This month, because of several requests and questions (and because we hadn't updated our Night Entertainment Area Histories in a decade or more...) we are providing an historical review of every expat Night Entertainment Area in Bangkok - present and past. In each instance, we are including best available dates they came into being (reached 'critical mass') and, if they no longer exist, the dates they disappeared. We are also providing photos and/ or maps of those Nitespot Areas that may cause an old memory or two to pop up. (But before we go any farther, we would like to apologize for our late posting of this, our July issue.... In undertaking this update, we bit off far more than we could chew.... )
The Khlong Toey Docks ~1963 - ~1984
While it is likely there were bars along this strip of Chao Phraya waterfront dating back to British East India Company sailing vessels at anchor mid-river, it is almost impossible to make a determination as to when this bit of the Khlong Toey riverfront reached a "critical mass' of bars, thereby becoming a stand-alone "Night Entertainment Area". Likewise, we have no recorded, corroborated information as to when the bars were closed down by the Port Authority to make way for new development. The dates we show above are indicative only.
A rare, and indeed, perhaps unique photo of the interior of the 'Mos Qui To Bar' by Peter Du Cane from 1974.
The 'Door Man' at the entrance to the Venus Room, .
Another rare Peter Du Cane photo of the Mosquito Bar (showing the MB sign) - taken downstairs on the 'day shift'.
This undated photo, also from the '70's, is showing the outside of the Mos Qui To Bar and the Venus Room
At the time of our first visit in 1967, Khlong Toey was already a busy Night Entertainment Area - most of the custom coming from the Scandinavian ships in port at the time. It was just beginning to be discovered by the US Military personnel stationed in Bangkok (not R&R troops from Viet Nam.) Very few tourists / backpackers knew of this area. Having said that, recently we have been in correspondence with ex-US servicemen who were stationed only a few streets away in the Corps of Engineers / Commissary-PX / Cold Storage areas that spent their entire tour here in Thailand never having been to the Khlong Toey bars - never even knowing they existed.
Among the scattering of bars and restaurants in Khlong Toey, two Venues stand out. The Venus Room, which had a mix of activities - shows, dancing to live music and drinking at the bar and tables. It was an upstairs Venue and a most popular hangout for freelancers. Freelancers were required (or at least supposed to) to show ID to prove age, and paid a 20-baht entry fee, but were not required to buy a drink. The Mosquito Bar on the other hand, at least in the early years, was -on a scale of 1 to 10 - a full '10' in the "Anything-Goes" department. It was 'downstairs' in the daytime, but moved upstairs (for the most part) when the sun went down. The upstairs Mosquito consisted mostly of folding metal chairs and tables, each with ice buckets, a bac of Mekong whiskey and Singha beer (not other brands) - and bathed in almost total darkness. Women of varying, indeterminate age (high and low) weaved their way through and between the tables until they were invited to sit and drink. A drunk time was had by all - it was much healthier to get there early and leave early. In its later years it 'matured' and brought in live music and A Go-Go (to a limited extent). The Mosquito, as far as notorious waterfront bars went, rivaled any in the world, such as Quinn's on the waterfront in Papeete (Tahiti).
New Petchburi Road The Golden Mile 1965 - ~1976
'New' Petchburi Road was the then-new extension of today's Petchburi Rd - and the Night Entertainment Area there was a 'creation' arising from the Thai-US agreement to allow US soldiers to R&R in Thailand. It was nicknamed The Golden Mile by Nightowl columnist Bernard Trink and extended from (approximately) Soi Nana Nua (Soi 3) to just past Soi Ekamai. Although the R&R program ended in late 1972 on the signing of the Paris Peace Accord, the Golden Mile kept on going by virtue of a number of expat residents and the US military stationed here (leaving finally in 1976).
Some of Thailand's most memorable Nitespots were to be found on the Golden Mile, to include Thai Heaven - which many consider to be the best that ever was, the best that ever will be. It was basically a ramwong dance bar that caught the imagination of the G.I.s - due to an overabundance of freelancers. Others of fame -or of notorious reputation- were Jack's American Star (soul-music, live bands), Rhapsody, an uncounted number of small lounge bars (A Go-Go never really caught on, even in the early 70's), a number of music venues and a number of the new fish-bowl steam & cream massage parlors, many of which were named after states in the USA. And, not to be forgotten, the Morakot, the Prince and SiamR&R hotels (the Come Prima Coffee Shop in the Siam paralleling the Thermae in theme and notoriety). While there are still a few Nitespots on today's Petchburi Road, it has long ago fallen below the radar, no longer maintaining 'critical mass'.
Patpong 1 and 2 Roads - ~ 1965 - Present
The likely impetus for the Patpongs becoming a Night Entertainment Area instead of just a bustling day-time central business district, came from Mizu's Kitchen, which became an Expat 'focal point' in the late '50's -- mid '60's - eventually becoming the first rallying point for the Foreign Correspondent's Club Thailand. But Mizu's was not the 'seminal', or typical venue itself. At that juncture, the only concentration of 'expatriate' Nighttime Entertainment Venues of any size and impact was on Petchburi Road's “Golden Mile”. Originally, Patpong Road was part and parcel of the Silom Road business district, with airline offices (JAL, TWA, American, Air Vietnam, the new Malaysian Airlines...) and offices of other internationals such as Caltex. By the early '60's, there was a scattering of small Nighttime Venues and restaurants of varying quality on Patpong Road, but nothing substantial enough to rate it as a Nighttime Entertainment Area. There was also a narrow alley running parallel to it, which would be called Patpong II Road , but at that time it didn't yet even have a street sign.
(Original sign, now long gone.)
(Original sign - now long gone.)
It took an ever-escalating war in Southeast Asia to change the relatively tame face of the Patpongs. No one, however, could have guessed it would change as quickly as it did; the rapid build-up of US forces, both in Viet Nam and in Thailand provided an immediate and ever-increasing demand for evening entertainment in Bangkok. So it comes as no surprise that by 1968, a new wave of Night Entertainment Venues was opening on Patpong Road. These were mostly of the ‘lounge’ and ‘lounge-restaurant’ format and generally of a higher standard than many of the bars to be found on the Golden Mile. Some of these new Patpong establishments were foreign ‘owned’ and managed. In addition, the Plaza Hotel at the Surawong end of Patpong 2 became an 'R&R hotel', which tended to augur well for both ‘Patpongs’ as Night Entertainment Area developments.
By 1969, Patpong Road had reached critical mass and then some, and its reputation was spreading rapidly by word of mouth. It was on its way to becoming a primary Night Entertainment Area. The early 1970’s saw the overflow from Patpong Road starting to creep around the corners into the narrow alleyway that was then being called ‘Patpong II’ - as a means of easy reference. Correspondingly, Patpong Road was now being referred to as ‘Patpong I’. It was in these years that “A-Go-Go” bars debuted, and ‘Steam & Cream’ massage parlors opened for business in and around the Patpongs ( Khun Ladda’s establishment, which was originally the upstairs of the Takara Barber Shop , was the most memorable).
By the mid-1970’sPatpongs I and II had found their way into such traveler’s guides as the Golden Guide To Southeast Asia, and Asia's "best-kept secret" was no more. Because of this additional and far-reaching publicity, and the growing popularity of the colorful weekly coverage by Bernard Trink in the local press, the Patpongs were becoming known worldwide. As a result, Patpongs I and II were seen to be the catalyst -some claim even singularly responsible- for the now widely held belief that Bangkok had become the Night Entertainment Capital of the world. In contrast, while the Golden Mile was far larger than the two Patpongs in area and numbers of nighttime venues, in 1973 it began to contract once the Viet Nam R&R traffic disappeared. The final nail in the Golden Mile’s coffin, at least as a primary night-venue for foreigners, was the departure of the remaining US Forces from Thailand in mid-1976. And while the Golden Mile was a roaring, raucous success at the time, in the greater scheme of things, it would never have the lasting impact the Patpongs did.
The 1980’s saw the introduction of the “upstairs bars” to Patpong I, or rather, a new connotation to the term, as obviously, there were upstairs bars from the outset. The forerunner of these 'no limits' upstairs bars being the Fire Cat (originally called the Wild Cat ). The upstairs bars were known for explicit shows and greater nudity than their downstairs A-Go-Go counterparts. These ‘show’ bars gained instant popularity with foreign residents and tourists alike, further spotlighting Patpong Road’s ever-growing notoriety. It was during this period that "sex tourism", mostly from European countries, came to the fore - pouring more gasoline onto the "notoriety" fire.
In early 1989 the Patpong family began closing off Patpong I Road each night; renting out as many 2-square meter plots as there were takers. The street soon filled with vendors selling the gamut of locally produced goods alongside every imaginable foreign black-market item. By mid-1989, the full length of Patpong I Road would transform itself each evening into a garishly lit tent-city, with bar touts vigorously competing for attention with the vendors and with each other. And, just recently (2019), an influx of hard-core gay bars has descended on the Patpongs - upping the number of bars significantly. Foreign residents and bar owners alike saw these two events, years apart, as 'deal killers' and each time predicted the Patpongs' rapid demise as Nighttime Entertainment Areas. However, these dire predictions have yet to come to pass.
Virtually all of the ‘original’ Patpong I & II venues have been bought out by newer bars, or have disappeared altogether. Survivors are few and far between. The Madrid is the last of the original lounge-restaurants and has the same format of good food, drink and company, while the Safari Bar is the oldest remaining A-Go-Go bar. The Takara Massage after several incarnations and relocations, is still with us, as is a version of The Other Office (Now the Old Other Office).
But most of the original venues on Patpong Road came into being, had their heyday and passed into oblivion before many of us arrived on the scene. Long-time residents and return visitors may remember some of the following : Don The Beachcomber, which was above where Rick Meynard would open the Grand Prix, The Keynote, which featured the older Aguillar brother at the microphone, was above the bookstore that is now the Muzzik Café, - then, there was an earlier version of the Texan, the original Patpong Café (which became the Mississippi Queen, which became Erotica , which became part of Gold Finger's), the Aladdin Bar (upstairs, where the Tip Top would eventually open a Discotheque), Max's, the Amor and the Roma (yes, same owner), The Napoleon, and, of course, The Gaslight. They were followed closely onto the scene by some other unforgettables; The Barrel, The Horny Toad, Cloud Nine and The Flying Machine. Not long behind them were other memory-makers: the Pink Panther, Roxy Bar, Mike’s Place, and the Sugar Shack. With the exception of Pink Panther, they have all faded from the scene, each contributing indelibly to the unfolding chronicle of the Patpongs.
Soi Katoey ~1970 - Present
Silom Road's Soi 4 is known to most as "Soi Katoey" and is located opposite the top of Convent Road. For a while, it was also referred to as 'Patpong 3', however this nickname didn't stick. Like Patpong 1 and Patpong 2, it is a privately owned soi, however it is owned by the family residing at the end of the soi and is not connected to the Patpong family in any way.
