Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
Does Soi Nana Measure Up ?
- SUKHUMVIT's SOI 4 IN FOCUS
01 September 2003
William R. Morledge
Corruption's New Face
Can the Rajah be a "Player"?
September's Follies in review
"Does Soi Nana measure up to what?" - you might ask. In this, the second installment on Sukhumvit Road's night entertainment scene, MIDNITE HOUR will provide an in-depth review of Soi 4, or Soi Nana Tai. Due to several requests, mostly from readers that believe the entire Soi Nana should be considered a single Night Entertainment Area, we will have a look at all the Entertainment Venues on the soi and then put it to the test: let's see whether it is a stand-alone Night Entertainment Area, or whether it comes up lacking.
In quick review, MIDNITE HOUR's Night Entertainment Area criteria are that 1. the venues within are oriented to adult expat night entertainment, 2. that they be in a contiguous area (any one venue can be easily accessed from another by walking), and 3. it has reached a 'critical mass' - large enough to independently draw a nighttime crowd and keep them there for the evening. While we concede that these evaluation criteria can be at least partly subjective, they have held up surprisingly well under the test of time for defining Night Entertainment Areas, past and present.
While Soi 4's Nana Plaza has qualified as a Night Entertainment Area for almost twenty years, below are several Night Entertainment Venues within a minute's walk of it, and the number of such venues is growing year by year.
Listed below are several other Night Venues, which are a little deeper into Soi 4. Several of them worth a visit, for either a meal, or a drink, or both.
At the shortcut soi running over to Sukhumvit Soi 6, there are a cluster of small Night Venues that seem to be surviving, in spite of being located relatively deep in Soi Nana:
Deeper yet into Soi Nana (about 350 meters), The Brunswick Poolbar and restaurant sits just across the street from Hunters. While Brunswick is the larger of the two, it is geared more for pool than the food, whereas Hunters is a bar-restaurant. Both are well worth the walk or drive down the soi. Other Night Venues are listed below for record purposes.
In concluding our review of Soi 4 - Nana Tai, the MIDNITE HOUR does not see sufficient conformance to our Night Entertainment criteria to warrant the inclusion of the entire soi into a single Night Entertainment Area. Even though Soi 4 was "Where It All Began" - the catalyst - for expat entertainment on Sukhumvit Road (see our Genesis: Sukhumvit's Night Scene column ), and even though there are a sufficient number of Night Venues on Soi 4, and even though there are many resident expats who have a preference for entertainment on Soi 4, the bars, lounges, pubs and discos are not in a convenient, 'contiguous' area - the farthest lounge from Sukhumvit Rd is over 700 meters inside. As mentioned above, it is more likely that the Rajah Hotel could develop into its own separate Night Entertainment Area than to be included in another area. Nevertheless, should the current trends prevail, it is conceivable that the venue density in and around Nana Plaza and the Nana Hotel could be such that it would be practical, and convenient to include those immediately adjacent venues along with Nana Plaza's as an extension of that Night Entertainment Area.
The price and cost of
-Corruption and Entertainment get a face-lift
Among all the recent "crackdowns" imposed by the incumbent P.M,, the crackdown that affects the Night Entertainment business most seriously is the 'Morality' Crackdown, where the Government's form-over-substance approach to saving face and restoring national dignity is running at odds with their desire to restore tourism and the economy. Examples flourish, and in fact are on the rise -- there is an increase in incidents where tourists, students and expat residents alike are forced to submit to drug testing -to urinate in cups- simply because they happen to be a customer at a given Night Entertainment Venue. On the increase are incidents where bars are closed down for having under-18-yr-olds working within, even though the legal age of employment -and consent- is less than 18. There is an increase in incidents where bars are closed down for excessive nudity, even though the Government cannot agree on what is and what is not pornography, or even the censorable limit on nudity. There are an increase in crackdowns on Night Entertainment Venues that do not have the legally registered name of the bar as their 'main sign', although no one can define the same way twice in a row what 'main sign' means, or even what language it must be written in,
All this gives rise to whether or not these face-saving crackdowns are of the usual Bangkok "pendulum-swing" type, or if the current regime fully intends to change the 'face' of the Night Entertainment industry and run the risk of forever tuning tourism on its head, and into the red once and for all - as was done in Manila in the Philippines just over ten years ago.
Likewise, the parallel Government crackdown on corruption - particularly corruption within the National Police Department - is impacting the Night Entertainment industry in interesting ways.
