Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
- A NON-DARWINIAN EVOLUTION
Hua Hin - Quietly Super-Sizing
Patpong - Dancin' In The Streets
The Murals of Cosmo's Stairwell
Rumor Of The Month
August's Follies in review
At first take, comments on Nana Plaza's "decline" as seen in website forums, blogs and other Nightlife websites -and the overheard opinions of long time residents- were taken as merely "the nostalgia factor", or in some cases, the 'pronunciamentos' of those who presume to be "old Bangkok hands" trying to subtly imply how long they have actually been here.
But after time, the preponderance of such talk prevailed, and we at MIDNITE HOUR decided to take an analytical look at NEP to see what changes (real or imagined), have (or have not) taken place. Having watched Nana Plaza being born in 1982 when the Soi 16 bars relocated, we have literally watched 'em come and watched 'em go. We have made, quite arbitrarily, the decision to look at "The Nana Scene" from the viewpoint of demographics and from surveys of the night-crawlers, new and old - in hopes we could minimize our own "nostalgia factor".
We have carefully tried to keep in mind that just as individual Nitespots tend to cycle in popularity, so do the Night Entertainment Areas themselves. This month concludes our three-month "closer look" at the NEP, and our findings are found below. Our demographic assessment is in two parts - the demographics of the Nitespot employees and the demographics of the Nitespot customers.
In 1982 the three A-Go-Go bars that pioneered The Plaza were patronized almost exclusively by farang - that is to say white-face foreigners and the Nitespot workers were predominantly young Isaan women. Then, at the turn of the decade, a Japanese members-only club (Club New Fushicho) opened where the G-Spot now stands - and had a few heads turning - could this be the 'way of the future'? But the Fushicho moved to Soi Dead Artists in May of 1993, and Madison's took the helm - it seemed that Nana Plaza was not destined to be another Soi Ginza (Soi Thaniya).
It was during this timeframe that the Casanova opened - and it was, as it still is, a transgenderite (ladyboy) bar, and also had almost exclusively farang customers. But no one took this as a sign that Nana Plaza was going to become another Soi Katoey (Silom Soi 4) - which at that time was the 'nexus' of transgenderite / gay activity.
But in the late 1990's, as the decade raced towards the new Millennium, demographic changes at Nana Entertainment Plaza were already becoming self-evident. It was becoming more and more 'popular' for bars to have one or more 'token katoey' as an A-Go-Go dancer or even occasionally as a khon serb. While not particularly high on the radar screen, the overall demographic reality was that there were then many transgenderites employed at the NEP. Again, while this same trend was observed at Bangkok's other Night Entertainment Areas, in particular, Patpong 1, it was nevertheless a topic of many a conversation among frequent visitors and residents alike.
At the same time, the number of Asian (primarily Japanese) patrons was increasing dramatically. And as might be expected, they seemed to find some bars more to their liking than others. This also seemed to be part of a wider 'stratifying' of the Japanese Night Entertainment Scene - no longer confining themselves to their exclusive clubs on Soi Ginza and the few other Japanese-only clubs scattered throughout the city, the Japanese "middle class" were finding that the A-Go-Go bars were a more economic source of entertainment. And on the low end of the scale, the Yipun Khee Nok were invading the Thermae Coffee Shop in ever-growing numbers. The increase in Japanese nationals and other Asians at Nana Plaza, then, was an observable fact, but the Japanese were also expanding their vistas in every other direction, as well.
At the beginning of the new Millennium and following through to today, these trends at Nana Plaza have continued, both with regards the increase in transgenderite employees and Japanese/Asian customers. Before we go any further, however, it would be facile to attempt to connect the dots and conclude that the Japanese are going for the katoey transgenderites - they are not, for the most part. Nana Plaza now has four 'katoey bars'; the original Casanova, the Obsessions, then more recently the Cascade, and only a little over a month ago, Temptations went transgenderite when the new owners took over. That's just about eleven percent of the bars at NEP - considerably higher than any of the other expat Night Entertainment Areas - these statistics unarguably portray the demographic shift toward transgenderite sex workers (and we haven't even included the other transgenderites working in lesser numbers in virtually all the other bars). As for the Japanese-Asian influence, two and some say three, of the Rainbow bars are bastions of Japanese/Asian customers - so much so, that the long-time (white-face) residents frequently complain (accurately) that the hostesses in these bars tend to ignore them and sit with the Asian customers. Our last three-month 'closer look' at Nana confirmed this without a doubt.
