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Bangkok's Night Scene In Review



Easy Square 'launched '
- BUT CAN IT FLY ?

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Bangkok,
01 November 2003
William R. Morledge
 HIGHLIGHT.GIF
22's Notorious Slum -remembered
Social Order Crackdown -Update
Rumor Of The Month Award
November's Follies in review





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         MIDNITE HOUR occasionally reports on a new Bangkok location that shows promise, and has the potential to develop into a viable Night Entertainment Area. This month we go to Sukhumvit Soi 22 to visit the newly renamed Easy Square (previously known informally as Nam Thip Square).

         Easy Square is located several hundred meters inside Soi 22. Going in from the Sukhumvit Road side, it is just past the juncture of Soi 22 and Soi Sai Nam Thip 2    You can go to our Area map here, or go directly to our detailed Night Entertainment Map here.

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         Historically, Easy Square stands on an area of land which was once part of the notorious Soi 22 slum, or chum chon, that used to stretch nearly a full kilometer along the left hand side of the soi.  While not a Night Entertainment Area itself, the slum was the 'dwelling place' of most of the Night Entertainment workers in the Sukhumvit Road area during the 1970's and 1980's due to its proximity to the workplace and it's low rents.  Many an Expat retains fond memories of 'lost nights' within that slum, overnighting with his most recent working-girl girlfriend in her 'home away from home'.  Within its warrens were the myriad tin-roofed shacks, whose walls were often only poster board -with the posters still on them, or thin metal sheeting with Coca Cola or other soft-drink can designs printed on one side.  These creaky shanties were accessible only by single-plank boardwalks suspended inches above the swamp, whose pitch-black waters also served as the erstwhile sewer and community trash receptacle.  All this, mixed with the smell of Fab detergent from countless bucket-laundries gave the slum an aroma unique unto it own.  The working girls' rooms, many without beds, had only two things in common; mosquito nets and fans, which came in useful for those who had paid their rent (electricity included).  Perhaps a third thing they had in common were leaky roofs, which would make themselves evident immediately the monsoon rain began its deafening assault on the bare corrugated metal just above.  Or so this writer has heard from third-hand sources...

         By the late 1980's, the slum was in the throes of being demolished, in stages, and the swamp was eventually drained and filled.  The reasons given for the slum-clearance were the unsanitary conditions (true) and the unmanageable heroin problem (true), but what went unmentioned was the actual reason; land developer greed.  And while much of that infamous slum has since been redeveloped, the area in and around what is now called Easy Square has not.

         As mentioned above, this area was originally called Nam Thip Square having derived it's name from the Nam Thip Restaurant, which was the original structure in the square. When the Nam Thip Restaurant opened in September of 2002, it was the only structure for a considerable distance in any direction, and sits on the north side of the Easy Square compound, looking inward on an almost perfectly square roadway complex which defines its area.

         Other structures, other businesses were slow to come on board. However, this year the first Night Entertainment Venue opened next to Nam Thip Square's southernmost exit onto Soi 22.
   The Nice Bar, having finally closed its doors on Soi Cowboy in October, 2002 (historians note: originally the old Loretta digs), began construction in Easy Square on its soon-to-be bar beer-pool bar.  It opened in January, 2003.
   It was followed soon (also in January) by the Cheers Bar, previously of Asoke Plaza in Cowboy Annex. Although it now has a new Scotsman owner, the same bar beer format (plus one pool table) prevails.
   Also joining the fray is the Friend Ship Bar, also a 'relocater', but this time from the ill-fated Sukhumvit Square (another offshoot of the old Friends Bar).
   The new kid on the block (Oct 26th) is the Ocean Bar, which was started up by the previous owner of Cheers and two other new investors.
   The Dao Bar bar beer is an offshoot of the nearby Dao Karaoke, and although only recently opened - it is already planning to close down.  We'll have to wait and see which way the wind blows on this one.

EASY SQUARE may or may not be the next major Night Entertainment Area for Bangkok's tourists and resident Expats.



The Nice Bar will get the handshake as the "Seminal Bar" in the event Easy Square survives the test of time.

