Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
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Since the Benevolent Autocracy came to power in a landslide victory in the January 2001 election, pressure on the Night Entertainment Industry in Thailand has been ratcheted up to extraordinary and sometimes ridiculous extremes. This radical about-face on the Night Entertainment Scene by the then-newly elected government has been termed the "Longman's Knee-jerk", after the respected British Longmans Dictionary of Contemporary English defined Bangkok as, "...a city where there are a lot of prostitutes," (first instance: 1993).
But the Longman's "incident" was only one of several irritants; since the late 1980's "sex tours" from Europe, Japan and elsewhere were being organized more and more openly, and in ever-greater numbers - 'come to Thailand and get laid...' Further, there was a growing awareness by the International Community and the Thais themselves, that Thailand had become an international Mecca for paedophiles and pederasts, which was further blighting the reputation of Thailand.
So it was not unreasonable by any measure that Thailand would want to change it's image abroad - and at home. But what has become many times more damaging to Thailand's reputation is the sometimes violent and often illegal methods employed by the Benevolent Autocracy as they have attempted to salve the nation's battered reputation. Equally regrettable is the Autocracy's incincerity in tackling these problems; their true objectives have obviously been selfishly motivated: -to "be seen to be respectable", and the concomitant "to be seen to be doing good" by the political party itself.
Initially, as part of the Autocracy's grand design, there was the on again, off again Entertainment Zone plan which was to include three areas; Patpong, the Rachadapisek steam & cream massage parlor strip, and RCA (Royal City Avenue - between Petchburi and Rama IX Roads). No one is really sure whether this ever became an official ordinance or not, all we know is that it is now not being enforced. And then there was the multi-faceted "War On Drugs" which on the one hand involved gestapo-like urine testing sweeps on the Night Entertainment Areas, and on the other hand, the outright shooting war on drugs where the Benevolent Autocracy authorized the extrajudicial killings of over 2,000 suspects, including a nine year old boy shot in the back, and several instances of the slaughter of handcuffed detainees who were said to be 'shooting first'. Outrages such as these will of course never be forgotten, either by the International Community or the locals.
The mandatory urine testing, blatently illegal, continues at the Night Entertainment Venues in Thailand :- the illegal detention, the illegal search, the presumption of guilt until proven innocent, the human indignity of having to prove to sneering Men In Too-Tight Uniforms that the urine is one's own, and the denial of the individual to any legal recourse. -It would seem that instituting a series of human rights violations solely to be able to say you are doing something about prostitution and national image is akin to having "to destroy the village in order to save it" - but the incumbent Autocracy remains oblivious. This doesn't even touch on the related, ever-pervasive matter of corruption, where the Men-In-Tan will claim an individual has tested amphetamine-positive, but one can 'buy' one's freedom for 500 baht on the spot, or 1,500 baht at the police station.
But the ongoing 'crackdown' on Thailand's Nightlife has been nothing if not unevenly applied and sporadic. Phu Khet is in a constant see-saw between a liberal Night Entertainment environment and unreasoning, self-destructive initiatives by the local Men In Tan against tourism in general, and the Night Scene Venues specifically. Likewise, other cities in Thailand (that have an Expat contingent - and could therefore be the source of continuing 'bad press') have been squeezed by the powers-that-be. For example; Hua Hin and Chieng Mai have also had their share of official harassment (but, not surprisingly, due to their 'low international profile' have been tormented to a much lesser extent).
Pattaya, on the other hand, has had as great an exposure to international scrutiny as Bangkok has, and initially was cracked down on much as Bangkok was. This included more than one 'special visit' from high ranking officers from Bangkok's Finest, and their elite teams. These 'raids', according to those on the ground in Pattaya, were met with a mixture of amusement and indignation by Pattaya's local gendarmes - on the one hand, watching bemused as Bangkok's Inspector Clewseaus milled around, not knowing their collective gluteus maximus from first base, and on the other hand, rankling at the effrontery of the central government and the National Police Headquarters for interfering into 'their territory'.