As mentioned in last month's MIDNITE HOUR, the original Government goal was to clean up all corruption within the country within 3 months. Quickly realizing the ludicrous position they found themselves in, the P.M. made a hasty 'mid-course correction', saying that in the case of the National Police, it would take five years to kill corruption. Since that announcement, we have had two other 'explanations' as to "what the Government meant by that" by prominent Government officials -- both stating that the Thai policeman can't live on his salary alone, and this is why he is forced into a life of bribe-taking. If we take the gloss off of that, what they are saying is since every policeman is underpaid, all policemen are corrupt (save the 0.1% who have another, more lucrative source of income). A third announcement, the coup-de-grace, this time from a senior police officer, is that "even honest police take bribes" because in the course of carrying out their duties, they often need funds to lubricate the wheels of justice during the course of an investigation. Ho ho ho. Status-quo-ante. The current Government couldn't have done a better job of weaseling out of its commitment on corruption if they'd hired a team of New York lawyers.
Even though the Government has said these things, the P.M. is still on course to change out a large percentage of ranking police officers. Notice he didn't say, "fire"? That's because he really meant "change out" - but you probably know the term "inactive post" already so we won't elaborate. As a result, Bangkok's Finest are playing it cautiously when it comes to taking bribes (now that the Government says, in so many words, it's OK again) because there is, after all, the above mentioned possibility of an inconvenient transfer to the border. To insure an uninterrupted money stream, Bangkok's Finest are coming up with resourceful 'new' ways to extort money - ways that are not 'traditional', or widely known by their superiors, and their superiors.
Some of the more interesting bribery efforts by Our Men In Brown are starting to come out - at least to those who have an ear to the wall for such things. One innovative way is the "Early Pre-closing Visit", where the Upholder Of The Public Trust announces to the bar management that they will have to close early. No reason given - which is the unspoken signal; they want money. The reason they now come earlier than in times past is because it can be any time, and therefore harder to monitor. (You will recall, in the bad-old-days they would come only a few minutes before 02:00 hours and hang around the bars that still had a lot of customers, waiting for their 'facilitating payment' from any of the bar owners that wanted to stay open later than 2 A.M.) This new Pre-closing Visit system is used en-masse at the Cowboy Annex, where the bars are now all closing at 1 A.M instead of the legal 2 A.M. - because (and we love this...) the bar owners told the police where they could shove their 'facilitating payment'. (Remember, these bars will all be closed down by December, anyway.)
Another interesting 'new' way to hit the Night Entertainment industry with bribes is for a policeman to come into a bar at 2 A.M. and order a drink. He, of course, is served, and at 02:01 hours, or after he finishes his drink, he announces that the bar must be 'fined' for staying open after the 'lawful' time. The variation-on-theme is when a well-known plainclothes Upholder Of Justice comes in with a girl and orders drinks. As he is a policeman, no questions are asked. On receiving the drinks, the policeman announces that, as the girl is only 17 years old, they are going to have to pay a 'fine', or be closed down for two weeks. Those of you who own bars in the odd numbered sois of Sukhumvit know who we mean...
Can someone please tell me why Bangkok's Finest see the need to go through all these elaborate charades to extract money from bar owners? Why can't they come in to a bar like respectable bandits, pull their guns and demand the money from the cash register? Nevertheless, we can expect, at the very least, to see continuing innovation in the ever-expanding Bangkok extortion market.
• PATPONG I •Show Girls has rolled up its red carpet amid moved on down the road. Folding street vendor tables already block the way up. Previously the Queen's Castle, it was closed down by the authorities from September through December of 2001 for non-Purachaiian conduct. Reopening in January of 2002, it did a name-change to New Queen's Castle in September of that year, only to do another name-change to Show Girls in October. Show Girls tried to straddle the line between legitimate 'show-bar' and less-than-legitimate rip-off bar - and they failed. Street touts out in front are more than willing to take you to another bar where the former hostesses of the Show Girls have reportedly moved. Don't bother - in fact, never ever let a street tout take you anywhere to show you anything.
The upstairs A-Go-Go / Show bar Supergirls was unable to answer the bell for the next round - residing now in abiding darkness. Long-time residents and returnees might remember it as the Blue Angel Bar. In operation for over a decade, we hear renovations are in the works... A sign on the door informs us the staff have moved a couple of doors down to the Pussy Collection.
The above mentioned Pussy Collection, closed since May of this year has reopened after extensive renovations (for the better). This should put to rest the rumors that it was to "move elsewhere on Patpong with a new name under the same ownership". Welcome back to the melee.
• PATPONG I •
• PATPONG II •'Vinai's Cosmos Club' is what the new sign reads. Of course, it was always Cosmos, and it was always Vinai's, and if he sees you in there eating the free peanuts more than once or twice, he will usually buy you a drink.
Side Line Agogo on The Ramp had a grand end-of-month 'reopening' party, which is a little difficult to understand, because it hadn't closed down. Lots of balloons and eats. Nevertheless, Pay-For-Show remains the modus operandi - and as they don't post prices, one would do well to ask before being seated... Good advice on entering any lounge or bar, if one does not see posted prices - save yourself the headache.