         But four or five bar beers and Pool Bars do not a Night Entertainment Area make. The big question is whether Easy Square will ever attain a 'critical mass', thereby becoming a viable draw to the Expat night-crawling community.  The biggest unknown is the effect of its relatively out-of-the-way location.  Virtually all Expat Night Entertainment Areas, past and present, have been on, or near a main thoroughfare.  Today's surviving Areas are all, coincidentally, on, or near, the Sky Train line.

         Nevertheless, the land owner is proceeding as though Easy Square were already a household name.  Last week he installed and lit up a large sign which arches over the southern exit to the compound.  Further, he is 'rumored' to be talking to a Mr C., an American from Pattaya, about renting out the center section for the construction of a mega-cabaret - although we hasten to add that the 'rumors' favor his leaning toward leasing that area to other Pool Bars and bar beers.  To add more fuel to the fires, and to stoke the rumor index even higher, there is a very large building just behind Easy Square that may or may not become a new hotel once it is completed -- sometime early next year.  Should it in fact be a hotel, Easy Square would have an instant customer base in its own back yard - literally.

         On the other side of the coin the imminent close-down of both halves (Asoke Corner, Asoke Square) of Cowboy Annex by year's end has the current occupants in a quandary about their collective future.  Many have already run recon sorties into and out of Easy Square to assess the possibilities.  Although several of these Cowboy Annex bar owners are skeptical, several are seriously considering the prospects.

         Other "plusses" which could work in Easy Square's favor are the virtually unlimited free parking and the availability of good, inexpensive restaurants:-
    The Nam Thip, with over 130 menu items of Chinese, Thai and Japanese, as well as Halal dishes.
   The Anan, with the now popular " Moo Ka- Ta- " -translated, that's - a big outdoor barbecue, Korean style, with Thai flavors of pork, chicken, etc,, at all-you-can-eat prices.
   The Khantoke, serving Chieng Mai style Northern dishes & the always-popular Isan dishes.
   The Ni Hong Kai, an indoor-outdoor Japanese restaurant.
   The Bua Thong. Boh Toke Kung - an indoor-outdoor pond where you can go fishing for your own live shrimp.

         At this juncture, while all of us here at BANGKOK EYES wish them well, there remain too many unanswered questions, including the "Big One" - regarding the current regime's Social Order Zoning Ordinance, which has been in the "massaging stage" for the last two years.  And of course, if the ordinance is put into effect, there is still the question of interpretation and enforcement.  As it stands, there are too many "ifs", and too few crystal ball readers.  MIDNITE HOUR will be keeping an eye on Easy Square in the event it does grow to be Bangkok's next Night Entertainment Area, and of course, we will be keeping you advised along the way.



Social Order crackdown
-UPDATE


         Two years ago, the Purachiian Social Order Campaign was launched by the incumbent government.  The Campaign's primary objective was the zoning of 'approved' Night Entertainment Areas.  This would be their key to absolute control.   Three areas were approved: Rachadapisek at Huay Kwang, which caters mostly to Asian tourists, Patpong Road, which caters to mostly Western tourists, and Royal City Avenue (RCA), which provides for mostly youthful local clientele.  This plan was woefully inadequate, as it provided for no approved areas in other holiday spots such as Phu Khet, Pattaya, Koh Samui, etc.  Nor did it provide for approved Night Entertainment Areas anywhere else in the country.   Realizing their horrendously inadequate oversight, they commenced with the issuing of a steady stream of 'midcourse corrections' to the scheme.  Not surprisingly, they cleverly decided to do nothing while they attempted to rethink their way through the briar patch they had created.

         Despite the 'recall' of the original plan, the Government's engine of self-destruction has remained the same: -the Social Order Campaign continues to pursue its form-over-substance approach to restoring a perceived loss of national dignity by linking virtually all forms of Night Entertainment for foreigners and Thais to the country's illicit sex industry (read: "prostitution in all its forms").  While the Social Order Crackdown is across the board (foreigners and locals alike) the authorities have nevertheless 'scapegoated' any and all foreigners who partake of the nightlife here.  Specifically, they have lumped these tourists together under the label 'sex tourists', and are fingered as the cause of the out-of-control prostitution problem.  These authorities, in turn, perceive these 'undesirables' to be the cause of Thailand's unbearable embarrassment.

