Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
Soi 33 Just Won't Stop
- THE 'DEAD ARTISTS' KEEP ON GROWING
01 March 2004
William R. Morledge
EASY SQUARE on Brink
Rumor Of The Month
March's Follies in review
Soi Dead Artists (Soi 33 Sukhumvit) doesn't have much going for it, at least in theory. It was started in 1987 with a single lounge bar, the Renoir, on a very much out-of-the way soi. Unless you lived there, or were taking a short-cut to the back sois, there was plainly no reason to go there. A few other entrepreneurial types attempted to expand from that single venue on an entirely unproven premiss - that an expat Night Entertainment Area could be created solely for the 'lounge set'. The Patpong sois had proved the viability of a few choicely located lounges, but could a grouping of lounges survive on its own? Higher prices and no A-Go-Go, at least on paper, should have been the death-knell. Yet, in spite of those improbable odds, and in spite of the many nay-sayers, it continued to grow. And grow.
But growth was far from dazzling. After it's first full year in existence, Soi Dead Artists had a total of three lounges and one good restaurant (the Pan-Pan Italian restaurant). Expansion was almost imperceptible for the first dozen years - by the middle of 1999 it had only 17 lounges, a growth rate of 1 or 2 new bars per year. And it seemed that no new bars were being built. Making matters worse, the existing bars were not in any contiguous grouping - except for a small group of the early bars, they were spread out almost the full length of a very long soi - less than ideal for 'bar-hopping'. This, it seemed to most casual observers, was proof enough Soi 33 was incapable of reaching a critical (self-sustaining) mass - incapable of making it as a "Night Entertainment Area" in its own right.
But just before the ushering in of the new Millennium, Soi Dead Artists saw the beginning of a two year building boom (relatively speaking). By the end of 2001, the number of Night Entertainment Venues had expanded to 38. Many are surprised to hear that this exceeded the number of Night Venues (of all types) on Patpong 1. (Record keepers and historians note that at that juncture, Patpong 1 -including Soi Bookstore- was already in decline, and had only 29 such venues.)
The following period (2002 & most of 2003), which lasted almost two years, saw quite a few closings and openings, but the total number of Night Entertainment Venues didn't increase in any significant way. This period coincides with the Autocracy's Crackdown on the Night Scene, so it is not surprising that the previous 'boom' was, for all intents and purposes, halted in its tracks.
What has surprised all of us, however, is that since the opening of Mojos in November of last year, a flurry of activity, both in building construction completions and Night Venue openings has once again hit Soi Dead Artists. The period February - March of this year saw 7 bars under construction, and at this writing, 4 of them are already open for business. The remaining 3 are (it has been 'promised') will open before the end of this March. Details of the new Night Venues can be seen below in the March Follies and/or viewed by clicking Here for our updated MAP.
The 'Night Venue' count for midnight, 29 February was 45 venues. Currently under construction are 3 more lounges - and each have indicated they will be opening near the end of this month (March 2004). There are 4 new shophouses currently out for lease, the owners have raised the prices to the point that virtually only lounges are going to be able to afford them. There is at least one bar that will be reopening after an enforced closure (The Cave). All this points to an end-of-the-year scenario where the total number of Night Venues on Soi Dead Artists will likely be in be excess of fifty (50). For those of you interested in the statistics, this will see Soi 33 experiencing 300% growth in less than 5 years. Nothing to sneeze at - and should conditions permit, the soi is large enough to continue right on expanding.
BUSTS - CURFEWS - ZONES
The month of February 2004 saw more of the same with regards 'the squeeze' on Thailand's nightlife by the "Social Order Crusade" - the campaign that everyone except a few sycophantic officials and kowtowing newspapers is calling "The Crackdown". With the early-closing date of 1 March upon us, those not in "The Zones" will be shutting down operations at the pumpkin hour. Meanwhile, the Autocracy is becoming more entrenched in it's 'siege mentality' - their defense of these superficialities is that, somehow, they will be the first nation on earth to succeed in legislating into existence some form of 'new morality'.
One local 'professional cynic', R. "Leroy" Tacke, summed it up before his departure to Indonesia last week to take up employment in that wasteland - :
"... The new autocracy is obsessing on litigating morality through a senseless strangling of the tourism industry. All this razzle-dazzle about "social order" is nothing more than a simplistic and all-too-obvious effort to divert the population's focus away from the truly crippling problems in the South, their vile non-judicial slaughterings of thousands of drug suspects, and the ballooning credit debt. Their self-serving manipulation of an already latently xenophobic populace is seen by all to be a transparent putsch to strengthen their grip on the reins of power and entrench themselves as permanent government fixtures. ..."