New Year's Eve on 'Soi Katoey' (Silom Soi 4)
In the very early '70's Soi 4 could only lay claim to the standard array of shop houses, to include a few good local restaurants. However by 1973, a few gay bars had opened on Soi 4 ; some from other locations, the others were new start-ups. Longtime habitués of the soi might remember some of the earliest bars to open there: the Tom Boy , the Apollo, and the Siamese Doll (there were actually two 'Siamese Dolls' , the other was in Gaysorn).
By 1975 Soi 4 was ''on the map'' at least as far as the gay community was concerned; it had reached critical mass. The consensus is that the Siamese Doll was the seminal bar; -although not the first bar on the soi, it was the first bar of that genre to succeed, and to demonstrate the soi's potential as a Night Entertainment Area. None of these bars remains today, although the Siamese Doll was to later become the Rome Club.
By day, there was a substantial amount of expatriate traffic to Soi 4's restaurants, which included the Charuvan Duck Shop at the top of the soi. (The 'Duck Shop' was the cornerpost and the mollusk of Soi 4 ; it has unfortunately for many, passed into history) .Bobby's Arms had also recently opened on the soi after the success of the nearby Bobby's Aroy Dee, however it soon changed its main entrance to the Patpong 2 side of the building. The Vietnam Restaurant also opened on Soi 4 during this timeframe. It should be noted that over the years, the Soi was changing to a gay soi rather than literally a 'katoey' soi.
In 1975 and 1976, the Vietnam Restaurant became quite popular with the expatriates who had come out of Viet Nam after the war, as it had authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Some of the visitors to the soi in subsequent years, however, may remember the Vietnam Restaurant under a different name. In the early 1990's it tried its hand as a Nighttime Entertainment Venue under the name Crazy Cow. The Crazy Cow eventually became Helen's Place in January of 1995, and underwent a spelling change to become 'Helene's' Place in September of that year (it, too, has passed into history).
But the nighttime entertainment action on the Soi remained fairly low-key; most of the Soi's daytime clientèle were unaware it even had a night entertainment scene. All that changed suddenly, however, when the Rome Club expanded and began to advertise. The Rome Club was also the first bar to attract a significant number of non-gay customers, giving the Soi a broader appeal.
The year 1995 was unquestionably the heyday for Soi Katoey; the Telephone Pub and Restaurant which had been slowly growing in popularity since its debut in mid-1987 was doing a land office business both inside and outside. The Genesis Pub had closed at the very end of 1994, but would soon have a new name and owner ( -not to be confused with the 'Genesys' Pub' which opened in November of 1995, and then changed its name to 'Genesis' a month later). The original Genesis property remained unoccupied for almost 4 months, however in April of 1995, the Tapas Cafe opened there, and proved itself to be even more popular than its predecessor. The Rome Club had already expanded to both sides of the street with two floors of entertainment on each side. On any given weekend, most of the Soi's nighttime Venues were packed inside and had a thriving curbside scene as well.
In April of 1996, there was a mysterious 'fire' in the original Rome Club which, while inflicting minimal damage, caused the closure of both Rome Clubs (both sides of the street). The Rome Club made a short-lived attempt to reopen the following December, but was closed for good three months later. The closure of the Rome Club seemed to coincide with a noticeable downturn in popularity in the entire soi; its heyday seemed to have passed.
Except for a few longstanding establishments, Soi Katoey has one of the highest turnover rates in Bangkok for bars and pubs. The smaller, single shop house venues do not seem to fare well over the long term. Nevertheless, the soi is still an ongoing Night Entertainment attraction - to both gay and non-gay - most of the non-gay custom seems to be male /female couples. There is even some evidence Soi Katoey is regaining some of its earlier popularity, with establishments like the Balcony (ex: Molly's Jump), the G's Bangkok, and the Tapas Cafe... -providing curbside rest and relaxation à la the Telephone Pub and Restaurant. (Today, outdoor seating in front of the Venues is almost universal.) But even though much of the 'Gay Ninety's' luster may be gone, Soi 4 - Soi Katoey appears on track for the long haul.
Soi Cowboy 1975 - Present
The soi most people now know as " Soi Cowboy " is a lane running parallel to Sukhumvit Road from Soi 21 through to Soi 23. Despite its ideal location, no night entertainment establishments were in operation there during the U.S. military R&R years (1965-1973). Prior to the opening of the first bar on that soi, the single-shophouse Chitra Bar on Soi 23, had a side door opening on to it. And while the stray foreigner was warmly received into its darkened corners, the Chitra Bar was definitely a locals-only bar. For these reasons, this original Chitra Bar can’t literally be said to be the first, or seminal bar on the soi, but it did portend of things to come. Note: ‘Chitra’ would later open another bar ( Chitra’s ) in Soi Cowboy , but that would be some years after another bar had “pioneered” the Soi.
Early in 1975, about one year before the last of the residual U.S. forces stationed in Thailand were to depart, the Soi's first bar opened. This bar, the Gold Label, opened with very little fanfare. It was discovered by none other than The Nightowl, Bernard Trink, who described it as a bar just down from the Shell station on Soi 23 (his May 1975 columns). Although the bar was designed, built and managed to international standards by a U.S. military retiree, Jim George (who, to the best of our knowledge, has retired in Thailand), it still took several months of word-of-mouth advertising before it became known to the expatriate community.
The Gold Label was the “seminal bar” in every sense; aside from being the first bar on the Soi; it was the first bar aimed at expatriate custom; it was also the first double-shophouse wide bar on that Soi, and it was also the first multi-story bar, and it was the first A-Go-Go and “Show” bar (later, upstairs), while downstairs, it remained a lounge. But mainly, it was the bar that realized -and made others realize- that the Soi was an ideal location for a Night Entertainment Area. The Gold Label enjoyed an approximate three-year run of popularity. At first, only the first and second floors were used, but for a brief period the third floor was opened to accommodate the custom. The regular expatriate clientele treated it as if it were a best-kept secret - and for the most part, it was. It has since been replaced by several other bars, the latest is the long-running Baccara. During those early years the Gold Label was not only the first, but for a long time the only bar, so naturally enough, the soi was initially referred to as Soi Gold Label.
But times were changing; within the next three years, the Gold Label would fade from the scene and a number of smaller, single-shophouse bars would open. By 1978-1979 the Soi reached a nominal ‘critical mass”, and as time passed, it was becoming clear that the leader of this new pack was the Cowboy Bar. The Cowboy Bar was opened by another then-recently retired US military veteran, L.T. "Cowboy" Edwards. This upsurge in numbers of entertainment venues on the Soi and the resultant increase in popularity were not lost on Bernard Trink, then with the Bangkok World. The Soi was often mentioned in his weekly entertainment page. He dubbed the soi, “Soi Cowboy” and the name immediately ‘stuck’ - today you won’t find a taxi driver who doesn’t know where Soi “C’boi” is. Only a few diehards remember it as Soi Gold Label .
While Cowboy (the man) ran a good bar, he almost immediately found himself in financial difficulties, and by the mid ‘80’s had sold the original Cowboy Bar (some say Loretta took it over). It became Annie’s Cowboy Bar, and then early in 1993 became “Annie’s Cowboy Bar 1”, with the added “1”. In that there was no ‘Cowboy Bar 2’, this struck many of the Soi’s regulars as unusual. But the other shoe finally dropped; two doors down ‘Annie’ also owned Annie’s Diner Lounge and later that same year, it became Cowboy Two.
Soi Cowboy had two "Cowboy" bars for three years, but Cowboy Two eventually sold out and became the Wet Lips Bar in mid-1996. After some more 'musical chairs' and the sale of the bar between the two "Cowboy" bars to Spice Girls, the Cowboy 2 name was revived and survives to this day.
Cowboy (the man) had been blooded but not humbled by his earlier business failure; shortly thereafter he opened his second Cowboy Bar, this time in Washington Square. But it wouldn't be long before he would find himself in financial trouble again, and sold out to the Square One Pub. Not willing to call it quits, in 1988 he joined forces with another long-time resident, Grant Francisco to open the New Cowboy Bar on Sukhumvit Soi 22. Alas, Cowboy (the man) once again found himself in financial difficulties, this time with his partner Grant, and left Thailand shortly thereafter. Ironically, while often credited with pioneering Soi Cowboy (he didn't) and for pioneering Washington Square (he didn't), his and Grant'sNew Cowboy Bar was the first Expat bar on Soi 22. Cowboy (the man) died in the Philippines shortly after that, and Grant Francisco died a little more than a year later, but the New Cowboy Bar is still in operation today. (But I digress...)
Initially, at least for the most part, Soi Cowboy didn’t have the glamour of Patpong I & II, or later, Nana Plaza. As late as the mid-1980s virtually all the bars were single shophouse wide, many reeking of stale beer and tobacco. Understandably, prices remained generally more reasonable. As a result, it was more an attraction to the foreign resident than the visitor. The Soi’s image is slowly changing, however; over the last 20 years, more and more bars are following the lead of the trailblazing Gold Label. Many bars are now 2 or 3 shophouses wide, and serve customers both upstairs & downstairs. Several can hold their own, both in ambience and service, with the best of the Patpong or Nana Plaza bars.
Soi Cowboy has been a ‘constant’ on the night entertainment scene for just over four decades, maintaining an average of over 30‘night spot’ venues for most of that period. The turn-over rate of old bars being sold and new bars being opened is not overly great and tends to break away from the normal on-season, off-season fluctuations with high-level year-round activity. This is due largely to a number of bars buying out their next door neighbor. making 1 out of 2, then being bought out by 'groups' of bars, eg: the 'Peter' Bars, the 'Iranian Bars'... On the downside, we note that the Soi is becoming a "tourist attraction" where many of the visitors are 'walk-throughs', taking their bloody 'selfies', making all-knowing assessments on the scourge of red-light districts, and moving on. Nevertheless, with the luster fading from the Patpongs with the recent hard-core gay bar infusion, Soi Cowboy looks to survive indefinitely as a Night Entertainment Area.
Long-time residents and return visitors each have their favorite “old” Soi Cowboy bar. The names we see cropping up most often as ‘favorites’ are the Ding-Dong, the Top Cat, the Pink Pussycat, Butterfly, the Darling, the Suzie Wong, the relocated Mitch & Nam’s Soul Food Restaurant & Bar and Bamboo’s, each of which had its all-too-short heyday. Regrettably, none of these is still remaining in business today.
Nana Plaza 1982 - Present
In 1981 ‘Nana Plaza’ was a mostly empty mini-mall with the standard run of Thai shops; a pharmacy, a travel agent, a beauty shop and a couple of restaurants (one of which was Lebanese). A small open fronted lean-to beer bar, Lucky Luke’s was located in the entranceway, neither on Soi 4 nor in Nana Plaza.