         But while the Social Order mob have been studiously doing nothing these last two years regards getting an ordinance passed, they have been furiously batting ideas back and forth, changing their minds, and planning to improve on the ways they might commit economic suicide, vis-a-vis tourism.  The Social Order Campaign has, without fanfare, backed off from its originally stated goals of limiting Night Entertainment Areas to Rachadapisek (consisting mostly of massage Godfather Chuwit's establishments), the RCA (reportedly controlled by the Military Mafia), and Patpong Road (the influential Patpong family's privately owned enclave).  Of course, in the case of Rachadapisek, it was almost inevitable that this area would not be considered for approval in the grand scheme of things-to-come, what with massage Godfather Chuwit taking on the entire National Police Force with his kidnap and corruption allegations.  (The police happen to be under the same Ministry as the Social Order Campaign.)

         According to all we read in the Press and hear from outside sources, the Social Order folk decided sometime last year that instead of attempting to implement the original two year-old edict, and instead of waiting for a revised proposal to be sent to the government for vetting & passing into law, they would develop and implement an ad-hoc policy of 'slow strangulation', which would call less attention to itself, achieve its goals over a slightly longer period of time, and be much more comprehensive.  This would/could or should mean that by the time the New Social Order ordinance is ready to be passed, most of it would have already been implemented.

        This policy of 'slow strangulation' is already well under way in the form of various crackdowns, which have dramatically increased this last year.
    The most prominent of these 'strangulations' being a radical increase in closures of Night Entertainment Venues for infractions on the minimum age of employees (18 years), which is not a labor code violation, but a self-imposed 'ordinance' -- one which coincidentally matches the current 'age of consent' laws.  Ahennnnh!  Is anybody listening?
    There are also arbitrary closings of Night Venues for types of shows and nudity-dress code violations - neither of which are in violation of laws, but, once again, only infractions of administration-imposed, police-interpreted 'ordinances'.
    Probably the most incomprehensible form of harassment inflicted on Night Venue owners is forced closure for not having the correct sign on the building.  No one has yet explained how this is hurting the New Social Order Campaign.  If not having the correct sign is, in fact, a contravention of a Municipal code or guideline, the venue in question might rightfully be warned by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA), and if the warning were not heeded, the venue in question might be fined. But a police raid is more than just a little Draconian, and is seen as yet another arbitrary abuse of power by Bangkok's Finest.
   But probably the most obnoxious and unlawful of these Social Order crackdown tactics are the raids where Night Entertainment Venue customers, for having committed the sin of being customers, are ALL required to urinate into cups for analysis by police for traces of drugs.  The government sees forced drug testing as a case where the ends justify the means, regardless of its level of repugnance or illegality.  In defense of their heavy-handed drug inquisitions, officials have repeatedly stated that they do not care if they chase these "undesirable" foreign elements (tourists) from Thailand, as it is all for the ultimate good of the country.  (It is as if these oft-repeated public pronouncements somehow make their stand on this controversial issue somehow 'righteous').  Have the Powers-That-Be really failed to see that such police-state tactics are already reaching the international Press and such brutish behavior could only be detrimental to tourism?  It should be noted, by the way, that they have been notoriously unsuccessful at 'catching' anyone through these snap-raids.


         This last month (October) we saw in the Media that the Social Order folk are ready once more to serve up Revision X to the Government for debate, ratification and implementation.  Meanwhile, almost as if it were a coordinated initiative, further crackdowns were introduced during the APEC Conference a couple of weeks ago.  In addition to the usual 'bars', discos and massage parlors, we have seen that Karaokes and 'Cafes' have been warned that they will also be under the scrutiny of the New Social Order Ordinance, and that no hanky-panky will be brooked.  Also, and try to believe me when I tell you I am not making this up, a prominent Police official announced that Foot Massage/Traditional Massage parlors and condominiums will toe the New Social Order mark -- or else.  Really.  An acquaintance known to the MIDNITE HOUR bunch ventured that they might as well include public libraries and pizza parlors, as it is actually possible for a male to meet a female at either of these venues, as well.  His sarcasm was noted, and yet he made his point - condominiums?  Will they be raiding condominiums and asking us to urinate into cups?  What?  Was it the country's APEC public relations coup that has emboldened these comedians to include foot massages on their rousts?  Someone help me out here - anyone.