(-Tape transcript forwarded to MIDNITE HOUR on 17 February 2004.) His group of peers (local and foreign) were reportedly in total agreement.
On 18 February, the English language Press, both the Bangkok Post and The Nation, covered Bangkok's Finest bust on The Cave theme-lounge on Sukhumvit Soi 33. In what would have been an otherwise all-too-obvious "show bust", Our Finest happened across evidence in the form of used and unused condoms in upstairs bedrooms. This was a fortuitous find on their part, as it was in fact the only 'bustable' offense - provided that it could be proven these used condoms were worn in a pay-for-sex context, of course...Ahennnnnnnh. The Nation's story is excerpted here (click).
On 4 February, the Crackdown task-force reaffirmed the end-of-the month implementation of the crippling non-Zone closing times, however, this time with embellishments. Not only would they be closing down most of Thailand's Night Entertainment Industry earlier than in anywhere in Southeast Asia, they would be placing a 10:00 PM. curfew on youths under 18 years of age Another interesting embellishment is that bar dancers will only be allowed to dance from 9:00 PM to midnight. How on Earth this reduction in dancing of 3 hours per night aids in any way in protecting Thai youth from corruption (they are already forbidden to enter Night Venues if under 20 years of age), or how this otherwise protects the nation's morality is anybody's guess. It would be difficult for any reasoning person to conclude other than that this was simply harassment for harassment's sake.
Whether through design or abject ignorance, The Forces Of Good are building in gross contradictions and absurdities. Take for example, the 10:00 PM curfew for under-18's. On the one hand, the Forces-That-Be have allowed RCA Night Entertainment Area the 'privilege' of remaining open until 02:00 AM, however, the youth that comprise the bulk of their custom will have to leave around 09:30 each evening to insure they are home before curfew. This will leave the Night Entertainment Venues in RCA virtually empty from 09:30 PM until 02:00 AM. Therefore, either by "conspiracy' or 'screw-up', they have relegated RCA to an early grave.
Another almost comical absurdity is that once the 10:00 PM curfew is implemented, the under-18's will not be able to go watch Finding Nemo after 07:30 PM, because the film would be letting out too late for them to be home safely in bed before 10:00 PM. With all due respect, this can't possibly be 'conspiracy' on the part of the Forces Of Good, this is just plain-vanilla stupidity. An excellent report, dated 04 February, on the impending curfews from Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) is excerpted here (click).
All the above 'cracking down' is proceeding with the complicity of a mostly butt-kissing Press. (In a reversal of roles, The Nation seems to be about the only rag with any cojones in this regard - our hats off to them...). But this compliant Press is not only aiding the Crackdown - as we can see from a Post Today editorial that agreed wholeheartedly with the Autocracy that the re-emergence of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) was due to wanton raising of fighting roosters. The Autocracy's solution to this, and we promise we are not making this up as we go along, is to have smart-chips imbedded in all fighting roosters. (We confess that we are actually laughing out loud as we are typing this.) -And this amid the strident denials that they lifted the quarantines weeks, if not months too early. Heaven help us.
While still on the corrupted Press, as you may remember, MIDNITE HOUR spelled out the Bangkok Post's perfidy in some detail last issue, esp. with regards their treatment of Bernard Trink, the Nite Owl. A kind soul has forwarded a further piece on Trink from the Time Asia bureau, which is excerpted here (click).
The ensuing month will prove most interesting, what with February's bar owner petitions (thrust under bar patrons' hands for signature on arrival), and the "pratuang" signs protesting the Crackdown stapled or taped to almost every Night Venue, and even flying banners across Sukhumvit Road protesting for longer, not shorter Night Entertainment Venue hours. and contingents of Night Venue owners carrying their protests to City Hall, hoping to air their grievances. MIDNITE HOUR will be on hand to observe how the reality unfolds as compared to the myriad predictions - and we will be keeping all advised.
Easy Square On Brink
BUILDING BOOM ERUPTS
All we can say is, "Watch this space". On 1 November of last year, our MIDNITE HOUR headline read 'Easy Square Launched - But can it fly?' Our story was not so much a prediction as a statement of the 'possible'. After all, Easy Square had a large, undeveloped area, a few interesting bar beers already up and running, and not too far away, there were a number of bar beers being closed down in Cowboy Annex due to land redevelopment. We thought it worthy of note, as we saw a possible (if perhaps improbable) scenario where there would be a large influx into this Soi 22 area. There was 'motive' and 'opportunity', and even a remote possibility that Easy Square would eventually gain stature as an independent Night Entertainment Venue
Hold onto your hats, as we press the fast-forward button. It is now 01 March 2004, and in addition to the half dozen bar beers already open, there are an additional 34 bars already under construction. That's not a misprint - 34 under construction. This is not someone's wish list, not something on the landowner's drawing boards -- all the concrete pads have been poured and the roofing is being put in place as we speak. There is also a muay-thai boxing ring being constructed (although we at MIDNITE HOUR don't know why; we have yet to see one work out in a bar area...) Of those 34 bars in the new section, 14 bars will be completed (construction) by 15 March. Several of these 14 have already been leased out, and should be up and running before the end of the month.
