Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
'A Go-Go' Then & Now
PLUS : A GO-GO's AMAZING HISTORY !
Bangkok's Decemberfest !
A Go-Go's Incredible History !
Ask Us (almost) Anything
Bangkok's GRAFFITI -Latest Fix!
Rumor Of The Month
February's Follies in review
First among the differences in A Go-Go thirty years ago and now, are the A Go-Go girls themselves - and while the "bikini" quickly became, and remained de rigueur, thirty years ago bar owners didn't much care what else was worn. We recall seeing girls A Go-Go dancing in street shoes, sandals and even flip-flops. More than a few A Go-Goers even danced in pink or yellow tennis shoes, or barefooted. Many, until they had acquired some cash, danced in their panties and bras. Boots? Unheard of.
As time passed, the costumes became skimpier and more sheer, and as the mid-1980's rolled around part or all of the bikinis would disappear altogether, depending on the venue and the payoff to Bangkok's Finest. No great surprise there - they were just catching up with the USA and other places that have had nude dancing in across-the-tracks venues for decades. Nude and semi-nude A Go-Go dancing, however was, and is in the minority.
Many A Go-Go bars settled on what they felt were 'distinctive' costumes for their A Go-Go dancers, many of which were downright ridiculous. This persistent search for 'something original' by management still goes on, and is even more ridiculous than it was in the early years. This goes hand in glove with the fact that there are a large number of bar owners out there today that still just don't get it - the ONLY reason men go to A Go-Go bars is to be with lively, good looking young (did you hear that?), not-fat (did you hear that?) women - and good rock 'n roll. Old, fat, birth-scarred women in any kind of a bikini are not attractive - it doesn't matter how much gauze, fluff, straps, sashes, or Hawaiian leis you add into the equation. If it walks like a 500 lb gorilla and it talks like a 500 lb gorilla, it bloody-well is a 500 lb gorilla. And yet there is the rare bar you can go into these days in that doesn't have at least a few of these sad women who should have had restraining orders preventing them from coming within fifty feet of an A Go-Go stage. It's supposed to be entertainment, remember?
But the larger differences in A Go-Go then and now are in the A Go-Go Bars themselves, and the way they are run. The first item on our list - the one "everyone gets right in the pop-quiz", is the old A Go-Go Bars didn't have chrome poles. Today, a Night Entertainment Venue without chrome poles wouldn't be recognized as an A Go-Go Bar.
Today, the A Go-Go stages are much bigger than thirty years ago - and for good reason. Thirty years ago, a Bangkok A Go-Go Bar might have three or four dancers per "floor", or set. Now it is not uncommon to see more than twenty girls on stage at any given time - with the most beautiful "dancing point" nearest the door to attract customers inside.
Thirty years ago, the A Go-Go sets would last three songs, then another 'floor' would get themselves up on stage for their turn. This allowed the girls a realistic time in which to get back down and continue their conversations and drinking with their waiting customers. Not now, my friend, not now. Some A Go-Go Bars will have sets lasting twenty minutes, or more - the waiting, (drink-buying) customers be damned - they usually get up and leave.
Let's discuss for a minute, the design of the newer A Go-Go Bars. A typical bar would have a long central dance floor surrounded by an oblong bar with barstools on the outside, bartendees on the inside next to the stage (facilitated, of course, by the popularization of the newer double-shophouse width venues). Against the walls are concentric rings of pews; the pews in the rear elevated above the rows in front. Most of the rear pews are so cramped it is impossible to even sit with a hostess. It is obvious that the paradigm has shifted - the bars don't consider the selling of "lady drinks" a priority. These A Go-Go Bars have become essentially "show bars", where imbibers can come in and watch, or if they are interested in buying out a girl, they have to signal to her through a mamasan, or other (- in other words fishbowl-style). Likewise, you couldn't carry on a conversation with a hostess at any rate, as the "techno" or "rap" music (and I use the term 'music' here in it's most extreme, most distorted form) is often way too loud for normal conversation.
As if more 'proof' were needed on the de-emphasis of lady drinks, et al, we did several ad-hoc surveys in some of the newer A Go-Gos - here are three examples: the results may surprise you.
Had this happened thirty years ago, the mamasan would have been apoplectic - and there would have been a goodly number who would have had their pay docked. -And if it had been Khun Mukda at the helm, heads would have rolled. (Well, OK, figuratively, I meant figuratively....)