         Alas, it appears that it will never dawn on this New Social Order crew that virtually all tourism is broad-spectrum; foreigners come for the nightlife as well as the temples, as well as everything in between.  For example, business conferences have been, and are held here in Thailand because there is a full range of other activities - including the nightlife.  Less than one-tenth of one percent would come to visit temples alone, as those in the in "the Ministry" are wont to have each other believe.  

         The fear, self-evident to Expats in the region, is that Thailand will make the same mistake the Philippines made when they closed down the Ermita Night Entertainment Area in Manila, and their tourism immediately went into the toilet.  They fear that Thailand will make the same mistake Singapore made when they closed down Bugis Street (and then unsuccessfully tried to reopen it).  Even comparatively straight-laced China and Vietnam have come to see the economic sense of a reasonable, reasoned Night Entertainment policy. It seems only Thailand is charging full-throttle in reverse.  





"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:

       "The old gas station (petrol station) at the top of Soi 1, Sukhumvit is destined to be the next "Nana Plaza" style Night Entertainment Area."

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 November 2003, the Rumor Accuracy Quotient remains at -



November'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 NOVEMBER, 2003 :

   PATPONG I  
           Closed yet again is the Pussy Collection.  Passers-by showing any interest in the now-very-dead bar will be hectored by nearby street touts from the King's Group, who will point to the King's Castle III and bombard them with, "Same bar, same bar."  One suspects the closure has more to do with the inability to do business while up to your armpits in brick-a-brack stalls, than, say, an ongoing Social Order crackdown...    PATPONG I  

           The high ambiguity factor massage, thai lady acent, located two flights up the stairwell next to the Thigh Bar has torn down its sign and slithered off into the night.  Its street touts didn't go anywhere, however, because they are now pawing passers-by, trying to sell them copy DVDs from out of a crack in the wall.   PATPONG I  

           The one bright bit of news for Patpong 1 & 2 is the opening of the Red Parrot Bangkok. Briefly, it opened on 17 October on the Suriwong end of the Patpong sois.  The Red Parrot is the first bar since the old 'Frank's' Superstar to stretch from Patpong 1 all the way through to Patpong 2.  It defies easy description: --on walking in (up to the second floor), you find yourself facing a 7-meter wide circular bar.  Surrounding the bar are 10 new pale blue pool tables.   (Games are 15 baht before 9:00 PM, and 20 baht after.)  On the left is a large lounge area with 8 separate lounge sections.  If you got the impression the place is big, you got it right.  Drink prices in line with other venues in the area : 65 baht for a soft drink.  We welcome them to the sharkpool.   PATPONG I & II  


   PATPONG II  
           The Trade Winds Pub has been gutted and renovation works are going full tilt.  Closed for now, look for it to reopen before December rolls around.   PATPONG II  

           Next door, the Star of light is also closed, and it looks like it is undergoing similar renovations.  Originally a specialty bar, no one at this juncture seems to know what it will be when it reopens.   PATPONG II  

           In the stairwell next to Vinai's Cosmos the Thai Traditional Massage on the 4th floor resides once again in abiding darkness, after a brief 3-month run.   PATPONG II  

           The Baan Bua Luang, also on the 4th floor of the Cosmos stairwell is back in operation, although I didn't notice any customers when I stuck my head in.  Welcome back to the fray.   PATPONG II  


   NANA PLAZA  
           The Hollywood is back with a vengeance -- A-Go-Go inside, bar beer outside.  It's back in its original location on the ground floor.  A whole lotta shakin' goin' on - welcome back to the wars.   NANA PLAZA  

           Voodoo, another indoor-outdoor bar is renovating the outer bar beer area.  Business (A-Go-Go) as usual inside.  They should complete the renovations and reopen this outside section this month (November).   NANA PLAZA  

           The Carousel Bar on the 3rd floor is closed.  The door tout stands in the abandoned doorway with a sign in his hands which explains all and refers customers to another nearby venue.  Renovation works look to be under way.   NANA PLAZA  


