Thumbnail History - Patpong I & II Roads
Updated May 2002
- Richard D. Hartman
In the mid-1960's, there were scattered entertainment establishments around Bangkok, however the only concentration of 'expatriate' Nighttime Entertainment Venues of any size and impact was on the “Golden Mile”.    The Golden Mile was a stretch of New Petchburi Road, which extended from the Siam Hotel coffee shop -the Come Prima- eastward to just past the unforgettable Thai Heaven near the new Thonglor Bridge exit.    At that time, Patpong Road was part and parcel of the business district, with airline offices (JAL, TWA, American, Air Vietnam, the new Malaysian Airlines...) and offices of other internationals such as Caltex.    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 had little else than a 107-room Hotel, the Plaza Hotel, which extended from what is now the Bar & Pub The Pink to Roberto's.  It didn't yet even have a street sign.
But 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 Vietnam 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 aforementioned Plaza Hotel 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’s Patpongs 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 is 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 faded almost overnight once the Vietnam 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 being the Fire Cat (originally called the Wild Cat ), which is still in operation today.    The upstairs bars were, and are 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.
In the late 1980’s 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.    Foreign residents saw this unsightly and squalid addition to the Patpong I scene as a fatal blight and predicted its rapid demise as a Nighttime Entertainment Area.    While these dire predictions have yet to come to pass, they may eventually be proven right:    The total number of lounges and bars on Patpong I has been decreasing yearly since mid-1993.
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.      - Mizu’s Kitchen is still open for business; it preceded Patpong’s transformation to a Night Entertainment Area by several years and is the true ‘mollusk’ of Patpong.   Its Shanghai noodles and Tarika steak are still main menu items.
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 (above where the Tip Top would eventually open);     - 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 .   Although they have all faded from the scene, each has contributed indelibly to the unfolding chronicle of the Patpongs.
© 2001, Bangkok Eyes / bangkokeyes.com
* With grateful acknowledgement to F. and F. and R. (-you know who you are-), and Zootramp Publications for exclusive use of their historical database.