Bangkok's Night Scene in review
War & the Night Scene
- PERCEPTIONS AND REALITY -
Bangkok, 01 April 2003
William R. Morledge
The question on everyone's mind here in Bangkok is, 'How is the War in Iraq affecting the Night Entertainment Scene?' MIDNITE HOUR has interviewed several Night Entertainment Venue owner-managers to get their thoughts on the subject. In addition, we have made our own observations over several evenings since the onset of the war in an attempt to obtain some first-hand input.
Almost universally, regardless of which Night Entertainment Area, regardless of size of venue, or type of entertainment offered, the Night Entertainment Venue owner-managers say the newly ongoing War in Iraq is hurting their business. MIDNITE HOUR's observations are that March 2003 activity in each of the various Night Entertainment Areas is substantially lower than the first two months of the year. MIDNITE HOUR makes a further tentative assessment that the smaller the establishment, the harder they are being hit by the slump. In Cowboy Annex alone, there are three examples of bar beers that have had to close because their entire staff quit to find more lucrative employment elsewhere.
In attempting to evaluate both the first hand observations and the 'hearsay', we must first ask ourselves if the Lounge / Bar / Pub owners themselves are a reliable source of input into the 'health' of the Night Entertainment Scene. Contrarily, they are notoriously capable of "assigning" reasons as to why they are doing well, or not doing well, and are most often prone to exaggeration to either extreme should the occasion arise. To say the same thing another way, if asked why business is suddenly so quiet, they will pick the closest plausible excuse; -the weather, -the war, -the 'economy' or now, -the SARS outbreak (Suddenly Acquired Respiratory virus) - anything within the realm of the possible can become the REAL reason in their minds as to why business is bad. On the other side of the coin, if they are looking for publicity, or they want to sell their establishment, then business is usually "booming". A story from recent experience will illustrate: a bar beer owner mentioned to me she was looking to sell her bar because business wasn't good anymore, "Setakit mai dee." I pointedly asked her if she was asking if I wanted to buy it? She said yes, and she was selling for a very good price; at that price she would be losing money. I asked her if I bought at that price, would it take a long time to earn that money back from the bar? She replied that it wouldn't take long at all; because the bar was in a good location, it always made a lot of money - "over 2000 baht every night". I didn't point out the contradiction.
We also need to keep in mind that the traditional "Tourist Season" or "Cool Season" ended in February, and we are now in the beginning of the "Hot Season" (March, April, May) and are experiencing unseasonal rains. This is traditionally the time of the year tourism drops off to some extent. However, in mitigation of the above, last year didn't see much of a dip in Night Entertainment activities during this period.
Lastly, some evidence that war, per se, is not necessarily a negative influence on tourism. In fact, there is more evidence to the contrary - the Nightlife Scene in Southeast Asia bloomed during the War in Southeast Asia - the most significant aspect of this is that these Night Entertainment Areas continued to grow after 1973, after they ceased being R&R centers. I am reminded of friends of mine who regularly travelled from the Philippines to Saigon for their R&Rs during the war years (between 1965 - 1975).
In summing up, we should attempt to stick to the observations, and let the conclusions of the many sort themselves out over time. We do know that business is down over the same period last year. We do know business is down as compared to the last two months. What we don't know is why. It may be normal seasonal fluctuation, it may be the unusual rainy weather, it may be the War in Iraq, or it may be the result of the outside world reacting to Thailand's contradictory government policies re: the encouragement of tourism and investment. (I have yet to find a visitor or resident to this Kingdom that considers the unprecedented razing of the Sukhumvit Square or the wholesale gunning down of more than 1,500 drug suspects to be an enticement to tourism - for example.) And it may be a combination of one or more of these reasons. The reasoning, rational person is willing to wait for a few more data points before attempting to score the graph in India ink.
