Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
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April's Follies in review
A couple of years ago, the talk of the town was the wave of Russian prostitutes that had 'invaded' Sin City. They initially settled along a stretch of Soi Nana Nua (Soi 3) between Sukhumvit Road and the Grace Hotel. They eventually became a little too visible and there was a quiet crackdown by Bangkok's Finest, which consisted of having them work indoors in some of the buildings along that same soi. Not coincidentally, they were also "being managed" by some of those off-duty Men In Tan. But it wasn't long before that "Russian Scene" seemed to dry up, and the consensus was that all, or most of those fair-skinned Russkies had moved down to Pattayatown.
But that was then; this is now. Immediately on entering the ra-Jah Coffee House, we saw that our mysterious source was on the money - the Russians were back - in a big way. Seated in two or three of the front booths were a dozen Eastern European (Russian, Ukranian...) ladies of the evening. It is more than apparent that they are again (or still) being managed by off-duty members of Bangkok's Finest - whose presence is only thinly disguised, at best.
The scene, should one be interested, is to make a selection, pay in advance for the "package" of the girl and one of the rooms in the ra-Jah, just upstairs. According to our source, the price is around the 2,000 - 3,000 baht mark, with little room for downward negotiation. This is a "short-time" price - there is no "all night" price, and this is to discourage people from becoming semi-permanent residents there while on holidays: having the hotel staff change the towels, sheets and girl every day. ...So don't even think about it.
We noted with interest that almost all of the customers were Asian - this hasn't changed since the Russkies originally ventured out onto the Soi 3 curbside a couple of years ago, and tends to match the trend in the "Russian" bars in Pattaya. In fact, this is so much the norm that a white-face like myself entering the ra-Jah Coffee House is virtually ignored by the waiters, girls and off-duty Men In Tan, unless a pointed effort is made to raise their attention.
But having thus been rendered invisible by virtue of our white faces - that is to say, we weren't even considered potential "players" - we tended to view the entire scene as would a fly on the wall : Like moths to the flame, the furtive, steady stream of Asian customers was being drawn to this resurgent, irresistible White Heat. As Bob Seeger has sagely noted -
"All through the midnight,
Watch em come and watch 'em go.
With only one thing in common,
They got the fire down below."
The catalyst which started our motors running on rating A Go-Go bars came from our readers - one of the most frequently asked questions is, "Which A Go-Go bars are the best?" - or, "Which A Go-Go bars should we visit when in Bangkok?" But the catalyst is not, in this case, the reason - it was only the kick-start. Our reasons are several, as you will see below, but our overriding thought and consideration is that Bangkok's bars, once the greatest in the world, are losing their grip (shame, shame....). Bangkok's slide from the top of the heap has been slow and almost undetectable, and it's not just because the A Go-Go bars in other towns are getting better, it's because we here in Bangkok are getting worse. (Bear in mind, MIDNITE HOUR is making a generalization - there are yet many great A Go-Go bars in Bangkok; we are speaking on-average. Nevertheless, it is long past time we own up to our own failings.)
Our guidelines in formulating this review, this evaluation form, are simple and to the point. We believe that the overriding tenet, the primary reason customers go to A Go-Gos is to watch "young, beautiful girls dancing to great rock 'n roll music". We also believe that customers go to A Go-Go bars to meet and to know the girls working there. And we further believe that the customer should not be gouged, cheated or harassed while doing so. It's really just that simple.
It follows that if the A Go-Go bars being evaluated by MIDNITE HOUR are doing anything at all to discourage these three above-mentioned basic tenets of customer satisfaction, then it should be publicly noted. -An A Go-Go bar's failing is just that -a failing - and should not be something the owners have given spin to, or rationalized as "necessary or desirable", or whatever. (Believe me when I tell you - most of you have no idea how much of this kind of crap we have heard from bar owners past and present....)
Our individual evaluations focus on the 'negatives' and the 'positives' of the A Go-Go bar in question. On the positive side, we believe the A Go-Go bar that provides pleasant physical surroundings and the basic amenities should be given credit - they are doing a better job than the bar that does not, and our evaluation should likewise make note.
Having seen the A Go-Go bar come to Bangkok and grow up here over the last thirty odd years, and having watched what worked and what didn't, the format and contents of the below A Go-Go Evaluation Form could only have been what it has become; it almost wrote itself.
On with the show....