But in spite of all the command decisions about how to handle the Night Entertainment Scene, and in spite of all the indecision, and in spite of all the changed decisions, a pattern emerges. As mentioned in our most recent article on Pattaya (three months ago) <link>, this seaside resort is not only the fastest growing area for Night Entertainment, but it is, and long has been, the biggest. There are at least a couple new A-Go-Go bars opening every month in Pattaya, where, in Bangkok, not even one new A-Go-Go can be licensed, let alone opened. In Pattaya, there are entire Night Entertainment Areas, already having reached 'critical mass' on the day they open (See Sidebar, below) - a new bar beer area, on average, opening monthly.
If you think we are exaggerating, in the intervening three-month period between our visits to Pattaya, on Soi 7 alone, two new Bar Beer Areas have opened, with a third abuilding. Not to mention the virtual explosion on Soi 6 of what the locals refer to as "closed bars". (There are 'open bars', or bar beers, and then there are 'closed bars', which are, of course enclosed with proper doors. A-Go-Go bars are technically 'closed' but are considered to be in a class of their own; they are not included in this category.) But Pattaya's Soi 6 bars are of an ilk; the term "closed bar" is an in-house euphemism for bars providing oral services, and/ or short time services on premises (bar names not supplied - to protect the innocent). Be advised, this is not a small cluster of bars, this is an entire Soi, on the order of Soi Cowboy - minus some of the neon. We mention this, as it further illustrates the drastic differences in official and unofficial attitudes existing in Bangkok and Pattaya - needless to say, this soi would not exist in Bangkok.
Another way of saying the same thing; it appears that since the beginning of last year (2004) there has been a tacit agreement -a wink and a nod between certain of the Autocracy- to let Pattaya's Night Entertainment Scene grow (and reap the otherwise lost tourist dollars), as long as it doesn't become a Mafia or drug haven, and they'll continue to keep the lid on Bangkok, where they will continue to protest to the outside world and to their constituents that they 'get their kicks above the waistline, Sunshine'. So, if you had wondered -as we did- why the Night Entertainment Scene in Pattaya has a different 'feel' to it - invigorating, unfettered, exciting like Bangkok used to be - now you know why. Now you know why Don Muang Intertational Airport has a burgeoning shuttle, van, limo and bus transportation industry dedicated to getting arriving passengers directly (do not pass 'GO') to Pattaya. Now you know why Pattaya's hotel occupancy is at peak times just on 100%, while Bangkok's hovers around 75% even in peak season. A simple matter of freedom.
- That's our story and we are sticking to it....
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 tiny bar beer that has been abuilding on the corner of Patpong I and Soi SuperStar finally opened. The staff were attacking the problems at hand with all the enthusiasm of folk who have never owned a bar before - that is to say, they were shedding way more heat than light. But we feel sure they will settle in once the New Year's revellers subside. They haven't decided on a name yet, so they remain neon-less. Welcome to the sharkpool.
Sprucing up in time for the New Year, King's Corner now has it's new neon up - and looking very impressive.
The Wild Cat also has hung up some new neon - although when all the brick-a-brack sellers have their umbrellas up, it is nearly impossible to see from street level. Keep on rockin'.
Bobby's Arms Pub has opened above the Cafe De Paris Bistro (in the old Roberto's Italian Restaurant digs) - just as Bobby said it would. Poolbar seems to be the modus operandi, and although just opened, they already had a few customers when we visited on New Year's Eve.
In spite of the sign, this is still the V.L. Gallery Bar Beer. If it were really the Good Morning Vietnam, they would have one of those old fashioned, slowly rotating ceiling fans....
The King's Garden held a beauty contest and a Miss Intertational Parade on both Patpongs on New Year's Eve, and everybody came. High points for originality AND sanuk.
NANA PLAZAIt looks as though the Big Mango is finally taking off - we saw their pool tables and cat-bird seats packed out with kicked-back beer drinkers the other night. Keep on keeping on.
It seems the waves of Japanese don't really hit the Plaza until around 9:30 p.m. And, as the early birds get the worms, the girls from Rainbow 4 position themselves strategically on the outside walkway to snare as many as they can of the first wave of the Oriental ground assault.