This new construction only takes up half of the previously vacant center section. It is understood that if this first group of 34 bars do well, the other half of this area will also be developed. There is also a large amount of undeveloped and/or redevelopable area to at the back of the compound. These additional 34 upcoming bars are not inclusive of the newly completed units already leased out on the South side - there are no more available places on this row; the last units having been leased this February (renovations now under way). The potential for Easy Square is well over a hundred bars. But we don't want to say that too loudly, that was the same thing people were saying about Sukhumvit Square a little over a year ago...
It is not outside the realm of possibility that, despite the soon-to-be-implemented Crackdown closing time schedules, Easy Square will have reached that threshold of "critical mass" on or before 1 April 2004. That coming to pass, it looks as though the first "Rumor Of The Month" will have at last come true (See last month's rumor).
On the one hand, all this new bar construction seems to fly in the face of good judgment - taking place at the very time the Draconian early closure law is being put into effect. However, we should remember that Bangkok's Finest had already self-interpreted on the closing time for bar beer areas. Bar beers have been closing at midnite for several months already, and despite the nay-sayers, they have been able, with few exceptions, to continue to earn a crust. My, but we do live in interesting times...
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 MARCH, 2004 :
The Casanova bar, whose main entrance has always been on Soi Bookstore is now using the old Concert Bar stairwell next to the Muzzik Cafe on Patpong 1. Be advised that this entrance takes you to the very same bar - it now has two entrances instead of one. While we are at it, be strongly advised that this is a "pay-for-show" bar. A junior-grade street lout advised that it was only 200 baht to watch the show, plus drinks. The senior street lout turned junior down flatly when he suggested I be taken upstairs for a show-and-tell. It would be a most difficult venue to recommend in the best of times. PATPONG I
The Chicken Divine bar beer did a quick renovation this month, divesting itself of anything to do with real chickens, and generally spruced the place up a tad. They do have a brand-new sign, which can only be seen from the inside footpath. It is still the Chicken Divine, although you may not be able to determine that fact without extensive investigation. . PATPONG II
Also in the 8-Pak, the Quarter Moon bar beer departed for higher ground, keeping just ahead of the demolition crews. We heard talk it might move to Easy Square ? COWBOY ANNEX
After stuffing the last chit in the cup only a few nights ago, the Tone Sone Pub (formerly Ton Son), has pulled its roller-shutter down and padlocked it to the deck for the last time. COWBOY ANNEX
The Ban Rim Chong has called it an evening. Providing mostly Karaoke and good local cuisine to mostly Thai patrons, its ramshackle 'architecture' was soundly scavenged immediately after the premises were vacated. COWBOY ANNEX
Gone but not gone, the Siamese Twins, an 8-Pak combo bar beer - Pool Bar, waited until the last minute to move lock, stock and barstool down the street to its namesake, which opened a couple of months ago in Soi 23 in anticipation of the closure. COWBOY ANNEX
The one bit of good news in all this decimation is the owner of Spanky's Bar 1 said that Suzie Bar (closed last September) had relocated to Sukhumvit Soi 4. MIDNITE HOUR verified this earlier this week - actually, they are located on the small soi that cuts off to Soi 6, in the old Meeting Pub digs. Suzie's may hold the record for relocating - they started as Suzie and Crazy in the ill-fated Clinton Plaza, and moved to Sukhumvit Square as just plain Suzie's, only to have their premises demolished by Chuwit & Co. Their next move was to Cowboy Annex, but they closed down shortly after the original word went out that the Annex wasn't long for this world. Suzie's say they are busier now than when in the Annex. They obviously have the survivor instinct; we wish them constancy. COWBOY ANNEX / Soi 4
The Say Hi Bar, after saying they were going to be there for the long haul (whatever that might have meant), buttoned up shop and moved off silently into the night, taking their pool tables with them. A well-run establishment, we hope they land on their feet somewhere nearby. The Say Hi were also veterans of Sukhumvit Square, and until that Square was demolished by Mafia elements, Say Hi laid claim to "smallest Pool Bar in Bangkok". . COWBOY ANNEX
The Nuu Jum, one of the 'older' venues, also cashed it in this last month. Mostly an open, inside-outside drinking bar and restaurant for locals, it occasionally had a Farang customer or two. COWBOY ANNEX