* * * * * * *
CLUB BOESCHE. This bar is probably the ultimate evolutionary state of the A Go-Go bar, with split level see-thru stages, non-stop shower shows and Jacuzzi scene. There are several shades of pink showing at any given time - considerably more than the prudish among you could tolerate. It has taken the ball from the Bangkok Super-Bars of the early '90's and run with it. While the lowest scoring bar on our survey this month, they could remedy those things that most irritate the customer in 5 minutes, and become one of the best bars of this era.
CATZ A GO-GO. This is the smallest of the A Go-Gos at Covent Garden, and most like the bars of old. No hustle, no hassle. In spite of the ratings, we like this bar the best of the four - perhaps derived from an unquantifiable 'nostalgia quotient', who knows?
BABE WATCH. By far the best name for an A Go-Go we've seen in a long time. We noted with interest (on both visits) that this bar, while maintaining a decent rating, had the fewest customers. We also noted that it was playing Rap Music. We also noticed that another bar in this complex was playing a lot of Techno, and we noted that that bar had the second lowest number of customers. Connect the dots, gentlemen.
X-ZONE A GO GO CLUB. This A Go-Go is the only one of the four accessed from the second floor - always a potential disadvantage in attracting customers. They could do a lot by maximizing their service to the customers - starting with getting rid of the Techno music.
As a final comment, we should note that these evaluations have been prepared, not as an owner's guide, but as a customer's guide. However, we invite A Go-Go bar owners to see how the customer views his, or her, A Go-Go bar, and if so motivated, send us their comments. Perhaps another way of saying the same thing, - we are not interested in the "formula" that the bar owner believes makes the bar the most money, we are interested in bringing the standard of Bangkok's A Go-Go's back up to the top, and to provide for maximum possible customer satisfaction. Nothing would please us more than to see Bangkok's bars regain their former "World No. 1" status.
WALKING STREET, SOUTH PATTAYA
MIDNITE HOUR presents the NEWS on the Bangkok Night Scene; - the 'history-in-the-making' for all major Expat Night Entertainment Areas - for the month preceding :
PATPONG IThe Red Parrot has added some real estate since the last time we looked - it's not just the best pool hall in Bangkok anymore (and we thought they would be too isolated to make a go of it.....) They are located on the second floor nearest Suriwong Road- and stretch from Patpong I to Patpong II.
The Tiger Girls are back out in front of King's Corner with an all-new promotion, and all new apparel. It needs be said, their old tiger suit dresses were much easier on the eye....
The hammers and saws are flying within the old G.T. Color Lab - we see that the booths are almost finished. Restaurant, or bar? We'll keep an eyeball peeled, and get back atcha.
Gone, but not gone, the Horse Shoes bar beer is back right where it started - on the 'Island' in Patpong II. It was absorbed a few months ago by the next-door Chicken Divine (while they worked something out with the Sign Gestapos), but have now returned with a vengeance.
We almost walked right past this battered old road sign for Patpong II - and thought that inasmuch as it probably wouldn't last much longer, we had better get a pic on file for the historical record. The bottom line in Thai language states that it is a private soi, and that they (the Patpong family) retain all rights to it. The same applies to Patpong I, by the way.
PATPONG I I
The new You Deserve It Bar is just what it looks like - an S&M bar. And if you have to ask how much the first drink is, you don't belong there. But go ahead and ask, anyway. The first drink is 900 Baht, and all successive drinks are virtually free at 300 Baht each. Like Demonia on Soi Dead Artists, it features several "sadit cho". This bar replaces the Bua Luang Target Pool Restaurant, but, we are informed by those on the ground there, it is still an Arum Bua Luang Entertainment Co. operation.
PATPONG I I
We actually have two reasons for giving Coyoty Spice Girl a mention this month. The first reason is that they have some new neon nailed up (see below). The second reason is, while we never make mistrakes, we partially misspoke last month when we said that First Avenue in Sukhumvit I Plaza was Bangkok's first and only "coyote dancing" venue. It was not - the Coyoty Spice Girl opened in August of last year, while the First Avenue opened in October. Our visit here proved interesting, even though we asked the girls to talk and, please, not "coyote dance". Interestingly, the Coyoty Spice Girl (on the Ramp) is owned by the same people who have the Pen & House (Pent House) on Patpong I. Keep on rocking.