We therefore interviewed several hostesses from a variety of bars, and they are not shy about explaining the facts of life - the Japanese pay anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 baht for a short-time 'escort fee'. I don't know many of the expats who are long time residents or frequent visitors to these shores that are willing to buy into this. But whether or not others perceive that the Japanese have 'bought their way' into Nana Plaza, the fact is they are there for the long term - the demographics have definitely changed, weighted more heavily in favor of the Asian customers. And how does Nana Plaza measure up with the other expat Night Entertainment Areas in this respect? Probably only Patpong 1 comes close in this regard - Japanese are known to frequent the King's Group bars in numbers. But, again, it is Nana Plaza that has the highest number of Asian customers, and the only location to have predominantly 'Japanese bars' within. Another way of saying the same thing - NEP has proportionally more Japanese and more katoeys than any of the other expat Night Entertainment Areas.
So, coming back full circle, are the criticisms of Nana as being in 'decline' accurate? Certainly not from the bar owners' point of view; their cash registers are still ringing. Certainly not from the sex workers' point of view (regardless of gender); they are getting on average higher pay than ever before. The perception that Nana is in decline comes, then, from the expats (like myself) who just don't enjoy Nana Plaza as much as we did, say, ten years ago, or fifteen years ago. It would be more accurate in Darwinian terms (or is it 'non-Darwinian?) to say that Nana has 'slid', or 'evolved sideways' - and that this 'slide' has been one of demographics. But it has not declined in any real terms other than just old-fashioned sanuk as perceived by the typical expat customer.
We note additionally, and with a touch of irony, that sanuk can be found elsewhere, to include the Patpongs. We say, 'with irony', because one of the most often heard complaints from expats is, " Nana is becoming like Patpong," especially with regard to pushy, man-handling door touts, drink-pumping hostesses and abrupt treatment. But while these less-than-desirable traits are becoming the 'norm' in Nana, in reality, over the last year it is the Patpongs which have mended their ill-mannered ways (mostly) and have come back around to believing that the best way to keep customers is to treat them right.
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 August, 2005 :
The non-news item of the month is the Tip-Top restaurant is now being renovated, and it is not going to be new bar(s) - as several wags would have it. It will reopen as itself by the end of the month, or thereabouts... PATPONG I
PATPONG IISpanky is nothing if not a true entrepreneur - they opened their original Spanky's in Asoke Corner in May of 2001. By February of 2004 they had opened their third, Spanky's 3, in the front, at Asoke Plaza. However, having much earlier seen the handwriting on the wall, Spanky took the option on the old Mike's Place on Patpong II (in of June 2004), retaining the name and adding a small "Spanky's" at the bottom of the sign. Then in November 2004 and again in January 2005, the owner of Asoke Corner + Asoke Plaza confiscated the land from the lessee and illegally destroyed every bar within (including Spanky's) -giving the bar owners brief warning to remove their personal effects. Spanky's foresight saved them: - their Patpong II venture was already starting to pay off. Then, again early last month (June 2005) they opened their second pool bar on Patpong II in the old Side Walk Cafe Bar digs (closed last month). May the Fates deal them only aces and faces. (No relation to Spankys in Nana Plaza.)
Located on 'The Ramp', he Tik + Ko is temporarily out of action, and will be Tik + Ko + (another close relative) by month's end, as the hammers and saws fly in aid of a one-month renovation. They already have a brand new Magic-Marker sign out for sau suay, with the usual promise of a 'high-paying salary'. We eagerly await their reopening come the first of September. PATPONG I I
NANA PLAZASecrets was 'lights-out' and the padlock was hanging on the door as we passed by the other evening - it seems they at last found a way out from under it all. Their next-door neighbors, Angel Witch have bought them out - planning an expansion a-la Rainbow 4. Our best guess is a mid-September completion. NANA PLAZA
The Deja Vu is seeing their one-month blackout all over again. More than 30-days for a first offense is more than a little unusual. (Their original unpardonable sin was that the dancers' ill-fitting bikini bras were occasionally getting stuck in their boot-tops). On asking around, a highly reliable source advises, without mentioning any names, that occasionally a bar owner thinks that because he has partnered with one of Bangkok's Finest he is going to enjoy benefits not afforded the unwashed commoner. But this is not how it works - especially if said bar owner thinks he can get a little cocky - whereupon the Men In Too-tight Uniforms will see this as arrogance, and slap an additional month onto the time in stocks - just for good measure. For example, and without mentioning any names. We make note as it seems to be a recurring -if rare- problem over the years.
The Apache should be closing right about....now - for what should be a very quick renovation and change of format - said to be tabletop dancing, or something close to it. -And the race is on - they would very much like to reopen before their next door neighbor Deja Vu does. Under new ownership, they will be retaining the Apache name. SOI COWBOY
SOI DEAD ARTISTS(Soi 33)As quickly as it opened, it closed again - the outside world never even having known it's name. Well, if that's the way it's going to be, then so be it. Cool sign, though.
The Lucky Luciano Club are making an offer that might be quite easy to refuse. They say that anyone walking in the door with 17.5 million baht can have the place - lock, stock and chrome barstool. But having said that, I'll be willing to wager you didn't know there is a second complete bar in the basement ! Not only that, but upstairs, there are three 'karaoke' rooms of varying sizes where small partys can be catered in complete privacy. And upstairs from that are, well, more rooms. With an unusual, but well-appointed main bar, who knows? Maybe they will find a buyer.
