Thumbnail History - Tobacco Road Entertainment Area
Updated April 2002
- Richard D. Hartman
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.    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
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 to the South.    - Providing of course, no trains were 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
, and the
.    (Of these ‘pioneers’, only the ‘grand dame’ of
Sexy Night - Det 5
remains today, now sporting an appropriate neon sign and amiable beer maids.)
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 had their own refrigerators.    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
were often observed stumbling in the dark, back and forth across the tracks as they went from bar to bar.    The eventual construction of the new roadway immediately adjacent and parallel to the railroad tracks was probably the single event that prevented the “inevitable” tragic train accident from happening.
This new roadway, which connected Sukhumvit and Rama IV roads has never been given a name by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, and is known informally as
.    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 new 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”
“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”
- the name of the slum area directly behind the complex, back to
Buckskin Joe Village
(this time with an improved sign), to the current, also unofficial moniker,
.    It now brandishes a sign reading,
.    Long time residents seem split on which should be the Entertainment Area’s
Buckskin Joe Village
leading the popularity polls.
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 face 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
, for example, 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
, along with the
‘i 3 bar’
‘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
history as far as total numbers of bars, the Entertainment Area has changed greatly in character since the early days.    It is no longer the random clusters of ramshackle squatter shacks it once was.    It now consists of two single rows of well-ordered, clean, permanent / semi-permanent construction.   Several of the bars have gone ‘up market’ and have installed air-conditioning.    Many of the bars have expanded, taking over one or two adjacent bars, making for more comfortable seating.    The total number of bars as of April 2002 is 14, and occupancy has remained relatively stable, with the usual high-season/low-season fluctuations.    However, with this new relative respectability, it has lost its earlier, formative ‘Wild West’ element, which is lamented by a few -very few- of the longtime patrons.
Bangkok Eyes / bangkokeyes.com
* With grateful acknowledgement to
for exclusive use of their historical database.