In that same year, in another nearby part of town, the Rachadapisek Inner Ring Road extension was pushing through the length of Soi Asoke and into the top of Soi 16, widening both to 8 lanes. Ancillary works, which commenced in 1982, included widening Sukhumvit Rd. itself to allow for turning lanes into and out of this new stretch of Rachadapisek. This latter widening along Sukhumvit caused the shops in that area of Sukhumvit to close down temporarily while they (literally) cut off the fronts of the buildings and reconstructed new fascia the required several meters back from the new curb.
This seemingly unrelated event was, however, the unwitting catalyst; causing immediate distress to the small group of A-Go-Go bars on Sukhumvit Road between Soi 16 and Soi 14. Some Bangkok regulars may recognize the names of these so-called “Soi 16 Bars” : Rosemary 1, Rosemary 2, The Three Roses, the Rainbow Bar, and the Sunshine Bar. These bars had to close almost overnight, with no guarantee as to when they might be able to reopen.
Unable to wait, in mid 1982 the Rosemarys (1&2) , The Three Roses and The Rainbow Bar moved into Nana Plaza. Of those original bars, only the Rainbow (and its sister bars) remain. While it can be said Lucky Luke’s pioneered Nana Plaza, these 3 seminal bars -as a group- ‘made it all happen’; they brought “A-Go-Go” to what would eventually become one of the largest A-Go-Go Entertainment Areas in Thailand. (Sunshine was the only “Soi 16 Bar” that didn’t move to Nana Plaza ; it moved to Soi Cowboy, reincarnating as Sunshine Dee Ja, and now as Sunshine After School).
Growth of Nana Plaza as a Night Entertainment Area was slow but sure; on average, less than 2 new bars a year. But despite a slow start, by the year 1990 it had found its way into the Lonely Planet-type guidebooks, and, most agree, was ‘standing on its own two feet’. It had arrived - it had reached ‘critical mass’. Many tend to forget that this was due, in no small part, to a ready-made customer base from the Nana Hotel across the street, and two always-packed-out small hotels within the premises: the Nana Guest House (while it was still really a guest house) and the Royal Siam Guest House.
As Nana Plaza nears its fourth decade as a Night Entertainment Area, longtime residents and returning visitors to Bangkok may still remember some of the earlier ‘landmark’ venues: the Private Dancer, the Mon Cherie, Bubble Gum, Asian Intrigue, XTC (also called for a brief period, ‘ X-tacy ’ but that spelling was frowned upon by the authorities), and Slitz! A Gogo. Some may recall Nana Plaza’s only private Japanese bar -ever- Club New Fuchicho which, in early 1993, was bought out by Madison’s. (Madison’s , also long-gone, changed to the G-Spot, and is now the Rainbow 5). The Hollywood Royal (now the London Calling) was a breakthrough bar for Nana Plaza, as it was the first Patpong-style bar with 'shows' and greater nudity, and it opened the way for further innovation within the Plaza such as; carousels, 'shower shows' and erotic performance. Some may also remember Woodstock when it was still a first-rate A-Go-Go with the best sound system in the Plaza, and the Lollipop Mermaidium when it had live 'mermaids'.
Growth at Nana Plaza had been steady up until recently due to space considerations. Since it incorporated the shops that were facing Soi Nana, it hit a physical plateau; there is virtually no ‘shop space’ remaining in which to put another bar. It looks to be one of the primary A-Go-Go bar Night Entertainment Areas in Thailand for the foreseeable future.
Soi Nana -Soi 4 August 2012 - Present
Sukhumvit Soi 4 - Soi Nana Tai (say, 'Soi Nana') has been a long time coming, mainly because of the arrival of Nana Plaza (the high-profile focus was there). The Soi itself was of little interest and much slower to develop. Not that it didn't 'always' have some Venues of note - the Nana Coffee Shop (in the 60's and 70's), the once popular Nana Disco, Chequers, Jools (now gone), Heidelberg, the four bars at the Soi 6 junction, and others - it was just that everything was spread out and there were, cumulatively, just not enough Nitespots for it to be considered a Night Entertainment Area in its own right.
Nana Plaza, having reached 'saturation', it was inevitable that 'spillover' into the Soi would happen. And with the continuing development of the Soi (Night Entertainment-wise) to include the constant addition new bars in the Rajah Hotel Compound, the Soi finally came up on the radar. We have been carrying, and updating, Soi Nana as an independent Night Entertainment Area since August 2012. It has averaged 35 independent Night Spots since that time.
Cowboy Annex March 2000 - February 2005
In the years immediately preceding the 1997 economic collapse, several plots of land stretching from the Sukhumvit Road + Soi Asoke intersection through to Soi 23 were acquired ostensibly for redevelopment. The crash of '97 put those plans on indefinite hold, but not before all the small shophouse type buildings had been demolished. This created a large, vacant piece of land in the middle of a prime commercial area in the center of Bangkok.
This vacant land was accessible by vehicle from a driveway on Soi 23 located not more than 50 meters from the entrance to Soi Cowboy. Consequently, this land quickly became a convenient, if often muddy, parking lot for the nighttime visitors to 'The Soi'.
By 1998 its potential as an entertainment area was first realized, however investment and development were sporadic and minimal, to say the least; some enterprising locals had installed a makeshift drop bar across the driveway and began charging for parking. Simultaneously, a few small shanty structures began to appear in and around the parking lot area at the rear. These shanties were for the most part, constructed from cheap timber or bamboo, with thatched roofs. They were usually open-fronted and/or open-sided, with mats on compacted dirt floors and were illuminated almost exclusively with long strings of multicolored Christmas lights. They housed Thai-Isan restaurants, local bars and makeshift karaoke 'clubs' which sported a karaoke machine or sometimes just a television set with a karaoke VCR. None of these grass-shack establishments did very well. Most would stay open for a couple of months before fading away. It was at this time that the area was first referred to as the 'Cowboy Annex'.
That same year, 1998, Cowboy Annex also saw two attempts at creating relatively large-scale open-air ‘beer gardens’. Both were located at the front section facing Soi Asoke, and both tried the same format; they had live Thai bands, with dozens of folding metal tables and hundreds of collapsible chairs scattered throughout, serving Singh and Mehkong by the bottle. Snacks could be ordered from any of several semi-resident pushcart vendors on the premises. The ‘beer garden’ concept was doomed for two reasons; a scarcity of customers, and later that same year (with the exception of a small corner of land at the intersection) that area was usurped by the start of construction of the MRT Subway station.
By the middle of 1999, passers-by by could discern a flurry of minor construction projects at the intersection of Sukhumvit and Asoke. Before the turn of the Millennium, four small ‘bar beer's’ had been completed. These bars were the first to intentionally aim exclusively at foreign custom. These “original four”, Je Taime, Moon Light Bar, Siam Smile Bar, and Barbie Bar were the seminal bars; the first to -figuratively- open their doors to the passing public and to set the tone of things to come. All four were temporary wooden structures with thatched roofs. They were open-fronted and the floors were loosely laid tile blocks covered with matting. Additional tables were set outside.
It was in March 2000 that Cowboy Annex reached a nominal critical mass with regard to foreigner-oriented beer bars, with no less than 5 bars opening that month alone: The Boomerang, Ying Corner, Bourbon (ex: Ant ), Love Shack and Bluebird. That same month the front area of Cowboy Annex started calling itself "Asoke Plaza", and a makeshift Muay Thai boxing ring was erected. But because of the seedier elements, the boxing ring was seen as a detriment to progress, and later that year it was taken down. With its demise, the frantic pace of new construction returned to the front ‘Asoke Plaza’ area. By August, 2000 the number of open and thriving entertainment establishments in the front Asoke Plaza section had grown to 19. At that time, Cowboy Annex was the fastest growing Night Entertainment Area in Bangkok, averaging 2 to 3 new bars opening every month.
Meanwhile, the rear area near Soi 23 continued to serve as a parking lot, even as portions of it were being concreted over. There was still the occasional local beer shanty to be found on the periphery, and there were also a couple of recently completed semi-permanent wooden structures at the far back facing onto Soi 23, but they were of the same 'karaoke bar' format, and appealed to only local clientele. By July 2000, the concreting of the parking area in the rear section of Cowboy Annex near Soi 23 had been completed, and a crash construction project was under way to complete 19 new bar beer-type structures in the fastest possible time. What started out as 19 separate locations ended up as less, as some of the new venues ended up utilizing 2 or more of the total. Those structures were permanent in nature: steel and pipe framed, with concrete floors and cement tile roofs. Two similar steel frame structures on the north side at the entrance to the parking lot were built. This rear, Soi 23 part of Cowboy Annex was then being referred to (somewhat flip-flop) as Asoke Corner.
In the following 3 years, the rear area near Soi 23 grew at the aforementioned pace, and by mid 2003, there were over 40 Nitespots in the combined front and rear sections of Cowboy Annex (see map above).
While everyone, bar owners and customers, knew this Night Entertainment Area was built on 'opportunistic' land, and would someday be redeveloped, at 10:00 hrs on Tuesday, 14 December 2004, without warning from any quarter, the bar beers in the front Asoke Plaza section of Cowboy Annex were descended upon by an officer of Legal Enforcement Division, the Thonglor police and wrecking crews. The officer from Legal Enforcement served a warrant to the land lessee, and advised her that she had but brief minutes to notify her bar beer sub-lessees to remove their items of personal property before the wrecking crews began the destruction and dismantling of the structures. Two months later, February 2005, the rear section of Cowboy Annex (Asoke Corner) met the same fate - and the Annex ceased to exist.
Soi Dead Artists (Sukhumvit Soi 33) 1987 - Present
In 1987 the Renoir opened in Sukhumvit Road, Soi 33; it would be the first of several bars named after Impressionist painters. But the second to move into Soi 33, in 1988, was the ever-popular Pan Pan Italian Restaurant. Although it is a family restaurant and not a Night Entertainment Venueper-se, it deserves special mention here as it has contributed perhaps more than any other venue to the popularization of Soi 33 with the expatriate community.
Following closely on the heels of the Pan Pan Italian Restaurant in that same year was a second Impressionist painter lounge, the Vincent Van Gogh. The Van Gogh and the Renoir were “testing the waters”; would, up-market lounges work here on Soi 33 as they had in the Patpongs? The obvious and overwhelming success of lounges like the Napoleon on Patpong 1 and the Crown Royal on Patpong 2 made it seem to be well worth a try.
By 1991, there were a handful of lounges on Soi 33, including the Monet, EA Manet Club and the Degas, which continued the Impressionist theme and the slightly more expensive, up-market lounge format. Growth of the Entertainment Area was almost imperceptibly slow in these ‘early’ years, but it was undeniably sure. By 1992, there were enough lounges in operation on Soi 33 to establish 'critical mass'; the baby would survive and continue to grow. The Ea Manet Club was the only Impressionist bar to have faded from the scene (by mid-1990’s).
It was at this juncture that the Soi 33 Night Entertainment Area became known variously as; the “Artist’s Soi” , the “Painter’s Soi” and the slightly irreverent “Soi Dead Artists” by its regulars. There is no quorum; these nicknames and variations thereof were all in use in the day.
