in when they wanted to, what with the door being locked all the time... Its new Thai-Chinese owners are ripping it asunder in preparations for another major renovation which should result finally in yet another traditional massage parlor. One wonders who did the maths on this one... as there are already several traditional massage parlors within a stone's throw, including one in the same compound. With most traditional massage parlors laying off staff, and with the remaining staff complaining continuously about the number of days each month they don't have any customers, we get the impression that someone might be under the mistaken belief that massage parlors are Seven-Elevens.
. • QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •
• CLINTON PLAZA •Monica's had its "farewell bash" on 31 May as advertised. Thousands of balloons, and a live band to boot, and an overflow of customers to see it off. (They are only moving next door into "13 Night Market", so we won't shed too many parting tears.) A good time was had by all. The Living Room next door saw how much fun (and money) everyone had, so they put up a lot of balloons and were telling everyone it was their last night too, so 'come in and say good-by to us while you're at it'. There was only one niggly little detail -- and that was they didn't close, and had no intention of closing. Business as usual on 1 June. One would stop short of calling that 'dishonest', or would one? . At any rate, "Clinton Plaza" hangs on by a technicality from being relegated to the 'past-tense' and the oblivion of history...
• 13 NIGHT MARKET •Probably enough has already been said about "13 Night Market" above and in our Thumbnail History, so MIDNITE HOUR will make only brief comment on a few of the bars individually, and list the others 'for the record' The Chemo 04 is, as the name implies, the fourth such bar of that name by that owner. The name derives from the owner, who was previously a pharmacist. The original Chemo Bar and the Bar Chemo 2 were demolished in Sukhumvit Square by marauding 'Influences'. The third Chemo was opened afterward inside Soi 10. The Chemo 04 hopes to have a sign up by the end of June. Suffering under no illusions, the owner openly expresses concern that the Sofitel will, or already has acquired the "13 Night Market" land, and she would not be surprised to be uprooted once again in the near future.
Monica's Bar & Pool is in fact the same Monica's which had their farewell party yesterday in Clinton Plaza. The new area is a little larger than the original, but suffers somewhat from location, location, location.
Walker's Bar Pub & Pool is yet another survivor of the Sukhumvit Sq debacle. It originally relocated to Cowboy Annex, reopening in March of this year only to close at the end of that same month. This second relocation to "13 Night Market" finds them in slightly less grandiose digs, but surviving nevertheless.
The (13) Traditional Massage Parlor (at least we think that's the official name), has been there for several months. Located in the back, it has been mostly ignored by the expat community until recently. Its distinctive feature, other than a relatively high 'ambiguity quotient', is it is, quietly, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week - provided there are customers.
Other bars listed here are part of what can only be described as 'The Big Bang' creation of this new Night Entertainment Area: the B.B. Bar bar beer (now awaiting new sign), the Beautiful Bar bar beer, the Blossom Bar bar beer, the Thai Tattoo Bar bar beer, the Tequila Bar bar beer (sign also on order), the New Bar bar beer (also without signage), the Sexy Bar lounge, and one more tiny unnamed bar beer on the sidewalk's edge as you come in from the Clinton side. &nbnbsp; Welcome all to the grind; may your colored Christmas light sets never cease their winking.
. • 13 NIGHT MARKET •
• The No-News-Is Good-News Dept. •
• SOI COWBOY •
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •
• TOBACCO ROAD (Soi Zero) •
© 2003, BANGKOK EYES / bangkokeyes.com