   COWBOY ANNEX  
Since the word came out this July that Cowboy Annex would be closing down by year's end, we have seen a slow-but-steady closing of Night Entertainment Venues within.  However, in October, after the landlord had cut electrical power to the Asoke Corner section and started demolishing buildings, he found that the paperwork would be much slower coming than expected.  He has since tried to convince the few remaining bars to stay 'a little longer', even though it meant he had to bring in a generator to provide the electrical power to do so.  At this juncture, no one is sure how long they will stay open, but all are reasonably certain they will be long-gone before the opening of the Subway station (next door) at the end of 2004.

         The small bar beer that used to be Cheers, but that has been sign-less for several months, now confesses to being the Chid Bar.  It is still sign-less.  A belated welcome to the tussle.   COWBOY ANNEX  

            Thought to have been a victim of the close-down, the Princess Bar has pulled the roller-shutters back up and opened its doors once again.  Keep on keeping on.   COWBOY ANNEX  


   SOI  DEAD  ARTISTS  (Soi 33)  
            Hidden away in the Peep Inn Complex was the Takemura.  It left without even so much as a sayonara, and was replaced - just as quietly - with the Hibare.  Welcome to Party Town.    SOI DEAD ARTISTS  

            Springing back to life this last month was the Cafe Buongiorno Bar & Rest.  Welcome back to the salt mines.   SOI DEAD ARTISTS  

            It looks like the Bar-Za-Bar was not dead, but only going in for a face-lift.  It should be ready for a reopening sometime this month.  .   SOI DEAD ARTISTS  

            Burning the midnite oil to insure an early and auspicious opening, Mojo's Bar & Restaurant looks set to open its doors any day now.  It already has its 'rap samak' signs taped on the windows calling for bartenders, waitresses --the works.  Mojo's is located in Sub-soi 2, adjacent to The Office Bar & Grill, & is said to be owned by the same people who own the series of Country Road venues (one of which was lost in the scandalous Sukhumvit Square demolition).  We look forward to the grand opening.   SOI DEAD ARTISTS  

            In Sub-soi 3 the Kongsil Massage has thrown open its doors to the public.  High ambiguity quotient.  Welcome to the toil.   SOI DEAD ARTISTS  

            Likewise, the Noi Health Massage has hung out its neon shingle just next door to the Sa and Po massages, a little deeper into the soi.  Ambiguity quotient also high here. Welcome to the night-follies.   SOI DEAD ARTISTS  


   WASHINGTON  SQUARE  
            The Alpine Steak House opened last month without fanfare, and without a bar or lounge - just another restaurant.   WASHINGTON SQ  


   SOI  KATOEY  
            The latest reincarnation at the old Rome Club burial grounds has taken place in the still-warm ashes of the Samsara.  This time around it will be called the Roxy.  (No relation to the legendary Patpong 2 bar of the '80s, however.)  The cloned bleach-blonde boy-serbs out front indicate that while they are aiming at mostly the gay crowd, even the likes of me are welcome.  Indoor-outdoor lounge remains the prime agendum.  Wish them success as they throw their hat in the ring.   SOI KATOEY  

            The Speed / Hip Hop is once again open.  It probably holds the World Record for most times closing and reopening.  We won't bother welcoming them back, because the chances are they will be closed again next month....   SOI KATOEY  

   " 13  NIGHT  MARKET "  
            Walker's Bar Pub & Pool has stuffed its last chit into the cup.  It has now turned over the second half of its real estate to the co-located Red Dragon.  Walker's was a veteran of both Sukhumvit Square and then Cowboy Annex  We don't know yet if it has any plans for a new venue in the area.   "13 NIGHT MARKET"  

   " TOBACCO  ROAD "  
            The Kiss Me bar beer, closed since March 2001, has been sold, spruced up and reopened.  The 'new' owner is a 'veteran' of Sukhumvit Square, but plans to hang onto the Kiss Me name, as the paperwork for a name change is too expensive.   TOBACCO RD  (Soi 0)  

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

 Datzit Fernow           2003, BANGKOK EYES / bangkokeyes.com
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