But the original question of the viability of up-market lounges in a previously ‘out-of-the-way’ location had been answered: proof of concept was at hand. The handshake and the appellation of ‘seminal bars’ can be divided equally between the pioneers Renoir and the Vincent Van Gogh; they set the tone, they took the gamble, they survived and prospered. Although many of the newer lounges on Soi 33 were not named after ‘Dead Artists’, some did carry on, at least in spirit, with the tradition. In addition to the four ‘Impressionist’ lounges mentioned above, there were the relatively recent ‘painter’ additions Goya, Dali and the Santana. These 'Impressionist Bars' are no longer in business today (with the exception of the last 'Dead Artist' standing : the Goya Club).
But this is not the end of the story. At the beginning of 1999 there were 16 establishments on Soi 33 that could call themselves Night Entertainment Venues. At the turn of the Millennium there were 20. In April 2002 there were 32, which is two more than was found on Patpong 1 at that juncture, even if you include in the count Patpong 1’s marginal upstairs ‘pay-for-show’ places. Nevertheless, any way you slice it, this relatively recent growth was more than “imperceptibly slow”; it was a quiet explosion. To be sure, due to the size of the Soi 33 Entertainment Area, this relatively large number of bars is not immediately apparent to the first-time visitor - (among the expatriate Entertainment Areas, Soi 33 was at the time, the biggest, area-wise. The Entertainment Area itself is about 450 meters long and has 6 short lanes, or sub-sois, each having at least one Entertainment Venue.)
No discussion of the Soi 33 Entertainment Area would be complete without the inclusion of the Japanese contingent. The first Japanese bar in the area was the Entertainment Club Fuchicho. This name might ring a bell with a few of the longtime residents and return visitors to Bangkok. It is the (eventual) reincarnation of the Club New Fuchicho, which was one of the pioneers of Nana Plaza’s second floor. This newly established Entertainment Club Fuchicho settled in the then-recently constructed Peep Inn complex deep in Soi 33, and was to set the trend for Japanese bars that followed. Later on, the Japanese bars would spread out along Soi 33. Their growth during those years kept pace with Soi 33 growth in general. In December of 2000, when the 33 Complex opened on Soi 33 across from the original Renoir, several of the new leases went to Japanese owned/operated establishments. Of the 32 Night Entertainment Venues on Soi 33 at that juncture, 9 were Japanese.
Soi Dead Artists continued to grow - and grow, and by the end of 2010 there were just on 70 Nitespots open there. The "occupancy rate" on the Soi remained near that level up until 2014, when it began to drop off, levelling off to around 50 + bars. By 2017 the average number of bars to be found was around 40 + so 'the handwriting was on the wall' - a contraction, however slow, was in progress. Today, there about 37 Nitespots (plus or minus - depending on openings and closings).
By way of partial explanation for the rather drastic contraction of this Night Enterrtainment Area - a very large number of buildings have been taken down in preparation for the construction of several new high-rise condos and commercial buildings. Not only has this physically reduced the number of Nitespots (which were located in the destroyed buildings), but the traffic on the Soi, (already bad), has become much worse - what with construction vehicles and concrete trucks coarsing through the street until the wee hours. It remains to be seen what the Soi will become, Entertainment-wise, once all the construction is completed (about 2 years from now).
Note : Most of the remaining Venues on Soi Dead Artists are Japanese lounges, Japanese 'snacks' or Japanese-oriented massage parlors. Soi 33 has, in recent times, become much less of an attraction to the Western expat - and many are wondering when the once-grand Soi Dead Artists will drop below the radar - and lose its ability to attract customers in significant numbers (no longer maintaining "critical mass". (With the recent closure of the popular Check Inn 99, some say it already has...)
Washington Square 1987 - March 2014
Washington Square was a large commercial area near Soi 22, deriving its name from the Washington Theater, the main feature in the compound. The story of Washington Square is a story of many bars at a few locations - with the exception of the Silver Dollar Bar which was an original Night Entertainment pioneer in Washington Square, all the bars that opened in the initial buildup years in Washington Square have changed names at least once. The story, or stories behind these several name changes reads like a Soap Opera of the bar world, with partnerships forming and acrimoniously breaking up, then the individual partners starting up on their own, and other partnerships forming once again. A detailed history would also go into the convoluted combinations and permutations regarding other bars in, and outside of Washington Square that the expats' Thai wives owned, and who 'stiffed' whom in which deal, and on, and on. Washington Square, with its nominally 'Western Bar' motif could have, and perhaps should have been called the O.K. Corral. It is however, not the intent of MIDNITE HOUR to summarize what might be someone’s long, intricate and perhaps fascinating future novel...
Prior to the opening of the seminal Silver Dollar Bar in 1985, virtually the only ongoing attraction for expatriate residents and visitors was the aforementioned Washington Theater , which had been showing Western films there since the US military R&R years. The Washington Theater closed down in the 1990’s becoming the Mambo Cabaret Show - a transvestite revue catering mostly to Taiwanese and Japanese tour groups.
Cowboy (the man) of Soi Cowboy origins had, at that time, lost his holdings in his original Cowboy Bar due to bad debts, and was determined to try his hand again, this time in Washington Square. This new Cowboy Bar started up about a year after the Silver Dollar Bar but at the far opposite side near the Soi 22 exit. But once again, the Cowboy Bar would go out of business due to money management problems; selling out not long after that to the Square One Pub, which, after another change in ownership eventually became the New Square One Pub.
By 1987Washington Square had nominally enough Night Entertainment Venues to generate its own trade, just enough ‘draw-cards’ to bring in and hold customers, just enough custom to attain 'critical mass'. Other memorable bars that opened in quick succession: The Blue Bayou, which later became the Wild Country. The Saddle Rack, which later became the Texas Lone Star. The No Problem stayed in business under that name for several years before becoming the Cat’s Meow in late 1999.
The Bourbon Street Restaurant deserves special mention here, as it is the only Night Entertainment Venue in Washington Square that has lifted itself up by its bootstraps to become a first-class family and business restaurant-bar. It opened in 1986, but even the Bourbon St was not immune to the name-change game. Originally, what was the main dining room & bar area opened as the Expat’s Retreat. Not long after that it was reborn as the (also-reborn) Texxan, before finally becoming Bourbon Street. At that time, there were two bars next door to it: the Hole-In-One and the Alaskan -which later changed to the Outlaws Bar. But even this was not to be for very long; both bars were absorbed by Bourbon St. (Note: Bourbon Street would eventually relocate to Soi 63, Soi Ekamai.)
Washington Square never caught on as a 'sex tourism' Entertainment Area - partly due to location, partly due to no A Go-Go, and remained an 'Expat hangout' until the last - much to the relief of the expat regulars. The inevitable, long-rumored redevelopment of Washington Square commenced (at least as far as chasing out the commercial establishments) in 2012 - and by March of 2013, only a couple of Nitespots remained in the driveway exiting onto Soi 22. By March 2014, even they were gone; Washington Square ceased to exist.
Queen's Park Plaza August 2001 - Present
A large property located 350 meters inside Soi 22, Sukhumvit Road, near the Mariott Hotel was cleared of its old structures in 1997 for ‘renewal'. However, this property, like many others of that time, was left undeveloped because of the economic crash. Nevertheless, it would not remain unutilized...
Scarcely a year later, at the end of 1998, a small, ramshackle beer bar opened on the north corner of that otherwise vacant property. The beer bar’s name was the ‘No ! Bra’ (for a very apparent reason)... Although no one knew it at the time, the No ! Bra would be the seminal bar in that future Night Entertainment Area, as it was the first to confirm the economic viability of the outdoor-type beer bar plying the then-Queen’s Park Hotel passer-by trade. (By early 1999 the No ! Bra was grossing about 10,000 baht per day.)
The No ! Bra had been in operation there for about a year before being joined by a second, also rather seedy beer bar, named ‘Ngan Hang’. The Ngan Hang was also a modest financial success. The ‘defining feature’ of these two beer bars was the lively groups of hostesses out on the sidewalk’s edge each evening encouraging farang passers-by to come in for a drink. These two beer bars formed the nucleus of what would eventually become one of Bangkok's major Night Entertainment Areas.
At the end of 2000, a major construction effort began in in the compound - adjacent to, and around the No ! Bra and the Ngan Hang. Unlike other bar beer areas in Bangkok which grew haphazardly, this was a comprehensive and coordinated undertaking, providing an un-congested and well-ordered complex of permanent and semi-permanent structures. Construction was completed in mid 2001, and it was given the name: "Queen's Park Plaza- Best Quality Entertainment Center" (named after the now closed Queen's Park Hotel, now the Marriott).
Leasing of the units began in earnest, and by August 2001, enough beer bars were in operation to reach "critical mass" - they were already big enough and growing quickly enough to be a Night Entertainment entity on their own. Other shops were opening in the compound, complimenting the bar beer trade: a traditional massage, a foot massage and a beauty parlor opened within a few months of each other. During this timeframe, the first of many bars installed air-conditioning. By mid-2002 the Queen’s Park Plaza's time had come. Regular non-hotel customers were also starting to come from outside the Soi 22 area. Beer bars whose origins were in Clinton Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Cowboy Annex were hedging their bets by either moving to, or opening branches in Queen's Park Plaza - (for example: Popeye 2, Moonshine and Oraphin).
Even though the complex is built on property originally destined for redevelopment, the economic climate is not yet such that new, permanent construction will likely usurp this land. This belief is at least partially reinforced by the fact that its construction was an owner-planned undertaking - rather than a spontaneous ad-hoc growth typical of other beer bar complexes in the Bangkok area. Further, the structures were semi-permanent / permanent, rather than "shanty" style. Its chances of long-term survival are seen to be relatively good as long as occupancy of the units remains high, lessees continue to pay their rent...
By March 2002 there were already 21 Night Entertainment Venues in operation. Today, and for the last 15 years, there have been plus-or-minus 35 Nitespots on premises.
Easy Square July 2004 - May 2005
The Nam Thip Restaurant opened in September of 2002 on a large square plot of land deep in Soi 22, far from any other structures on that side of the Soi. That otherwise empty plot of land became known as Nam Thip Square. Historically, the Square stood on an area of land which was once part of the notorious Soi 22 slum, or chum chon, that used to stretch nearly a full kilometer along the left hand side of the soi. The slum was the 'dwelling place' of most of the Night Entertainment workers in the Sukhumvit Road area during the 1970's and 1980's due to its proximity to the bar areas and it's low rents. But by the late 1980's, the slum was in the throes of being demolished, in stages, and the swamp was eventually drained and filled.
Once the restaurant was completed and in operation, the Nam Thip owners leased that large tract of land (less the land their restaurant was on) to a group who wanted to develop it into a beer bar area. As coincidence would have it, the Nice Bar closed its doors in Soi Cowboy in October, 2002 (historians note: originally the old Loretta digs). Looking for a new home, they leased the first bit of that land from the new lessees, who had just changed its name to "Easy Square". They immediately began construction in Easy Square on a soon-to-be bar beer-pool bar. It opened in January, 2003, under the same name, Nice Bar - they get the handshake as the "Seminal Bar" in Easy Square.