Now let's look at the A Go-Go girl's pay structure. Thirty years ago, she was happy with 2,000 baht a month, because she knew she would be able to make it on drinks and 'Offs'. And usually she didn't see much of her 2,000 baht - the bars had elaborate systems for pay-cuts for late minutes or hours, missing days, and a host of other highly imaginative punitive deductions. Today, as we have shown in these columns, a top of the line A Go-Go dancer can get 15,000 baht a month, or more, and will not be docked for a lack of drinks or 'Offs'. It becomes rather clear - if a dancer doesn't see you as a likely 'Off' prospect, she has no, zero, motivation to go and sit with your sorry ass - so she doesn't.
So how are today's A Go-Go's making their money? Silly question- look at the change in drink prices - some places sodas are 110 baht, where they used to be 20 baht. Look at "buy out" escort fees - 600 baht is the norm for an 'Off' - as compared with a fraction of that cost 30 years ago. Even accounting for inflation, the increases are clearly disproportionate. Another recent money-making technique is where the mamasan will spot the suckers - usually drunk, who can be talked into round after round of B-52s (or other drinks) with an ever-increasing bevy of the best looking dancers crowding around to be included in the action - I've seen customers drop 7,000 baht, sometimes much more, and continue to grin and bear it. With four or five customers a night like that, you are already out of the red.
Today's A Go-Go bars are also innovating - getting other "shows" to attract large numbers of customers who will buy one or two drinks, then move on - owners make their money over a very brief one or two hours. (Not that they should be blamed for this - what with the Benevolent Autocracy doing everything in their power to make opening hours a perpetual headache for bar owners....) In further defense of bar owners, with the freeze on the number of A Go-Go bars in Bangkok, bar owners are in a sense being held hostage - if they don't pay top dollar -along with no cuts for drinks or Offs- for their best dancers, the girls have found it has become easier and easier to go elsewhere. And believe me, this is happening all the time (whereas if there were no limit on the number of bars that could open, with normal competitive market forces in play, this form of 'wage hostage' negotiating would be significantly lessened). -But then, on the other hand, let's not get too soft on bar owners - the several super-bars in Bangkok's expat Night Entertainment Areas regularly gross over 100,000 baht on the good nights - this is 10 times what a bar would hope for thirty years ago.
The overall effect of these changes (I've included most of the major changes here) is that the A Go-Go Bar is a much less personal, much more expensive, much less satisfying proposition than thirty years ago. Local curmudgeonly expats curse the changes, and claim it is all part of a grander conspiracy - 'the "Ginza Effect" is ruining the Night Entertainment World as we know it'. But we know better - without change, you are already dead, Pard. - And the complete truth be told, we have only covered the most typical cases of the "new" A Go-Go environment - there are still enough exceptions to the rule that Bangkok specifically, and Thailand generally, will remain the center of the Night Entertainment Universe for the foreseeable.
That's our story, and we are sticking to it.
Decemberfest !Each year in Bangkok, come the change of seasons from "rainy" to "cool", there is a flurry of 'minor construction' projects in front of various shopping malls and other larger structures. Those in-the-know know this ruckus of hammers and saws marks the beginning of Decemberfest - (pardon us, if you will, for stealing the term from Munich's 'Oktoberfest' - or, 'Wiesn').
Bangkok's Decemberfest, actually beginning in November, and winding down in January, could just as easily have been dubbed 'Novemberfest' or 'Winterfest', but December being the only month seeing a full 31 days' activity, we opted for just plain Decemberfest. And MIDNITE HOUR would be remiss in the extreme if we didn't include these festivities as a major Night Entertainment phenomenon. The flurry of 'minor construction' we noted above is the fabrication of platforms, stages, temporary kitchens, and this year, one venue even erected temporary two-storey dining areas.
And Bangkok's Decemberfest, like the Oktoberfest, is all about beer. Each major beer label stakes claim to their own area with large illuminated signs and mock-ups of giant beer bottles, etc. Each 'beer' competing for the thousands of customers, local and foreign (but mostly local) that will be pouring in each and every evening for an abundance of soup, suds and song.
Competition is fierce - local and international cuisine is available for the asking - stage shows, including pop-rock bands and well known singers have become a necessity, no longer just an added attraction. And as expected, attractive 'costumed' greeters representing the beer brand in question roam outside to attract customers inside. Likewise, young lasses roam from table to table inside, insuring everyone's jug or glass is topped up with the house label's amber ale.
The Decemberfest, perhaps somewhat tamer than the Oktoberfest, remains a most pleasant outdoor experience, with the 'winter' temperatures plummeting down into the seventies, and dry skies for the first time in six months, Bangkok's population is ready to get out and party. These grand venues prove to be ideal for 'restauranting', partying with friends, making new acquaintances, or just listening or singing along with the house band.