SOI COWBOYThe Suzie Wong had some live-wired live music out on the soi leading up to the countdown on New Year's Eve. Check out the traditional costume and the Puma running shoes - a real walking contradiction - and a big crowd pleaser.
If a prize were to be given for "Best Christmas Tree" the @ Corner would have walked away with the blue ribbon.
The girls seen in the photo below are demonstrating a time-tested method of getting customers into a bar. -Surround him, get his mobile phone away from him, get him in a head-lock, and the rest is brute force. Works every time.
No self-respecting teen-aged elephant would miss the countdown to midnight on New Year's Eve - this Junior Jumbo being no exception...
Any one for a way-late 02:00 a.m. som-tam ? The girls from several bars pitched in and provided the essentials - if anyone got hungry, they stepped out into the Soi and made their own. But what were we thinking? It's never too late for som-tam.
An attractive mem-farang waits outside the Suzie Wong for, well, we never found out for whom, or what - as we got swept down the Soi by the raucous crowds.
The Sunshine (After Skool Bar) girls get themselves out onto the Soi, and get it on down. As far as we know, they kept it up until dawn.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS(Soi 33)Sometime during the month of December, the Matrix Restaurant & Pub (basement, UBC II Building) papered over the windows and threw a lock & chain through the door handles A chalked message on the board outside says they are going at the innards hammer-and-tong and will be reopening the first of February. Rumored to be a name change in the offing, but, well, we'll see....
The Nirvana Massage Centre have hung out their sign to glow. They replaced Thoodaw Massage at the back of Sub-Soi 3. The lovely owner showed me their pricing schedule - perhaps a little pricey considering the location, but on the other hand, she has selected a staff which might be considered to be very attractive to any future Japanese clientele. She let me know that they were a multi-service massage parlor... Welcome them to the vicissitudes; may they keep on a slippin' and a slidin'.
The R. Club, opened only in August of this year has answered Darwin's harsh call. Survival, after all, is for the fittest. We wish them better luck if and when the wheel comes around again.
The single shophouse bar we mentioned last month that is quietly abuilding in Soi Pan Pan (Sub-Soi 1), next door to "No-Body Body Center" is nearing completion, and will be opening next week. They haven't yet decided on a name. We'll get back to you next month with pix and story. The No-Body Body Center, by the way, is an entirely unambiguous, very low profile 'special' massage along the lines of Teen Massage...or to say the same thing another way, they don't do feet. As we have only just become aware of their existence, we welcome them, belatedly, to the nightfollies. SOIDEADARTISTS
It looks as though the Blue Heaven Sports Bar & Lounge have abandoned 'The Dream' entirely. If so, all the more the pity; one of the few bars where the music was quiet enough to carry on a conversation, should one so desire. We are in hopes that this is a "holiday shut-down" and they will reappear sometime this month - we will throw down an historical marker on this one and get back to you.
Right next door to the Blue Heaven, it looks as though the Anego Suika Club have bid their final sayonara. Only old flower pots and windblown leaves were found where the welcome curtain used to hang. Is it true they will be reverting to a restaurant? We'll keep you apprised. SOIDEADARTISTS
SOI KATOEYNo Night Entertainment Center in Bangkok was able to match Soi Katoey for sheer mass of New Year's revellers. They started early last night, and went until dawn this morning (New Year's Day). Mind you, the attraction is multi-national as well as multi-generational - we saw clusters of teenage mem-farang, as well as Indians, etc.... Nor did it attract just gays - scores of hetero couples were seen up and down the Soi.
As noted here last month, Bobby's Arms has closed, and Bobby has reopened it as Pool Boyz Club (we mistakenly referred to it as 'Pool Boys'). It is a bit hard to judge whether a place will be successful or not based on the New Year's trade, but if last night was any indication, Pool Boyz will never look back. May Lady Luck keep on smiling....
The At Home, which last month said it was planning to reopen on December 5th (or December 2005 ? ), didn't even get close to opening. We took a look behind the shroud that is now hanging in front of the place, and, at least on New Year's Eve, it looked like a mortuary. Do you think they meant December of 2006?