Eighteen months after that first bar moved into Easy Square Night Entertainment Area, it reached 'critical mass' - becoming Bangkok's then-newest Night Entertainment Area in July 2004.
But what the Nam Thip people were slow to tell the land lease holder, and the land lease holder was even slower to tell the bar owners, was that the land had already been deep-piled for a future high-rise construction project (not that it should have mattered - everyone knew that the bars were 'opportunistic' and not ever going to be 'permanent' facilities.)
At the beginning of 2005, the owners gave urgent notice to the bar owners to start vacating the premises, as the construction project was going to commence 'soon'. The bars were slow to comply, to include those still under construction themselves, but by the end of May 2005, the last bar, The Hangout, had closed its doors - and Easy Square was history.
Although Easy Square was only a self-sustaining (and rapidly growing) Night Entertainment Area for ten months, it supported -at its peak- 15 Nitespots (not counting those under construction at the time they were told to vacate). And the kicker? Fifteen years later, there is still no highrise on that land. Oh, well...
Soi 22 March 2013 - Present
Talk about the long journey of a Bar Area to reach 'Critical Mass'... The very first expat Nitespot on Soi 22 that embodied the style and 'look and feel' of that which was to come was the New Cowboy Bar - and it was years ahead of its time - literally. When Cowboy (the man) drank up all the profits from his second Cowboy Bar in the adjoining Washington Square in the mid-'80's, he went looking for a new place to hang his cowboy hat. He soon joined forces with Grant Francisco, a retired fire chief from the Viet Nam conflict era. They were to open a bar on a 50-50 share basis, but as Cowboy didn't have any money, Grant and he came to an arrangement where Cowboy would pay him back as time went on. That taken care of, the New Cowboy was opened deep in Soi 22. By the time I visited Grant in 1989 at his home above the bar, he was dying of cancer. It seems Cowboy, never having come up with the money, was thrown out by Grant, and he (Cowboy) soon after went to the Philippines with health problems, where he died. While neither of those two gentlemen survived to see Soi 22 come of age as an Entertainment Area, the New Cowboy Bar, Soi 22 'sseminal bar, is still there, alive and well.
Our first foray into Soi 22, at least as far as MIDNITE HOUR is concerned, was back in June of 2002, when we introduced the Queen's Park Plaza Night Entertainment Area, which, itself, had just reached "critical mass". At that time, we didn't have the slightest inkling that Soi Soi, the Soi itself, would one day reach it's own "critical mass". We did a follow-up Soi 22-run in November of 2003 - our lead story being the opening of Easy Square deep in the Soi. Easy Square became a full fledged Night Entertainment Area the following year, only to close down months after reaching "critical mass". And even then, we at the MIDNITE HOUR had no idea that Soi 22 - the Soi that then hosted Easy Square and Queen's Park Plaza and also accessed Washington Square would become an independent 'stand-alone'.
Around about 2005 - 2006, we saw some changes - the opening of a number of new Nitespots. We got curious - time for another look - was Soi 22 becoming a Nitespot Hub of it's own? We did an immediate resurvey (in November 2006). However, after an interesting reappraisal, it was obvious that the Soi wasn't yet a "Night Entertainment Area" by the strict definition. And we had our doubts it ever would be. Likewise, in December of 2010 we resurveyed yet again, suspecting that Soi 22 was coming close to the 'magic' combination of sufficient number of venues ("critical mass"), and generally "contiguous", or to say, the Nitespots were within reasonable distance of one another, and able to feed synergistically off of their mutual customer attraction. Again, we found gains, but still 'no cigar'.
However, by March 2013, there was a number of new bars and larger pub style venues alongside the even more ubiquitous massage parlors. There could be no denying that the Soi had adequate 'population density'. Since 2013 the addition of new Nitespots has been slow but constant - to include the period where the Queen's Park Hotel was being renovated to reopen as the new Marriott (everyone, inlcuding bar owners, was concerned that the Nightlife business on Soi 22 was going to die out because of the long closure of their primary customer-base). Today, Soi 22 remains at a relatively stable 80 Night Entertainment Venues(!) - including massage parlors and those Venues found on the sub-sois (but excluding the adjoining Queen's Park Plaza).
Soi Ambassador - Soi 11 October 2013 - Present
As with Soi 22, we made several revisits to Soi Ambassador (Sukhumvit Soi 11) in recent years, each time with a mind to see whether - or not - the soi had reached that magical "critical mass : that is to say, enough bars in a relatively contiguous area to create a 'synergysm' - the perception in the nightgoing crowd that this was a 'go-to' place worthy of spending an evening. It wasn't until October 2013 that we were no longer able to deny that the Soi had come into its own. Q Bar, years ahead of its time, had done it right - an upscale bar / club / snacks. The hands-down recipient of 'seminal bar' - alas it is no longer on the landscape...
On our end-of-month October 2013 survey, we found the back half of the Soi was hardly recognizable due to the addition of new Nitespots. It was immediately apparent that some time in the elapsed 3 years since our previous visit, Soi Ambassador had become a stand-alone Night Entertainment Area. Today the Soi is thriving, with (plus-or-minus) 48 active Night Entertainment Venues.
Sukhumvit 1 Plaza October 2004 - 1 December 2007
After much posting of banners and advertising handouts, bars started to 'soft open' in October of 2004 (Official opening date was 01 November) in the Sukhumvit 1 Plaza building. We had our doubts that it would take off, due to the location and the fact that the bars were basically 'apartments' in a multistorey building. But bars (from other bar beer areas that were closing down) began moving in immediately to the newly opened facility.
The Sports Bar 2, which opened there on 14 October 04, lands the kudos as the seminal bar for Sukhumvit 1 Plaza - it was first off the mark (it had relocated from 13 Night Market Night Entertainment Area - as would other bars). It quickly changed its name to Beaver's.
Other bars that opened in quick succession in the week that followed, and by March 2005 it had reached critical mass with a dozen bars spread out over three floors. It maintained this level of occupancy for the duration, never really reaching its potential as a Nitespot Area.
The entire Sukhumvit 1 Plaza building was closed down by the owners on 1 December 2007 for future redevelopment into a small 'boutique' hotel. This over-night closure (literally) came as a surprise to bar owners and customers alike.
Clinton Plaza November 1998 - 7 June 2003
Up until mid-1998, the area between the legendary and now-extinct Thermae massage parlor/coffee shop and the new Thermae coffee shop was a long-dormant bank building with a large (also unused) warehouse at the rear. Around November of that year, a few outdoor ‘bar beers’ appeared at the rear, between the main building and the warehouse. The area was poorly lit, and the ‘bar beers’ were only occasionally visited by small groups of Thai customers.
These bar beers were unnoticeable to all except those using the abandoned warehouse in the rear as an expedient parking lot. Because of it's location, between old and new Thermae , this area was originally referred to as "Thermae Annex" .
From those inauspicious beginnings in 1998, there had been considerable growth during the first two months. The area's potential was first recognized by two entrepeneurial Expats, Kees "Case" Weening and "Charlie" Hughes. In January of 1999, under the Lee Singh Co. Ltd. banner, they converted one of the back bar areas into their first 'sales office', and set themselves the arduous goal of developing the area into a major Night Entertainment Area. Originally, Case and Charlie decided to call the compound 'Entertainment Plaza', and in February of that year, their first sign was put up at the side of the main building above the footpath on Sukhumvit Road. By then, the area already sported 10 ‘bar beers’ with two more under construction. Some of the new bars were being built beside the main bank building, closer to Sukhumvit Road, no longer just in the aforementioned back area.
In June of 1999, another new sign went up, replacing the old ‘Entertainment Plaza’ sign. From that time forward, it officially became "Clinton Entertainment Plaza". -As in, William 'Bill' Jefferson (Blythe IV) Clinton', the 42nd President of the USA, and as you may have assumed, the ex-president was to be the official theme. Several of the bars were named after either Clinton himself (Bill’s Coffee Shop) or people or places relating to his administration (Monica’s, The White House...)
The bar beers at the newly renamed ‘Clinton Plaza’ slowly gained in popularity among expat imbibers, so at the beginning of the new millennium, Case decided the time was right to try an A-Go-Go bar. He began renovations on his indoor/outdoor Nuch Snack Bar in February 2000. By the end of March, Flowers A-Go-Go opened its doors to the public. It was an immediate, if modest, success. And although it later changed its name to The Candy Store (and changed owners), it proved to be the seminal bar for Clinton Plaza, as several other A Go-Go bars opened over the following two years. If a date were to be cited for Clinton Plaza's coming of age and entering the mainstream of Bangkok’s Night Entertainment scene, it would have to be March 2000.
In the year 2000, Clinton Plaza experienced unprecedented growth. As it grew, so did the belief that it would actually become a major Night Entertainment Area; its success feeding on itself. By the time Flowers A-Go-Go opened in March, there were a total of 22 bars and lounges in Clinton Plaza. There was also a boxing ring and a good restaurant (Tivoli). The construction 'explosion' continued, and by December of 2000 a total of six A-Go-Go bars had already opened in the compound. It looked like Clinton Plaza was on its way. The developers, having found new deep-pocketed investors from the Middle East, had detailed plans drawn up which showed five floors of lounges and A-Go-Go bars in the main building. Also, the large warehouse in the rear was to be ringed with one and two storey A-Go-Go bars and lounges. Once completed, it would be one of the largest Night Entertainment Areas in Bangkok. But all would not go according to plan...
In August of 2001, there were six nearly simultaneous bar closures in Clinton Plaza; five of those were A-Go-Go bars, leaving only one A-Go-Go bar, the Doll House, up and running. The outside world originally thought it was part of an ongoing city-wide police crack-down on Night Entertainment Areas, however word leaked out later that there was a dispute over ownership of the land and the legality of the existing bar leases. It looked like Clinton Plaza was to be relegated back to the minor leagues of beer bars and noodle stands, however, over the next few months it appeared that most of the lease problems were worked out. By the end of the year only the Rock Hard A-Go-Go had not yet reopened; the White House A-Go-Go having only just reopened its doors.
But the handwriting was on the wall. None of the expansive development plans had been implemented despite a rumored additional new investor from Pattaya. Clinton Plaza had begun to stagnate - with bar closings outnumbering bar openings (down to 18 venues from a high of 23 the year before). By June of 2002, there was once again rampant speculation that something was amiss in the Plaza. The Rock Hard A-Go-Go never reopened there, deciding to take its chances in Nana Plaza. The Dollhouse, anticipating the worst, began renovations on the old Hare & Hound in preparation for its eventual move to Soi Cowboy. Although the White House A-Go-Go finally reopened in December, it closed once and for all, four months later.