• PATPONG II •
• NANA PLAZA •After all the rumors of fraud on the Internet forums and stories on the street of oversold partnerships, the Titty Twister has padlocks on the doors. Only darkness shines out from within. It would be facile to say the closing proves the allegations - let's wait for the facts.
The third floor Carnival has reopened after more than a month off-line, while it underwent extensive top-to-bottom renovations. Except for a shiny-new and rather small mechanical bull - with real horns and no riders - everything looks the same. Yes, the two-tier carousel is back in operation. Welcome back to the free-for-all.
• NANA PLAZA •
• COWBOY ANNEX •
The Playboy Vadsana have had at least a temporary stay of execution - whatever problems they were having last month seem to have been swept under the carpet. Located in the 8-Pak, they have reopened with a flourish. Welcome back to the wolfpack.
While it was inevitable, we were saddened to see the Suzie Bar Pub & Pool out of action yet again. A veteran of both the Clinton Plaza and Sukhumvit Square closures, we are sure Suzie will be reopening again somewhere - someday. We will keep you informed.
Likewise, the Nok Merry Bar 2 has pulled up stakes, pulled down sign, and pulled out. They have taken the glass doors, the windows and the air conditioning with them, leaving the interior to be ravaged by the local looters and freebooters. Although the Pool Bar catered mostly to custom from the Dark Continent, the congenial manager welcomed all visitors.
The aptly named Bottleneck used to straddle the narrow walkway between the front and rear portions of Cowboy Annex. After originally downsizing a couple of months ago, they have finally called it a night. All that remains is the name, hand-painted on the rear wall - all else swept clean.
Almost as if they knew what they were doing, the Red Hot Pepper bar beer in the 8-Pak have hired a dozen new hostesses, just down from Buri Ram. Let the good times roll....
• COWBOY ANNEX •
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS •Although a large part of the sign is in Japanese, The Upstairs Club Lounge & Karaoke welcomes farang as well. Newly opened in mid August, it is located just above the Dali Club in the 33 Complex. Welcome to the travails.
Following suit, the Setsu-Getsu KKA, also in the 33 Complex, has opened an upstairs Karaoke - doorway hostesses beckoning the Japanese passers-by to come up for a drink. Keep on keeping on.....
The Phoenix Lounge - Blue Power Shaft has undergone what looks like an authoritarian name-change crackdown. They are now going by their legally registered name; P.X. Plan Co., Ltd. Business as usual.
Affected by the same crackdown, the Club Fushicho Entertainment Club, also in the Peep Inn complex, has changed their sign to read Fushicho Plan Co. Ltd. The beat goes on....
The Yokohama Japanese Club on the ground floor of the Peep Inn complex has switched off the lights and battened its hatches for what looks like the final sayonara. They originally opened as the Yokohama Member exactly one year ago. But let's wait and see if this is just a name-change problem or if they have really thrown in the towel. We will keep you advised.
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •The O.B. 1 Bar has bounced back, once again greeting customers with its blinking Christmas light sets and smiling faces. 'Bar beer - Pool' remains the format. Welcome back to the fracas.
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •The flurry of construction activity within hasn't stopped the soon-to-be Hare & Hound from hanging up their neon shingle. The gregarious construction superintendent advises he will complete all works in time for the 15 September opening. 'Bar-Lounge' the prime agendum. We suspect this new place is a direct descendent of the Hare & Hound that sold out two years ago to the Dollhouse on Soi Cowboy after more than a decade at that location. --We will be letting you know. They will be located between the Prince Of Wales P&G and the Oak Club Japanese Karaoke.
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •
• SOI KATOEY •When Soi Katoey's third 'straight' venue, the Samsara opened in April of this year (after multi-million baht renovations) we thought the ghosts of the old Rome Club had been finally been exorcised for good. Not so; two months later, the Samsara quietly closed their doors. --Whereupon their front porch was quickly populated with overflow custom from the outrageously successful The Balcony, next door. But the overflow of folding tables and chairs are gone, and the posters and bills and advertisements have been scraped from the windows. Remaining is a solitary Call-To-Arms saying the current owners are seeking honest 'partners' to help run the establishment - from managers to khon serbs. Interesting phraseology - MIDNITE HOUR wonders if this will be a legitimate exercise in 'employee ownership'. ...Yes, the sign specifically said they were seeking 'honest' partners - you cynics out there will kindly hold your tongues... They have set their sights on an October opening. Now we (think we) know...
• SOI KATOEY •
• 13 NIGHT MARKET •The Blossom Bar has given way to the Golden Eeys. Yes, this is the 'correct' spelling; an obvious case of . 'Open bar beer' remains the format. Welcome to the slaughterhouse.
• 13 NIGHT MARKET •
• The No-News-Is-Good-News Dept. •• SOI COWBOY •
• TOBACCO ROAD (Soi Zero) •
Datzit Fernow © 2003, BANGKOK EYES / bangkokeyes.com