Historically, Bangkok's Decemberfest is a recent innovation. Perhaps the earliest such outdoor venue was Singha Beer's outdoor beer garden on Soi Asoke, which experienced a modicum of popularity in the early 1980's. It in turn, was inspired by the "German Invasion" of the mid-late 1970's, when the flood of German tourists first hit these shores - some of whom stayed on to open Thailand's first 'bar bier's', others opening Thailand's first 'Biergartens'. And although the Singha Beer Garden is no longer there, it 'showed the way', it planted the seed - the sanuk, combining two of Bangkok's favorite pastimes -eating and drinking- could be marketed successfully.
But no one knew quite how well this 'German import' could be marketed until the opening of the World Trade Center (now Central World). The outdoor 'beer garden' concept took off there early and grew rapidly - each year seeing significant growth, both in size and variety of entertainment. The 2005 Decemberfest activities at the Central World were once again bigger and better than ever - they, collectively and cumulatively, could only be described as a two-month-long extravaganza.
And, at the risk of repetition, the World Trade Center was only one of the many such temporary 'bier gartens' dotted around the Metropolis (even the brand new mega-structure Platinum Fashion Mall in Pratu Nam had it's own slew of crowded tables and beer-drinking revellers - and, of course, a local band).
A large part of the expat community is unaware that the Lumpini Night Bazaar has an outdoor Beergarden second in magnitude only to Central World's. This next group of photos was taken there a couple of nights ago.
Where will it all end? It probably won't. If you missed Bangkok's Decemberfest this time around, come late this year; the show begins all over again.
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 IBangkok's Night Entertainment Scene celebrated the Chinese New Year with it's usual enthusiasm, but the King's Castle II outdid themselves with colorful decorations and dress.
Camelot Castle, who changed themselves into King's Camelot a couple months back, have changed themselves, chameleon-like, back into Camelot Castle. If we didn't know better, we would say that the Sign Gestapos had a hand in this.... PATPONG I
Last month King's Garden had elaborate Christmas festivities, followed by a New Year's Eve Miss International Parade which snaked it's way around Patpong I and II. This month saw more Chinese New Year celebrations - this Night Entertainment Venue does more than it's share in bringing some sanuk back to the Patpongs.
PATPONG I I
SOI COWBOYAs inextricably a part of the Night Entertainment Scene as the elephants, these urchin flower-sellers seek out farang nightcrawlers to peddle their wares. Only slightly less tenacious than an Indian tailor tout, these children walk a thin line between 'cute' and 'downright bothersome'.
NANA PLAZAWe think we might have spotted some of the reasons the Big Mango is finally taking off. ....No, we are sure we spotted some of the reasons. Rock on.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS(Soi 33)We have been promising to get back to you about the No-Body Body Center located in Soi Pan Pan, and this last month MIDNITE HOUR interviewed staff there; - it is, in their words, "boy massage", and not a 'Specialty Massage', as we had been earlier informed. For those not in the know, "boy" and/ or "boyz" are euphemisms for "gay". (And the place abuilding next door that we have also been tracking - turned out to be a Japanese Restaurant, not the promised "bar".)
The More Massage, also on Soi Pan Pan, opened only in August 2005, looked darker than a poisoned well when we passed by the other night. Just plain not enough business. Too bad, but when "reality's" holding all the face cards, what're you gonna do?
The Jina 33 Club lounge have shoved their last chit in the cup and are looking for some quick financial relief - they have buttoned things down tighter than grandma's corset, and have hung a sign out looking for a sub lessee.... That strip of real estate (in Soi 33/2) is more than just a little pricey - don't expect any takers in the near future.
The shock of the month Night Entertainment-wise, came from Mojos. Ten days ago, they unceremoniously slammed those gigantic hardwood doors shut and threw chains through the staves. They opened in November of 2003, and looked good to go. Was it a change in management (?), a change in menu (?) or was it just too bloody expensive to keep up? A decent Blues Bar - we will endeavor to scatter their ashes with reverence.
Lucky Luciano Club have scribbled out their last check-bin, and have gone out to an agent to unload the property. A few months back we mentioned that it was going under the auctioneer's gavel, and that, unbeknownst to the masses, there is a second, fully outfitted bar in the basement (!) We suspect they will find a buyer in the very near future. SOIDEADARTISTS
Gone, but not gone, the Blue Heaven Sports Bar & Lounge were only closed for a couple of days last month for New Year's. - One of the few bars where the music is quiet enough to carry on a conversation (if that is your intention).
SOI KATOEYThe Home Bangkok Pub, which has been promising to reopen since December, has a few more problems than they have been letting on. The Drug Enforcement chappies have laid a heavy hand on their shoulder.... If and when this Night Venue reopens, we can look for a brand new name....