QUEEN'S PARK PLAZAThe For You bar was darker than a poisoned well when we passed by the other night. Ordinarily we would have pronounced it D.O.A, but such a great number of establishments have simply closed up and sent their staff back to their up-country homes for a New Year's holiday, we should best give it the benefit of the doubt - for now. We'll take another quick look back - and get back atchya.
Likewise for the Nice & Easy Pool Bar -nothing but darkness shining out from within- not even a handwritten note taped to the glass saying, "See you next year." But we noted that all it's Poolbar furnishings were still in place - let's see if they just don't resurrect themselves in a couple of days. -But if they don't appear by this time next month, we will scatter their ashes once and for all.
But one bar that won't be popping back up out of it's crypt is the Nok Merry Bar. They have been bought over by the Asia Massage Group (who also own Queen's Park Massage, the I.Q. Karaoke, and the Luna Club, all in Queen's Park Plaza). They have knocked the wall out between the I.Q. Karaoke and what used to be the Nok Merry, and now have a very large multi-functional bar, indeed. The MIDNITE HOUR has mentioned on more than one occasion that the Nok Merry clientele were exclusively from the African Continent - even before they moved out of Asoke Plaza (just before the Plaza went under the boot). No one seems to know whether the Nok Merry has relocated to another part of town, or if they have just found a way out from under it all.
SUKHUMVIT 1 PLAZARapidly fading from collective memory is the Mini Bar (2nd fl.). They put up the valiant fight, but sometime this last December they rang up their last check-bin, and then, somehow, dragged their pool table down the stairs, out of the building, and on down the street. They set up shop only this last February (2005) - we hope they find things more to their liking a little further on down the road a piece.
Our long-time acquaintance and bar owner, Khun Nuch (originally from the twice-demolished Bar Bie Bar in Asoke Plaza <story link>) says she will be putting the Sexy Bar under the gavel - and/ or the first person to strike a bargain with her can have it - as is, where is. She says there is still 2 years and 5 months left on the original lease with the owner. She says she's willing to talk price. Interested parties can contact her by email at email@example.com, or go see her at Sexy Bar at the top of the stairs on the second floor. She plans to be relocating somewhere (?) in the neighborhood, but for the moment, her lips are sealed.
The big surprise at Sukhumvit 1 Plaza this month is the disappearance of the Morning Night II Poolbar. It's disappearance was so sudden that more than just a few eyebrows went up. -A real 'now you see 'em, now you don't' - it was as if Mandrake The Magician gestured hypnotically, and they were no longer there. We asked around and the closest we could come is they couldn't come to terms on their contract and decided to cut their losses - mind you, this is just rumor, and not to be taken as gospel. But even if this were true, it wouldn't explain the demolition of the bar structure itself - this sounds more like a building code violation. We'll beat the bushes and see if we can come up with 'the rest of the story'.
WASHINGTON SQUAREThe Taichu Sakaba, (next door to the Texas Lone Star, if you've never noticed...) is lights out, roller shutter padlocked to the concrete deck. But they have a note which I think that I think says they will be reopening shortly (the note is mostly in Japanese). We will give them a proper send-off next month if they don't answer the bell for the next round.
SOI EDENIn addition to being a hotel, the Star Inn now boasts "Bar 24 Hours - Cigar Club". (Why do I get to a-worrying when I see someone keeping a bar open 24 hours a day? ) I know most hotels can serve alcohol in, say, their 24-hour coffee shops, but this is not quite the same thing. Shake it, don't break it, guys.... It remains to be seen whether Fate's tumbling dice bring them sevens or nines, but we wish them a soft landing in any case.....
What used to be called the Maxim Bar Beer (after the hotel of the same name) is now officially dubbed Mike's Corner Bar. If you are looking for a quieter outdoor venue, you will find it located all the way at the end of the Soi on the left. Now all's he needs is some decent neon. Break a leg, Mike.
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS DEPT.
--- Datzit Fernow
William R. Morledge