• March's Follies Begin Here... •
MIDNITE HOUR presents the NEWS on the Bangkok Night Scene; - the 'history-in-the-making' for all major Night Entertainment Areas for the month ending 31 March, 2003 :
• PATPONG II •The Abumi (a Japanese Club in the 2nd floor of the parking lot) appears to have said its final 'Sayonara' sometime during the month of March. The co-located Japanese restaurant appears to be still serving, however.
• PATPONG II •
• NANA PLAZA •The bar that has replaced the Three Roses Bar has a name at last - Spankys . (No apostrophe.) As mentioned in these pages last month, A-Go-Go is the primary agendum. Its interesting to note that it shares that name with a large, relatively successful bar beer in Cowboy Annex, although there is no business relationship.
• NANA PLAZA •
• SOI COWBOY •First of all, let's welcome Tony's back again. Tony's closed in September last year, putting up a "For Sale" sign only to reopen in December. It closed again in January. We hope this is the last reopening - and the last closing. Welcome back to the fray.
The long-awaited opening of Shebas finally came to pass. Two shop houses wide, and two storeys high, half of it occupies what used to be Loretta's, one of the soi's founding bars. The second floor is primarily a staging area for dancers, who step down onto a clear plexiglass mezzanine floor. These 'upstairs' performers dance with the aid of suspended ropes instead of the usual chrome poles. This see-through mezzanine floor hovers just above the main A-Go-Go stage, giving it the now popular two-tiered effect. A-Go-Go is, of course, what it's all about. Employee uniforms are Egyptian in spirit, if not style. They have put a good first foot forward. Welcome to the pack.
Shark, whose real name remains The New Agogo Duck, was 'closed down' for part of the month, but reopened on the 30th with a "Welcome Back" party. We certainly didn't need an excuse for a party, but having one makes it all the more fun. Shake it, don't break it, gang.
• SOI COWBOY •
• SOI KATOEY •The very serious construction ongoing in the old Rome Club continues. Nonetheless, they were unable to open the new multi-story venue last month (March), and it looks like they will be having difficulty completing construction during the current month of April. If experience is a teacher, their labor force will disappear for about ten days once the Songkran festivities are upon us. Still no confirmation on the name, it is rumored to be the latest and greatest and 'straightest' from "Pattaya" Tony.
While the Cool Spot looked physically open (the door was standing open), the bright lights were on, and no customers within. There were a couple of people milling around, but they gave the impression they were conducting a survey, or perhaps an inventory. Definitely not 'open for business'. MIDNITE HOUR will adopt a 'wait-and-see' on this one - we'll keep you informed.
• SOI KATOEY •
• COWBOY ANNEX •The "story" at Cowboy Annex this month is one of Musical Chairs. Although there were several new bars opening there this month, it was the swapping and changing that kept things interesting. The Say Hi Bar (Pub & Pool) started things rolling with its move from its single shop house at the side into its new digs at Lolita's Corner. Now sharing that space with the To Day , it sports 3 new pool tables, and a too-loud karaoke machine, along with a separate bar beer. This is an increase of about 500% in area - somebody is doing some "real money" investing... (This area has lain dormant since the Muay Thai boxing ring thankfully went belly-up.)
Shortly thereafter, the New Lady Bar moved from two doors down into the original Say Hi area, thereby freeing up a large, double-wide area for...
The Walker's Bar is new to Cowboy Annex, but many will remember it from the now defunct Sukhumvit Square. As before, it has done itself up in fine style, and Pool Bar remains the prime agendum. Better luck this time around, gang.
Also from Sukhumvit Square, the At-10 bar has relocated into the empty spot between the Nok Merry Bar II and Lolitas. They have added a "2" to their name, becoming the At-10 2 Bar . The At-10 opened here in the Annex in March, but the entire staff quit due to lack of customers; they are rumored to be reopening this April 8th. More like after Songkran, wouldn't you say? Welcome to the Annex; we hope you are able to pull it together and get back on your feet.