The XcentriX have thrown in their hand, Party Town not being their cup of tea (if we may mix a metaphor or two). They apparently hold the lease - and are looking for some quick relief by way of a sub-lease. They will probably find it in quick order, as the interior was done up in style. For the history buffs: XcentriX opened only in April of 2004 (soft opening).
QUEEN'S PARK PLAZAThe For You bar was only playing 'possum last month - as we suspected, they had let the staff (and themselves) off for a couple of days for the new year. Not to worry, they are still a-rockin' and a-rollin' to the break of dawn, or 01:00 a.m., whichever comes first.
Likewise for the Nice & Easy Pool Bar- they are back full-tilt after a brief New Year's holiday. By the way, check out their new neon....
SUKHUMVIT 1 PLAZAKhun Suzie just might be the champion in the tenacity department. She opened Suzy & Crazy Bar in Clinton Plaza in July 1999, taking over the reins from the Beer and Coffee Hut Bar Beer. But Suzie closed it down in September 2002, when she saw that Clinton Plaza's shady real estate manipulators had sold the tenants down the river.
But having earlier seen the handwriting on the wall, she had already opened her second Suzy & Crazy across the street in Sukhumvit Square (dropping the "& Crazy" in July). She briefly opened a second "Suzie Bar" in Sukhumvit Square just before the entire Night Entertainment Area was smashed by Mafia forces directly linked to the disgraced ex-MP Chuwit Kamolwisit (recently drummed out of National Politics for political irregularities regarding his party).
Undaunted, she reopened Suzie Bar Pub & Pool in Asoke Corner in April 2003, and was about to get involved in a bar named Marigold just across the way (also in Asoke Corner), but shut down operations in August of that year, after hearing that once again, the lessors were planning to abandon them to a redevelopment scheme. Suzie then relocated to Sukhumvit Soi 6 as "Suzie Bar" (actually it's that tiny soi that connects Soi 4 to Soi 6). There, business was good and bad, but mostly bad, so six months ago she closed down operations - we thought she had given up the Night Scene altogether.
But we were wrong- she just reopened a couple weeks ago, lock, stock and old neon - here in what was once the Morning Night II. Welcome back to the vagaries. May the Fates deal the Suzie Bar all aces and faces.
Opening with all the enthusiasm of someone who has never owned a bar before, Funny Bar got off to a flying start - sharing the old Morning Night II real estate with Suzie Bar. We welcome them to this rather dark and luckless nightworld.
The Revolution Salsa Bar, which had nothing to do with Revolution and even less to do with Salsa, is according to denizens on the ground, "open some of the time, and closed some of the time". This translates as "closed" in our book, and if they haven't reopened by this time next month, we will be scattering their ashes once and for all. We would be sorry to see them disappear; they have maintained an "intimate conversation" format since opening in May of 2005. SUKHUMVIT1PLAZA
The tiny 2-D Bar Poolbar upstairs on the second floor (opening this last May) was gathering cobwebs at an alarming rate the other night when we passed by. But with business being so bad there on the second floor, several of the bars are taking "nights off" -(bad idea, gang). We will give a second look back and see if they haven't made a sudden reappearance. We'll be getting back to you on this one.
WASHINGTON SQUAREThe Crystal Bar, which held the world record for most closings and reopenings has mustered up the courage of it's convictions and leaned into a beanball at home plate. We hope they find things a little more to their liking a little further on down the road a piece.
Quick to move into the Crystal Bar digs, however, was the Cheers Pub, new neon all aglow. This is not, we are informed, any relation to the long-closed Cheers Bar in the now defunct Easy Square Night Entertainment Area. Let the Nightgames begin....
We noted last month that we would come back to you on the status of the Taichu Sakaba, (next door to the Texas Lone Star) which was awash in darkness last month. It looks like last month was their final sayonara - they never answered the bell for the next round.
SOI EDENWhile there were no new Night Entertainment Venues in the Soi this last month, there were a few that got some new neon. One of those was the World Kitchen Restaurant and Bar. Keep on keeping on....
Just last month, we noted that the Maxim's Inn bar beer had acquired a new moniker, 'Mike's Corner Bar', and all they were lacking was some proper neon. Almost as if they heard us, they went out and nailed up this new shingle.
This young lass from the Sweet Heart Club is sporting an eye catching shell necklace she received as a gift from a friend returning from Koh Samui.
OTHER NIGHTSPOTS OF NOTECheap Charlie, an outdoor bar beer on one of Sukhumvit Soi 11's side sois, has been, unaccountably, a runaway favorite for several years with the farang hotel guests in the area. And it is a pleasant place to have a drink with friends - and carry on a conversation - especially in these cooler winter evenings.
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS DEPT.
TOBACCO ROAD(No News)
--- Datzit Fernow
William R. Morledge