PATPONG I I
We have lost count of how many times we have been told by management and staff that Mike's Place (Spanky's) was going to open "next month". It is not going to reopen any time soon. However, in reverence to what the original Mike's Place was, we will endeavor to scatter their ashes in Patpong II's most sacred places....
PATPONG I I
Cowboy's P.R. Girls
The newest thing on the block is "P.R. Girls". These are the girls who stand out on the soi and beckon denizens of the night like you and me inside for a drink. We used to call them 'off-duty dancers' (between sets), who would slip on something over their bikinis and hang in the doorway or come out in front of the bar and cajole and tease customers inside. -Even back thirty years ago, some bars realized that the feminine touch was more appealing to the farang than hectoring, manhandling male street touts. -(While others, even today, still just don't get it - Nana Plaza, are you listening?).
As time progressed, the A Go-Go bars started hiring attractive young women as "door girls". As the "door girl" concept became more popular, the consensus (eventually) was that the best name for these ladies would be the English language word, "Reception" (for Receptionist). This term was, and is, also used by some bars for the Greeters & Seaters working inside.
But that was then, this is now. There has been another elevation in status - now you will kindly refer to them as P.R. Girls - again, the adaptation of the English acronym for 'Public Relations'. This isn't just pomp, there is some good business sense being exhibited by (many of) the bar owners - the elevated job description has attracted many of the attractive P.R. Girls now working on Soi Cowboy, who wouldn't otherwise have been attracted to the Night Entertainment Scene. -Many of the young ladies we spoke to say, in confidence, they wouldn't have taken the job if they couldn't otherwise be differentiated from 'bar girls'.
This elevation in status, or perception of elevation, for the girls of course benefits the bars, as male passers-by are much more likely to stop and talk to a lovely young lady. ( Like a jaded curmudgeon we know has often repeated, "I don't know what it is, there's just something about a girl with a great body and a beautiful face." ) Below are some of the P.R. Girls in action on Soi Cowboy.
NANA PLAZAThe Sign Gestapos have, after three months, satisfied themselves, and their wallets, that the Erotica Bar is actually the Erotica Bar. They somehow needed reassuring, even though the Erotica has been Erotica since they opened in September 2003. The Erotica didn't have to close down for this deadly sign infringement - they used the usual payola method of staying open until this sign infraction could be 'worked out'. The Sign Gestapos have allowed as how it would now be OK to put some (new) neon up to that effect.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS(Soi 33)The best news we've heard all month is that Mojos has reopened. And from the looks of it, they intend to continue as a live "blues bar" - we hope this is true. Their 'rap samak duan' signs are out on the Soi - they are hiring (qualified) staff as fast as they walk in the door. Welcome back to the nightbeat - may there always be a chinchoke on your wall.
Last night we noticed that Venus Club had succumbed to Darwin's Harsh Imperative, and as we were sticky-beaking around, we were surprised by the owner at the front door. She advised that this was not a temporary closure, they were packing their bags for the big one. In passing, she mentioned that she was selling, and that one million baht would be the all-in price. Anyone interested should lurk around the front door - like we did.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
The Ran-Hime Club has opened in what was most recently the R. Club (and originally the Oliver reed's club). Modus operandi: karaoke. Orientation Oriental. Welcome to the sharkpool.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
The Pia Beauty Spa massage, open almost one year to the day, has quietly fallen on it's sword - only shadows dance in it's silent entranceway. Located at the far end of Soi Pan Pan (Sub-soi 1), it didn't stand much of a chance once the other massage parlors opened up closer to the flow of foot traffic. Next time, should there be one, we hope Khun Pia pays a little more heed to location, location, location.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Wall Street's girls out in force, enticing customers in for refreshments. This is neither the standard practice, nor the standard dress for the Soi 33 Nitespots, and is indicative of a more competitive approach for the less-than-plentiful supply of customers. But, hey, let the good times roll.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
SOI KATOEYSpeed has got some new neon - and guess who footed the bill.... Jack Daniels must be slipping - usually their bottle of 'JD' is the biggest thing on the sign....
QUEEN'S PARK PLAZAThe Captain's Inn, which closed a little over a month ago, was to have been absorbed by the Friendly Bar next door. However, the economics proved to be something else, and they have leased it out to someone new. The new folks are still deciding on a name, but the working name, until further notice, is 'Bamboo Bar'. They hope to have their neon shingle, whatever it may say, nailed up by the end of the month. Let the Nightgames begin....