The Venus Club, which opened only in March of this year - and was hit by the sign gestapos a little over a month ago for having too explicit a sign, have pulled down the roller shutters, where they remain padlocked to the deck plate. All, however, may not be lost, as they (still) have a rap samak duan sign advertising for hostesses. We'll lay down a marker on this one and get back to you.
In the "My Typewriter Made Me Do It" department this month: - Two months ago, we reported that the Arsom Babai massage parlor was catching up to it's neighbors re: ambiguosity. They are actually the "Arsom Sabai". (Did you know that this 1932 Underwood has wooden keys?)
SOI KATOEYThe Bar Bar, opening earlier than expected, was doing a brisk business on the weekend. Last month we ran a photo of their neon, which was up but not switched on - this month we re-shot it for the archives. Lounge Bar the modus operandi. May the nightwinds blow kindly... SOIKATOEY
The Balcony has put up a row of slightly ambiguous signs outside the area they have claimed in front of the long-defunct Rome Club. At first reading, the presumption might be (and was, to many) that they are open "all night". What the Colonel meant by that was, "There will be happy hour prices at that area until the bar closes." The bar actually stays open until 01:00 a.m. or 02:00 a.m. or dawn, whichever comes first.
QUEEN'S PARK PLAZALast month, we received inquiries as to just where the X-Bar is located. They are located at the back in the left-hand corner of the Plaza, and with the nailing up of brand-new neon, they just got much easier to find...
WASHINGTON SQUARENewcomers to Washington Square sometimes find it difficult to find Studio 22 - and for a couple of good reasons. Firstly, their sign (below) is right next to the Dubliner Irish Pub (which has only a dinky little unlit A-frame sign). Also, Studio 22 is physically located inside the entranceway to the Mambo transvestite / transgenderite revue, and if you happen to attempt going there when a show is letting out, you would have to thread your way through a large herd of tour-bus Taiwanese and an equally large number of almost anatomically correct guys in drag. Keep on keeping on.
To avoid (we think) any further confusion - last month, it was the Side Walk Cafe Bar that closed on Patpong II, not the Sidewalk Cafe bar beer in Washington Square (at the exit to Soi 22) - which is still rocking on.
We give up on the Crystal Bar, which opens and closes as fast as young women of a certain profession change underwear. Only last month, they reopened after a short closure - this month they are closed again. Smart money says this is a guaranteed formula for failure - what we can't figure out is why they haven't gone down for the count already.... WASHINGTONSQUARE
SUKHUMVIT 1 PLAZAThings can get complicated when you are playing musical bars. The DC-10 people from NEP have been occupying the downstairs Chemo 01 since they purchased it from the original owner. They hemmed and hawed, however, about changing the sign for two months, before finally deciding to abandon the first floor altogether, and move upstairs to the front-most section of the second floor. And they have finally decided on their new name: DC 10 II. They are undecided as to what they will do with the ground floor premises which are shuttered and darker than a poisoned well at the moment. Welcome them to their new upstairs digs - let the good times roll.
Josephines Beer Garden, up on the roof, seems to be falling on harder and harder times - they have removed their glass-enclosed pool room and replaced it with - well, nothing. Gone are the misters (we mean fans that cool with micro-mist) and the deco lighting. They look like they are ready to skip town without paying the rent. SUKHUMVIT1PLAZA
TOBACCO ROADJust when it looked like the Tobacco Road Night Entertainment Area was gasping it's last, a brand-new bar opened up and put a little light - and a little life back into the equation. The Classic Bar Beer has opened in the old Dog / V Bar Beer digs (where DO they get these names?) As the sign suggests, Pool Bar is the operant descriptor. It remains, however, to be seen whether Fate's tumbling dice will bring sevens or nines. Break a leg, guys.
SOI EDENEarly in the evening, before things get too busy, the Eden Club's lovely masseuses enjoy a little som tam and sticky-rice on the front terrace.
OTHER NIGHTSPOTS OF NOTEThe Bierstube Swiss Restaurant (and Bar) has been around since 1972 - a veritable mollusk on the Bangkok Nitespot Scene. We have walked past hundreds of times, never having gone inside until last week. We were surprised to see a full wet bar and even more surprised to see a large Japanese menu. There was a good reason for that, of course, in that they are located on Sukhumvit Road near the top of Soi 33, where a large number of Japanese families rent condos and apartments. While we feel the anthropomorphized "keg-boy" sign outside is the stuff of children's nightmares, don't let it scare you away - food and drinks are good.
SUKHUMVIT ROAD. NEAR SOI 33
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS DEPT.
--- Datzit Fernow
William R. Morledge