A month later, in July of 2002, the old White House A Go Go premises were demolished. That same month, large signs were put up around the Plaza which read:
"Notice: Ritchie Center and Supply Company Limited are the sole legal owners of this land and all the buildings on it. Individuals may not enter without first obtaining permission. Failing to do so is breaking the law, and Ritchie Center and Supply Co, Ltd will prosecute those violators to the extent of the law." The rumors, the speculation, could no longer be denied.
While construction engineers shut down the large warehouse area in the rear, the remaining bar owners ignored the 'no trespassing' signs and continued to open for business, as usual. But business was not 'as usual'; the remaining bar owners, insisting they held valid leases, were claiming they were being harassed and intimidated by the 'new' land owners. Bill's Coffee Shop reported that the issue was taken before the authorities, and the leases were considered, and found to be valid. In the final reckoning, it would be a matter of attrition, and/or the 'new' land owners having to buy up the bar leases.
Construction crews began taking core samples throughout the compound for what was then reported to be 'a large five-star hotel'. Bars that were already closed were barricaded off and included in the construction area. As additional bars closed within the Clinton Plaza compound, they were were absorbed behind the creeping construction barricade, leaving finally only the strip of bars fronting on Sukhumvit Road. In the end, it was both attrition and buy-outs which finally culminated in it's 2003 closing.
Early in March 2003, when only the Living Room and Monica's remained, the word came down that Clinton Plaza's last day would be 31 March. Days in advance, Monica's put up large signs advertising its "farewell bash" on that final day. Thousands of balloons, and a live rock-and-roll band to boot, and an overflow of customers to see it off. (They were only moving next door into "13 Night Market", so there weren't too many parting tears shed.) A good time was had by all, a wild time was had by some. The Living Room next door saw how much fun (and money) everyone had, so they also put up a lot of balloons and were telling everyone it was their last night; 'so while you're at it, come in and say good-by to us, too '. There was only one niggly little detail -- and that was they didn't close. -And had no intention of closing - business as usual on 01 June. One would stop short of calling that 'dishonest', or would one?
Thus, the Living Room 'pub' was Clinton Plaza's last soldier standing. As it closed its doors for the last time on 7 July, the construction barricades were thrown up across its entranceway, and the destruction of the old compound began in earnest.
The second of two 'opportunistic' Night Entertainment Areas to close in 2003, Clinton Plaza could never lay claim to the popularity of the other established areas like Soi Cowboy or Nana Plaza. Nevertheless, it had a measurable impact on the Night Scene. In its checkered five year existence it spawned a number of A Go-Go bars, lounges, Pool Bars and bar beers that subsequently relocated to such diverse locations as Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, Cowboy Annex,Sukhumvit Square, "13 Night Market". and Queen's Park Plaza. While Clinton Plaza winked out of existence with a 'whimper' as opposed to the 'bang' of Sukhumvit Square, it has nevertheless notched a place in the collective memory, and rates at least a footnote in the ongoing history of the Bangkok Night Scene.
13 Night Market May 2003 - March 2005
The "13 Night Market" Night Entertainment Area was built on what many night crawlers consider 'hallowed ground' - the compacted rubble that was the former Thermae Coffee Shop. (The Thermae became notorious around the world as one of Bangkok's wildest all-night meeting points. It, -the Thermae- closed in July of 1996 and the building was demolished by the end of the year, ostensibly for redevelopment.) That 'hallowed ground', the rubble, remained untouched for almost a year and a half, due to the 1997 economic collapse in Thailand and Southeast Asia).
"..l feel so...tsunami.."
But where there is a vacuum, it shall be filled... this empty land that was the Thermae became a night market area, mostly kwei-tiew push carts and other food vendors, who would set up each evening, and pack up each morning. (However, there were no bars in those early days.) But by 1998, certain vendors were 'obtaining' certain areas within the compound as their own, and the shops began to take on a certain semi-permanent look - the shops were locking up each night instead of packing up.
By early 1999, a couple of these shops were 'sold' to others who opened a couple of bar beers within. We, of course, began to take notice, not because we thought it would reach 'critical mass' on its own, but because we had heard the rumor that the wall between it and it's next door neighbor -the fledgling Clinton Plaza- would be knocked down, forming a very large Night Entertainment Area in the central Sukhumvit area.
But we were wrong about the old Thermae compound becoming part of Clinton Plaza - it was not to be. Nevertheless, the number of bar beers continued to increase in those old Thermae grounds, and we began to suspect that there just might eventually be enough Nightspots within to reach "critical mass" after all. (A note to historians: by this time, the old Thermae grounds were being called '13 Night Market', thus we reflected same on our records.)
But again we were wrong - although the 13 Night Market continued to build up to a total of 7 Night Entertainment Venues by September of 1999, it then began to thin out again, until all the bar beers were gone by March 2000. And while the 13 Night Market continued to thrive as tourist oriented shops selling all kinds of brick-a-brack, we gave up hope of it ever becoming a Night Entertainment Area.
By early January 2003 we had seen the next door Clinton Plaza dwindle down to 3 bars, while across the road, Sukhumvit Square had "exploded" to 60 bars. The 'center of gravity', it seemed, had once and forever shifted across Sukhumvit Road, and the adjoining complexes of 13 Night Market and Clinton Plaza would become obscure footnotes in history... (And a third time we were wrong - on 26 January 2003, Sukhumvit Square was entirely demolished by Chuwit's Marauders in what would be one of Thailand's biggest, most embarrassing black eyes.)
However, as all hope was lost, in May, 2003, almost as if by conspiracy - and virtually overnight, 11 bar beers opened for business in the 13 Night Market - and they were instantaneously busy - crashing through the "critical mass' barrier in one swift stroke. They continued to grow, and sell, and absorb their neighbor's loc until they became 15 medium sized bar beers (for the most part) instead of 11 tiny one-loc bar beers. It wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that most of the 13 Night Market bar beer owners were either from the then defunct Sukhumvit Square, Clinton Plaza, or from the soon-to-close Cowboy Annex.
Business at 13 Night Market was much better than the bar owners let on to the Men In Too-Tight-Uniforms, but by mid 2004, the on-again, off-again rumors of closure were finally confirmed, and it looked like they would be closing by New Year's 2005. There was (obviously) a little slippage - the last date for doing business was 28 February 2005. And, yes, the rumors were confirmed that the 13 Night Market would become part of the Sofitel Hotel now under construction - the same development that devoured Clinton Plaza in June of 2003. (Footnote: Although the official closure was 28 February 2005, the B.B. bar beer closed the following month, March 2005 - and was the 'last man (lady) standing'.
This departure from the 'norm', this orderly close out of 13 Night Market made for better future planning all around. Two of the bar owners had already opened new Night Entertainment Venues in Sukhumvit 1 Plaza. Another, the Sweet Home Bar opened a new venue and was already up and running on Soi 22 - the Sweet Home Club. And the Golden Eyes moved to Soi 11.
(Note: the "Thermae" shown here is the relocated Thermae in Ruam Chit Mansions.)
Sukhumvit Square February 2002 - 26 January 2003
In the mid-90's, a large property on Sukhumvit Road at Soi 10 was cleared of its existing buildings. Due to the economic crisis of 1997, the property had not yet been scheduled for redevelopment. In December of 1999, just days before the turn of the Millennium, in that otherwise empty expanse of real estate, a shanty was put up next to the sidewalk - the Sweet Home Bar bar beer. It was the first Nitespot to set up there, and, unbeknownst at the time, the seminal bar of what would become one of Bangkok's largest and most successful Night Entertainment Areas. But it was hardly what one would call an instant catalyst for the phenomenal growth that was to take place some 2 years later.
Over the next 18 months, more shanty shops appeared in the compound and began selling goods aimed at the passing tourist market, to include several shops catering to the more expensive tastes, but the Sweet Home remained the only bar. The then-new sign above the new shanty compound was in Thai, and read, "Thai Help Thai" - a name meant to impart hope to the citizenry in the post-1997settakit mai dee economic slump.
By late 2001, the name had been changed to Sukhumvit Square. A small number of other Night Entertainment Venues (all bar beers) followed the Sweet Home into the compound over the next 24 months, to wit: Jo Jo's Bar, For Your Style Bar, Casablanca, Brownie, the At-10 Bar & Pool, and -the exception- Tippler's Tavern (a real indoor, air conditioned pub), along with one other unnamed bar beer. But as a Night Entertainment Area, it hadn't really caught on. It hadn't reached the "critical mass" needed to draw a regular stream of custom. No one was likely to say, "Let’s go to Sukhumvit Square tonight and check out the scene." In fact few tourists or residents even knew the area as "Sukhumvit Square",or knew of the existence of most of the bars. But all that was about to change.
Early in 2002 in the East corner of Sukhumvit Square, adjacent to Soi 10, construction began at a furious pace. An awning-covered beer bar cluster calling itself Happy Today was coming into being. Construction was completed in February, and the 8 bar beer units within were almost immediately rented out; Chemo Bar, Ying’s Corner, Rosegarden, Tu Bar, Lovely Bar, Sport 2, Eddy Bar, and the G-Sport were open for business. Immediately adjacent to this cluster, the construction of the Lighthouse was underway, and was completed in March 2002. (Some familiar names from other beer bar areas were to be seen, as beer bar owners continued to hedge their bets.) Sukhumvit Square had reached "critical mass" - and then some - virtually over night, with a total of 17 Night Entertainment Venues.
But the story was far from over; on the West side of the compound, there were at least a dozen new beer bars under construction, which opened in the March - April 2002 timeframe. Sukhumvit Square was on its way to becoming the largest Night Entertainment Area in Bangkok. By July 2002, it already had 43 Night Entertainment Venues, and more were under construction. By the beginning of 2003 there were sixty bar beers, lounges, pool bars, pubs and an A Go-Go bar, and construction was already underway on other venues, including additional A Go-Go bars. The parking lot in the rear was envisioned as a staging area for smaller tour busses to bring groups of Taiwanese, Korean and Chinese tourists to see first-hand a sampling of Bangkok's notorious night life that they might not otherwise see on their 'package tours' of Thailand.
Long-term prospects for Sukhumvit Square as a Night Entertainment Area were virtually nonexistent. Even at the outset, the Night Venue development was termed "opportunistic"; located on a prime piece of property on Sukhumvit Road in the heart of the Tourist Belt, it was only a matter of time before the property was redeveloped. But no one foresaw the catastrophic end that would befall the compound on the morning of 26 January 2003.
At 04:00 hours on that morning, clandestine raiders, teams of safari-suited military types led construction crews, welding crews, heavy equipment trucks and operators, and traffic control teams to Sukhumvit Square in a large convoy. They blocked off all but two lanes of Sukhumvit Road, cut the city power to Sukhumvit Square, set up their own generators and lighting, and proceeded to destroy the entire compound with heavy equipment, while building a 2-meter high prefabricated concrete wall around it. The "opportunity' was not lost on the safari-suited 'paramilitarys'; they immediately began looting the bars of television sets, liquor, stereos and other items that would fit into their personal pickup trucks.