Happiness has dropped the part of their neon which read, "Paddy's Irish Bar". But the rock continues to rock, and the roll continues to roll, and a whole lotta pool playing's still going on.
Flaming Moe's has entered the latest "beer price wars" in a major way. We couldn't think of a more relaxing place to spend an afternoon - get on over and check it out. We don't actually know Bangkok's local "Flaming Moe", but anyone who likes The Simpsons is a friend of ours.
SUKHUMVIT 1 PLAZAAs feared (see last month's issue), Sukhumvit 1 Plaza has continued to implode - now no longer maintaining critical mass. With the near-total decimation of the second floor, the total number of Nitespots at this Night Entertainment Area is now down to ten, even if we include the roof-top late-nitespot Josephines. MIDNITE HOUR will continue to monitor and report on the remaining Night Entertainment Venues for the historical record. With word on the grapevine that the Night Night Joop Joop will reopen soon (under new name & ownership), we remain hopeful the Plaza will once again regain it's original momentum.
The Hello Bar, only recently moved upstairs to the old DC-10 II digs, has 'augered-in' at the end of it's runway. They originally opened on the ground floor in May of 2005, after closing down operations in Tobacco Road (Soi Zero), across the way. Next time, if there is a next time, we hope the runes cast more favorably.
The Sexy Bar has apparently found a buyer and has moved on (rumored to be Soi 11). Sexy Bar originally opened in March of last year. A veteran of sudden closures (twice in the Asoke Corner debacles), the proprietress has become used to the necessarily nomadic nature of the Bangkok bar beer owner. May the nightwinds blow more favorably the next time around.
Like so many of the bar beers that came to Sukhumvit 1 Plaza, the owner/ manager of Friends Bar was a casualty of unscrupulous real estate manipulators in her earlier entrepreneurial ventures. We passed by last night for a chat, but found the place abandoned - and in tact. We haven't had a chance to talk to the owner yet, and may not get that chance, but in the event this is where the fat lady sings, we wish her well in any future Night Entertainment venture she may undertake.
If Josephines is handing out these business cards to everyone entering or leaving Nana Plaza, we can probably be safe in assuming we need not any longer do our part in keeping their little "best kept secret" on late closing. Shake it, don't break it, though, guys, because the (political) times, they are a-changing. (Note: Josephines is located at Sukhumvit 1 Plaza and not Nana Plaza.)
SOI EDENSiam Smile bar is now offering hotel rooms, and Internet services. This seems to be the 'way of the future' on Soi Eden, and we wish them well. It is worth mentioning that the several locations on the Soi offer good, clean rooms for under a thousand baht a night, and are centrally located, and next to the skytrain. An ideal location for the budget-minded.
There is a (new bar) going up right next door to Eden Club. All we can see of it now is the framing for the elevated porch area and the fountain - it looks to be a single-shophouse wide.. We'll put a marker down on this one, and get back to you next month.
OTHER NIGHTSPOTS OF NOTE
They say you can never go back. This, however, is not true; all you need to do is pay the price.... The months-long interior/ exterior renovation at the Grace Coffee Shop now completed, we thought it only proper to visit this major ghost of good-times past and have one more look around. The place looks better than it ever has, but the dreadful clientele and freelancer stock have returned intact from pre-renovation - as have the two jukeboxes. The third jukebox gone for more than a decade now. --Why, we can remember when all three jukeboxes would be playing Black Superman at the same time.... "M'hamad, M'hamad Ali, Floats like a butterfly, Stings like a bee...." (OK, OK, we'll stop here; we know when we've gone too far....)
GRACE HOTEL, SUKHUMVIT SOI 3
Woah ! We hope this doesn't mean what we think it means. Annie's Pub has been at the ra-Jah Hotel compound for some time now, but this recently added neon is just a tad ambiguous....
RA-JAH HOTEL COMPOUND, SOI 4
The Toby Jug Pub, one of Bangkok's Night Entertainment mollusks -it was just getting ready to celebrate it's 26th year as one of Bangkok's 'established' pubs- has rolled up the red carpet, rolled down the shutters, and rolled out of town. Well, most of the way out of town, anyway - the sign tacked to the door (see inset) advises they will be moving to Sukhumvit Soi 50 this coming June. (Soi 50??) Once upon a time, the 'Toby Jug' was one of the more popular Nitespots on Silom Road - let's hope the night-gods smile on them once again in their future home.
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS DEPT.
--- Datzit Fernow
William R. Morledge