The OB 1 bar beer in the front Asoke Plaza section has thrown in the towel. However, it's surviving twin can still be found in Queen's Park Plaza, so it's not like we're really saying "sayonara". It's old digs here at Cowboy Annex were almost immediately taken over by the new Spanky's Bar 3. We suspect it will actually become Spanky's Bar 1 in the not too distant future, when that bar closes down to make way for next door's redevelopment. These Spanky's bars predate the Spanky's A-Go-Go in Nana Plaza, and are not related. COWBOY ANNEX
The Red Hot Pepper bar beer in the 8-Pak has rolled up its red carpet and exited stage left for parts unknown. This will not dampen Khun S's entrepreneurial zeal, she will certainly be reopening something, somewhere, nearby, in the not-too-distant future. COWBOY ANNEX
The Fantacy (sic) bar beer in the 4-Pak imploded quietly in late February, leaving only dark shadows and litter behind to remember it by. COWBOY ANNEX
The kind owner of Tu's Bar bar beer in the front (Plaza) area says the owner of the land has been telling them they can renew their leases for two (2) more years; that they will not be run off in April of this year when the adjacent Subway station opens. Why is it I am having a problem getting comfortable with that? (See our "Rumor Of The Month" this month.) COWBOY ANNEX
Of the seven shophouse spaces now under renovation in the new building opposite the Goya, all except one of them will be occupied by lounges. At least two of the lounges are double-shophouse wide, one of which has already opened, - the Koi Gokoro. As the name implies, it is 'orientation Oriental'. We welcome them as they throw their hat in the ring. From the looks of ongoing construction, two other Night Venues in that block could be opening any day now. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
The Casablanca, a single shophouse lounge in the same complex had a soft opening of sorts yesterday (29 February) - staff and friends had a "working holiday" putting up decals and enjoying a cool one, or perhaps two. They are 'officially' opening today. If feng shui is anything like "location, location, location, they've got it made. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
The 33 Lucky Luciano Club has reopened on schedule, after a one-month renovation. During the renovation, it dropped the "33" from it's name, so it's just plain Lucky Luciano's now. Everything looking good on the inside. Welcome back to the night-games. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Likewise, the Buongiorno Bar & Restaurant has switched it's lights on once again, and is back full-tilt. Located down at the end of sub-soi 5, they have a well lit sign on the main soi pointing the way in. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
The Gaugin Club, sporting a shophouse-wide sign has popped out of virtually nowhere. Using the same 'lounge format', they have cast their lot with the many. Welcome to the free-for-all. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Only a week ago, the brand-new Brick lounge hung out their neon shingle, wanting to be counted among their peers. This, the latest venue by the folk that brought you Christies Club, and Degas Club and the Napoleon Club (all on this soi). The Brick's comely crew, mostly on lend from the above mentioned, are enthusiastically welcoming passers-by in for a drink. This Brick is no relation to the super-sized Brick Bar basement lounge on Khao Sarn Road. Yes the decor is 'bricks' in both venues. Immediately next door, another lounge -yet to be named- is poised to open - give it a couple more weeks. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
"SuperStar" Frank of Noriega's has advised MIDNITE HOUR that the so-called Patpong Entertainment Zone coming into effect today actually includes the entire "island" formed by Silom, Surawong, Rama 4 and Dejo Roads and all the sois within - but is not inclusive of any properties on the outside of that "island". That is to say, if you are on the other side of the street on Surawong Road as is the Montien Hotel, you are NOT in the Zone. If all this is hard fact, we anticipate we will all be seeing maps in the newspapers showing the exact boundaries of all three Entertainment Zones in the next few days. Obviously "old news" to some, none of the Bangkok hands we talked with prior to going to press were aware of this. SOI KATOEY
The Velvet has fallen on its sword, selling out to whoever it is that has enshrouded it in plywood while remodeling works are ongoing. The temporary sign outside says, "NEW CLUB OPENING IN MARCH". SOI KATOEY
Last month we noted that Cheers Bar had gone AWOL. Despite reassurances from the Dao Bar bivouacked next door that they were just away on furlough, we suspected the worst. But our fears were unwarranted, as all have recently returned safely to Headquarters and are continuing to march. We welcome them back to active duty. EASY SQUARE
© 2004, BANGKOK EYES / bangkokeyes.com