Suzie has been leading a nomadic existence for the last year, or more. Her original bar in Clinton Plaza (the Suzie & Crazy Bar) folded in the sordid contractual scandal that left many bar owners holding the bag. But Suzie had seen the handwriting on the wall - several months before Clinton Plaza started to collapse, she had already opened a second place (Suzie Bar) across the street in Sukhumvit Square. While in Sukhumvit Square, she decided she would have better chance, economically, if she were to move away from her original Sukhumvit Road frontage back inside inside the compound, along the West wall. There, rents were substantially cheaper, and business almost as brisk. She remained there (as just plain Suzie) until 26 January this year, when Mafia elements leveled the compound. For the last couple of months, she had been considering different locations, but this last March decided to open her latest incarnation as; Suzie Bar Pub & Pool here in the Cowboy Annex. Welcome aboard. We hope your wandering days are over, Suzie, but none of us should be surprised if Cowboy Annex is the next 'opportunistic' Night Entertainment Area to fall under the redeveloper's shovel.
The Sukhumvit Square exodus continues with the new Only You Bar. This bar was known as the Princess Bar in Sukhumvit Square. I asked the owner why she changed the name. She explained that 'Princess' was too high a 'station', and that if she were to use it again, it might prove to be unlucky once more. (It might have had something to do with there already being a Princess Bar in the compound, but one supposes she could have called it the New Princess, or Princess II.) On the night of our visit, the Only You Bar had no khon serb; they had just not shown up for work, due to lack of business. Welcome to the travail; we hope you have some luck finding hostesses.
The people at Rin's Karaoke have cashed in their chips and are heading for higher ground. Aimed at the local clientele, it was only a matter of time before it would wink out of existence,
It had to happen eventually. The Honey Bar in the 4-Pak has gone full 'Katoey'. Although there have been bar beers in the past that have had katoeys as staff, this is a "first" for any of the major Night Entertainment Areas in Bangkok. Although the throng of transgenderites working there is not extremely aggressive, punters in the area would be well advised to see just who, precisely, is pulling on their shirt-tail whispering, "Iko wichoo hansom man."
Also in the 4-Pak, the Black & White Bar, mentioned last month, is still going strong, with an attractive bevy of hostesses. They are new to the area, and at the time they chose that name, they were unaware that their next-door neighbors in Soi Cowboy have had an A-Go-Go bar of the same name there for years. There is no plan for a name-change. Now we (think we) know.
The To Day bar, mentioned briefly above, has a new sign. They now represent themselves as To Day Airport Bar. We here at MIDNITE HOUR couldn't find anyone who could explain that one. Airport Bar?! Is this another case of ?
The Prime Bar, near the exit to Soi 23 has drifted off quietly into the night. After their hostesses disappeared, so did they. Not even the barstools remain.
One of the two Lucky Bars located in the 8-Pak has called it an evening. They may have finally seen the difference between "expansion" and "going into competition with oneself".
One stall over, still in the 8-Pak, the Witch bar is closing up shop. There is a person behind the bar, apparently watching over the chattel, but they are making no pretense at "Open".
In the front side, facing Sukhumvit Road, the building that once housed the C.J. Pub & Restaurant and the Friend Ship Bar has completed its transmogrification into two medium-sized bar beers, and one very tiny one. Only one, the O-2, is now open for business. They hope to have their new sign up in the coming week. We welcome them as they cast their lot with the rest...
• COWBOY ANNEX •
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS (Soi 33) •Note for historical trivia buffs: -Although not made clear last month, the newly opened The Cave is in the old Chelsea digs. They are now sporting a small, but very visible new sign.
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •The Banana Bar bar beer has reopened, and continues to march as though nothing ever happened. Welcome back to the hustle.
The Nice Easy air conditioned pool bar in the back has a sign in Thai that reads, "Nice AND Easy", but we suspect this discrepancy can be explained by either gremlins or .
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •
• The No-News-Is Good-News Dept.•It's status-quo-ante for the following Night Entertainment Areas:
• CLINTON PLAZA •
• PATPONG 1 •
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •
• TOBACCO ROAD (Soi Zero) •
© 2003, Bangkok Eyes / bangkokeyes.com