For a few short weeks, the eyes and ears of the world were focused on this blatant disregard for the individual, and for privately owned businesses, by Thailand's mafia-style gangsters. If they were waiting for 'Justice to be served', they didn't know Thailand like the locals and the long term expat residents.
An Afterword: The owner of the land, massage-parlor Godfather Chuwit Kamolwisit -affectionately known as "Sia Ang"- (along with several others) were charged and he was convicted, serving a token few months in detention for masterminding the Mafia assault and destruction of the scores of private businesses. Only a few of the businesses received any compensation - receiving 5 cents to 10 cents on the dollar. The remaining businesses (bars and other commercial) lost everything.
Tobacco Road (Soi Zero) 1988 - 9 June 2006
In 1987, Tobacco Road didn’t exist, either as an Entertainment Area or as a roadway. At that juncture, there were a couple of clapboard noodles & beer-type shacks on the North side of Sukhumvit Road between the Soi 1 exit and the railroad tracks. These shanties served beer during the day and evening, but were only of interest to the local population.
In spite of what would appear to be the poorest choice of locations, these clapboard shacks provided a convenient ‘hang-out’ after the heat of the day, and as a result, they began to proliferate. By the end of 1988 they totaled more than a dozen; they had reached a unique, dusty, noisy “critical mass”, with no end of the expansion in sight; construction on new places was always in evidence. Due to lack of space on the Soi 1 side of Sukhumvit, the ‘center of gravity’ shifted; all of the new places being erected were across the street on the South (Soi 2) side of Sukhumvit Road. As they became more visible to passing traffic, foreigners began to visit these shacks for an inexpensive, if more than a little down-and-dirty, place to sit down and have a beer. Competition was alive and well; soon afterward, some of the beer bar shacks began hiring ‘beer maids’ to keep the clientele interested. In their own seedy way, this group of ramshackle beer sheds succeeded in becoming Bangkok’s first beer-bar area catering to the farang trade.
The “free” land adjacent to the railroad tracks was apparently available to anyone with the desire and means to put up a beer shack, and who had a connection to the incumbent group of bar ‘owners’. “Choice” space near Sukhumvit was getting harder to find, nevertheless, construction of the shacks continued unabated. Construction materials were also at a premium for the low-budget entrepreneurs; anything flat and at least partially waterproof was subject to being impressed into service as roofing or siding, to include old Coca-Cola signs and construction site residue. Materials could be seen being delivered by pickup trucks and on “roller skate” carts that were wide enough to be placed on the railroad tracks and manually pushed from deep within the slums sandwiched between the Tobacco Monopoly and the railroad line just adjacent. - Providing of course, no trains were to be seen on the horizon.
According to one survey of the area, in June 1990, not counting bars under renovation or changing hands or still under construction, there were 24 bars open for business. These included the Friends Bar, the Bli Franzer, the ‘Honny’ Bar, the Silk’s Carousel, the Jay Bar, the Diamond A-Go-Go.
By 1990, beer shacks adorned not only both the North and South sides of Sukhumvit, but also both sides of the railroad track. Most had bootleg power and many by this time had their own refrigerators (but were keeping their ice chests, just the same). The teeming shacks had encroached on RSR property to the extent that it was literally possible to stick one’s arm out of some of the nearest shacks and touch the passing trains. (See map; trains slow to a crawl when crossing Sukhumvit.) Safety was obviously not a consideration; inebriated farang were often observed stumbling in the dark, back and forth across the tracks as they went from bar to bar. One (reported) story was of a farang who stuck his arm out of a beer shack on the Soi 1 side, and lost it to the passing train - he bled to death on the way to the hospital. The eventual construction of the new roadway immediately adjacent and parallel to the railroad tracks was probably the single event that prevented regular repeats of the “inevitable” tragic train accidents.
This new roadway, which connected Sukhumvit and Rama IV roads was not given a name by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority until 2004, and was known informally as ‘Tobacco Road’ (The new name of the road is Duang Phitak). This road project did, however, force the city authorities’ hand in dealing with this now rather unwieldy nest of beer bars built on the railway and roadway properties. The shacks were ordered torn down, and due to imminent construction commencement, compliance was almost immediate. Most of the shacks survived however, by ‘reincarnating’ several meters to the West, their new center of gravity being then next to, and partly under the newly constructed expressway bridge.
Entrepreneurial spirit, however, remained alive and well; bars were changing names and ‘owners’ and new, bigger and better places were being built on, and next to older bars. The bars, however, were not the only entities to be changing names. The area itself went from nameless groups of open-sided ‘lean-to’s to the unofficial “Soi Rot Fai” to the “Bangkok Night Market”. It was again renamed “Buckskin Joe Village” , and then back to a similarly named “Bangkok Night Plaza Bar Beer Center & Night Market” , to “Machim” - the name of the slum area directly behind the complex, back to Buckskin Joe Village (this time with an improved sign). But the original, unofficial, moniker, “Tobacco Road” was still being used by the many long-time customers.
But Tobacco Road’s final resting place had not yet been realized; its center of gravity would shift twice more. Late in 1996, a construction project commenced right in the middle of the Entertainment Area. It was to be a single row of 15 permanent shophouse-type beer bars with concrete floors, open roller-shuttered fronts and proper roofs. Their backs still only 3 meters from the railroad tracks, they faced inward toward the Expressway bridge. The several bars this project displaced moved temporarily across the lane, side by side with the few remaining undisturbed bars deeper under the expressway. Many of those bars stayed put, not partaking of the final migration back to the new bars once the construction was finished. The Sexy Night , for example, moved over, stayed put and later expanded). Construction was eventually completed, to include proper electrical service, in March 1997, but there was no stampede back into these brand-new bars. This was probably partially due to the rents, and the rest due to inertia. The ‘Another Bar’ , along with the ‘i 3 bar’ and ‘Bad Girls ? (Up To You) Bar’, were the first to occupy the new facilities in that same month.
While 1989-1990 was probably the peak period in Tobacco Road’s history as far as total numbers of bars, the Entertainment Area had changed greatly in character since the early days. It was no longer the random clusters of ramshackle squatter shacks it once was. It had been upgraded to two single rows of permanent / semi-permanent construction. Several of the bars went ‘up market’ and installed air-conditioning. Many of the bars expanded, taking over one or two adjacent bars, making for more comfortable seating. However, once Tobacco Road had attained this 'new' relative respectability with permanent buildings, and a constant source of electricity, etc, at the same time, it lost its earlier, formative ‘Wild West’ element, which was lamented by many of the longtime patrons. A point-in-time check reveals the total number of bars as of April 2002 was 14, and further checks reveal that occupancy remained relatively stable until the last six months of the Night Entertainment Area's existence, when the number of bar closures began, once again, to exceed the number of those opening (or reopening).
In December 2003, we heard the first rumblings that when the current lease on the land expired, it would not be renewed. Our January 2004 Rumor Of The Month read :
"When the current lease holder at Soi Zero (Tobacco Road) is terminated in January 2004, the Government (owners) will close it down instead of reissuing new lease documents."
In truth, we found out afterwards, there was a court case, and not only were the Plaintiffs (The Expressway Authority of Thailand) not renewing contracts, they were asking the court to evict the leasing parties.
And it seems that these were not the only troubling signs to befall Tobacco Road. During the final two years, the upkeep of the Night Entertainment Area was not attended to; it became dirtier, and as signs and area lighting burnt out, they were seldom repaired. Tobacco Road was slowly becoming dingier and dirtier - in spite of a handful of bars within that kept up appearances - at least as far as the doorstep... Adding to that, there were a number of local soup kitchens on wheels that were setting up at the front of Tobacco Road, serving noodles and beer to the locals, and catering for those groups of late-night Thais who would order a bucket of ice, a couple of large Cokes, and bring their own bak of Mehkong whiskey. The sight of drunken locals partying just outside the entrance to the Night Entertainment Area was less than conducive to potential customers walking by. On the brighter side, the increasing number of feral cats living in abandoned and gutted bars kept the rat population in check.
Suddenly, the rumors were flying fast and furious once again, some saying eviction would be within 3 days, some saying by month's end, others saying "about 3 months". But then, and at last, two and a half years after the original legal case, the Civil Court of South Bangkok reiterated the earlier judgment, and on 01 June 2006 the Legal Enforcement Dept, Ministry of Justice posted the eviction notice. All remaining bars complied by 09 June 2006, coinciding with the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of the King. Tobacco Road was dead; Long Live Tobacco Road.
Up until it closed, it brandished a sign reading, “Soi Zero”, but long time residents remained split on which should be the Night Entertainment Area’s ‘rightful’ name - with Tobacco Road and Buckskin Joe Village leading the popularity polls. In the end, for those who remembered the free and wild (even if sometimes too wild) spirit of the Tobacco Road some sixteen or seventeen years ago, it was a little like putting down an old lame horse - the memories were great, but it was time to end the suffering.
Map shows Tobacco Road (Soi Zero) at its original location next to the railroad tracks, prior to its moving under the Expressway. Names of bars are not shown in this 'Area Map'.
Soi Eden (7/1 Sukhumvit) 1 May 2005 - Present
Our first sortie into Soi 7/1 was in November of 2003 - based on hearsay. We found a total of 5 Nitespots : the Eden Massage, the Night Flight, the Boo Sa Bar, the Dreams, and Bill Massage. This was far from being a stand-alone Night Entertainment Area, so we filed away the info and resolved to drop back from time to time to see if there was any 'progress' toward becoming self-sufficient (having reached "Critical Mass"). We note here that the nickname for the Soi among expats at that juncture was Soi Eden, due to the fact that the Eden Massage was, for a number of years, the only Night Entertainment on that Soi. We have adopted that name, Soi Eden in identifying Sukhumvit Soi 7/1.
We faithfully checked back in 2004, and again in January 2005, noting that new Nitespots had been opened each time. On our 1 May 2005 visit we noted a total of 13 Night Entertainment Venues in operation. The bar that had been there from our first visit was the Boo Sa Bar, and was typical of the type of venue we found on those visits, thereby being chosen as the seminal bar for Soi Eden. (We note that while the Boo Sa Bar is now not currently open, the group currently has a number of active Venues.) We had also considered the Eden Massage as the seminal nitespot, however, as a massage parlor, it was not typical, and was not the venue that provided the 'blueprint' for that which would follow.
As of July 2019, Soi Eden has 20 Night Entertainment Venues in operation, with the promise of another 2 or three 'reopenings' in the near future. It is an active Night Entertainment Area, and appears to be set for the long term.
Soi Twilight 1 Jun 2006 - 30 April 2019
MIDNITE HOUR's first visit to Soi Twilight was in 2005 - a 'guided tour' walk-through with author
Jerry Hopkins<link>, a person who would know of these lesser-known sois. However, at that time, there were too few Nitespots to consider it as a stand-alone Night Entertainment Area - it was nowhere close to reaching 'critical mass'. A year later, MIDNITE HOUR did another walk-through of the Soi and had an opportunity to interview the owner of the Banana Bar which was located just next to the Twilight, or more correctly, just next door to where the Twilight once existed. He had been around since the Twilight Bar was the lone soldier at the top of that Soi. He recalled that the Twilight opened on, or about 1966, but didn't have a clear recollection of what year it closed. Nevertheless, it was around long enough to give Soi Pratuchai its nickname - known to all taxi drivers... etc. It therefore follows that the eventual buildup of the then Soi Pratuchai between 1966 and 2005 was slower than slow. From 2006 on, however, Soi Twilight was "on the map"; it had reached 'critical mass' and new Venues were opening regularly - some relocating in from Soi Than Tawan.
But, as 'the only constant is change', and as bars and bar areas inevitably cycle from low to a high point, and back to low, the build-up in Soi Twilight would not last forever. Back in 1996 the Princess Castle in Patpong 2 closed (oh, the memories...), and the Screw Boy (under that name and a number of similar names) opened in its place next door to the Pink Panther. It later tried to relocate into Soi Twilight, eventually failing, and returned to Patpong II. So, with that in mind, it became the first gay bar to come to Patpong II long term, leave, and then come back from Soi Twilight (2007 - as New Screw Boy). It is still there today (as, again, Screw Boy).
The New Twilight sign remained in place years after it went out of business. Nevertheless, that bar lent its name, indellibly so, to the Soi - up to, and including the present time. This sign was removed years ago.
Nevertheless, however unwittingly, the Screw Boy was the harbinger, the foreshadower of the coming gay bar exodus, much of which would end up in the Patpongs. For the next few years the bar-count at Soi Twilight climbed at a fairly regular pace, even while the occasional rumor of 'soi closing' would pop up - and bars would be asking themselves, and us at MIDNITE HOUR,
if they should move (or in some cases move back) to Soi Than Tawan. Then in 2012, Ocean Boy closed, again amid rumors of the Soi closing. Even so, it was assumed it would be immediately replaced by another bar, however it was many months before it would reopen as The Zeus - beer bars sprouting on the empty verandas next door. The Zeus closed at the beginning of 2015, never to be reoccupied. It was from this point onward that Soi Twilight would begin to slowly contract. Mario Massage closed not long after that in mid-2015, again, those digs never finding a replacement venue.
The '@ Chai Massage' closed in late 2017, never to reopen. Fresh Boys had already permanently departed Soi Twilight, opening upstairs on The Ramp in Patpong II in April 2018. Then in mid-2018Dick's Cafe Bangkok moved to 'Gaytown' at the north end of Jomtien Beach. Dick'sSoi Twilight digs would not reopen. At Dick's closing, the handwriting was already on the wall for the closure of Soi Twilight - it was more than 'rumor' - it was just a matter of when, not if.
This Map shows Soi Twilight in 2013 - at 19 venues.
But then in September of 2018, the upstairs X Size closed permanently, followed by the closure of the X Size Massage downstairs in January 2019, leaving just their downstairs pool bar. The pool bar closed in February, and the far end of Soi Twilight began to be walled off with sheet metal construction barrier. The cascade had started. This was when MIDNITE HOUR published a photo of a sign they posted telling customers not to worry, the bars inside the Soi were operating 'business as usual'.
In March 2019 we noted the ongoing across-the-board close-down and exodus (mostly relocations to the Patpongs) of Soi Twilight. On our visit 01 April the entire back half of Soi Twilight was closed off (with the exception of New Classic and Hot Male Beer Garden at the Rama IV Road entrance). Some bars were already openly posting signs saying they were moving to the Patpongs. The final close-out of Soi Twilight was to be 31 March 2019, however the actual 'last day' was 30 April 2019.
This Area Map shows the proximity of the Patpongs and Soi Twilight - as well as the other Night Entertainment Areas in the vicinity.
Soi Thaniya (Japanese) ~1980's - Present
Soi Thaniya (actually Thanon Thaniya) is a Japanese-oriented (no pun intended) Night Entertainment Area. The Nitespots there are very much "For Japanese" or "Member", as many of the kerb-side hostesses will readily tell you. As such, we do not cover Soi Thaniya on our regular 'circut' of surveys and picture-taking, nor do we have an accurate date at which Soi Thaniya achieved "critical mass". Nevertheless, as this Night Entertainment Area is technically 'expat' and not 'local', we do resurvey every few years for the historical record. Our most recurring observation of this Entertainment Area is tha there is a rapid turn-over of bars in the 4, or sometimes 5 storey buildings lining the Soi.
Gaysorn (Honorable Mention) ~1967 - ~1977
Gaysorn was a warren of small sub-sois next to the President Hotel - never quite reaching 'critical mass' but with a number of 'well-remembered' bars - Bill Book'sSpecial Forces-centricCellar Bar (which eventually became the Pink Elephant), the Three Sisters ('Six Titties' to the jaded 'old hands'), the gay Siamese Doll (also found on Soi Katoey), and across the street, the 'uptown' version of the Thermae - the Thai Yonoke (an all-night freelancer coffee shop). (Apologies, this list is far from complete.) This entire area has long been redeveloped. Readers please note: the dates above are best estimates only.
I was really quite surprised to see that there were so many gay bars in Patpong 1 and Patpong 2. Of course, it has been years since I have been back to Bangkok. Times change I guess. Are there going to be any more moving in?
We note one additional gay bar moved in this last month : the Dream Boy Bangkok (next door to its sister bar, Dream Boy Paradisio). We don't know of any others planning to move into the Patpongs.
I haven't been to Thailand for a number of years, and I'm now trying to piece together my wilder years on Patpong and I'm afraid I forgot the names of almost all the bars I used to hit almost every night. I noticed you have an excellent map of Patpong 1 & 2 in your June issue. Do you have any maps of 1992? Thanks.
We periodically make maps of each of the Night Entertainment Areas as found on our website, but as you may have observed, we update only occasionally. You may want to go to our Archives, below, and brows through the 1992 surveys. The bars are all listed (we didn't leave any out, including the sleaze bars), and they are listed in the order they appear on the streets or areas.
Thanks for reading and for writing in. Don't hesitate to send your questions and comments - always welcome.
Patpong 1 is a "Night Bazaar"? I thought it was a Night Entertainment Area, but what do I know....? How the mighty have fallen.
...News to me...
Last month the closed-down Mizu's Kitchen had a small note taped to the door (in Thai) saying they were going to renovate. We didn't give it much credence, as nothing was going on. This month, it looks like substantial renovations are in fact under way (the right-hand portion of the building is now visible from the roadside - the first time in 50 + years). The vendors in the adjacent street stalls say the main indication of an ongoing renovation is the exodus of rats.... We'll have to do a 'Wait-And-See' on the reopening to find out if they will once again be "Mizu's", or.....
Last month all indicators were that the previously named Radio City wouldn't be opening in the forseeable future. This month, they are eagerly recruiting cashiers, a bartender and waiters (Note: no coyotes or A Go-Go dancers). (When we see the doors open and we go in for a beer, we will believe all of this...) There is no indication of what the new place, should it open, will be named.
The most recent gay bar 'immigrant' from the now closed Soi Twilight is the Dream Boy Bangkok. They occupy the ground floor of the large building at the Surawong Road juncture - this real estate was not previously utilized as a Nitespot.
The 'kings' of self-promotion, Black Pagoda, always have something going on - their popularity is self-evident.. May they continue to rock-'n-roll...
The The Strip 2.0 now has some new neon nailed up. Looks good, but it would look even better if they had put it up at a location that, at every angle, wasn't obscured by power cables... Let the good times roll...
The Rest Hub Bar & Pub has gone the way of the Phorusrhacos, only to be replaced quickly by the Starlight Bar. Welcome them to the trials. Located in the outbuilding of the Rajah Hotel compound. (Note: the Rest Hub 2 remains healthy and active further on up the Soi.)
The Moderation Bar has fallen into a crack - literally... In its place is The Craik (Crack). Located in Subsoi Titanium. Welcome them to the nightcircus.
The Check Me massage parlor (on Subsoi Lemongrass) has slipped down that slippery slope into historical oblivion. In its place is the brand-new, well "signed" PM Bangkok massage. Welcome them to the bright lights, big city.
At the back end of the small subsoi across from the Asia Massage, the new Dio Spa & Massge has rolled out the red carpet. May they continue to slip and slide...
The mostly-restaurant, partly-bar, Firehouse has found a way out from under it all. We hope they have found a better place a little further on down the road a piece... (It was located next door to the Apoteka.)
The Suay Health Care massage has opened deep in the Soi (just past the SKV33 Massage). Welcome them to the hunger-games...
ARTISTS (Sukhumvit 33)
The Tsubaki 33 has opened in the old Tomoe Club digs, next door to the Tsubaki Expatriate Japanese Club. (Note: Tsubaki Expatriate Japanese Club has added the numeral "2" to their name.) Located in Subsoi 6. Welcome them to the fracas...
There's an old U.S. Army expression, popular in the Southeast Asian Conflict of the '60s - '70s, which went; "Trying to pack 10 lbs. of shite into a 5-lb. bag". This can be applied directly to an up-country fruit seller (in this case, Ubon) and his pickup trying to drive down Soi Eden - which, in several places, is narrower than your average pickup truck. Once in the entrance, it got jammed - we do not know if it ever got out. I guess we will have to check next month...
There are a number of Internet websites dedicated to graffiti, and, as was inevitable, several start-up YouTube 'channels' on the subject. But Doke (Martin Hirnera) is taking an interesting approach with his YouTube channel - DokeTV <link>. His 'how-to" graffiti channel is an inovative 'first'...
Doke'sYouTube page on 'painting tools'...
Doke, 24, states up front he does graffiti art on YouTube for a living. Granted, DokeTV will not be of prime interest to those who do not do street art. But this fact doesn't seem to slow him down - he is getting an ever larger Subscription base, indicating that either there are a lot of 'graffers' out there, or there are a number of others interested in the art form generally who are regularly tuning in.
Doke at work...
The issue we focused on for this write-up
<link> shows Doke trying out a new 'handle' that fits over standard spraycans - presumably to make graffiti 'art' easier to do. Doke provides an ongoing critique of the new product while demonstrating on (what we presume to be) a 'legal wall'....
The Devil is in the detail...
Doke's easy-going, engaging manner likely has much to do with his ever-increasing fan base... What puzzles us, we computer jockeys at Midnite Hour, is how such a site not only survives, but continues to grow and entertain. And to that, we can only say, "Let the train roll on..."
Bangkok Eyes is an historically based news outlet, and as such, all graphic excerpts herein are considered,
under current legal precedents and
prevailing interpretations, 'Fair Use' under Copyright Law. Copyright of any original artwork resides exclusively with the artists.
Bangkok's original site !
IDNITE HOUR Graffiti
is prepared by Staff Contributor "Boge" Hartman
(Boge's photo, above, is not a
se, although there are those who have insinuated....