Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
Clinton Plaza falls
- As Cowboy Annex begins phase-out
Bangkok, 01 July 2003
William R. Morledge
Hardly 'Breaking News', Clinton Plaza's closing went almost unnoticed last month, when the last remaining venue, the Living Room pulled its roller-shutter down for the last time in the wee hours of 07 June 2003. This date will be of more interest to historians than the night-crawling expat community, however, as the Plaza's slow and agonizing wind-down has been a full year in the making. (See last July's " CLINTON PLAZA - ALREADY DEAD?"). By December of last year, only Bill's Coffee Shop, the Living Room, and Monica's remained open; the Plaza had become a pale shadow of the former, thriving Night Entertainment Area of two years previous.
But the Plaza's story began some five years ago. A small cluster of unnamed bar beers which appeared behind the abandoned bank building in late 1998 continued to grow in number, despite a seemingly poor location. As the area grew in size and popularity, it was briefly named "Entertainment Plaza" before being renamed 'Clinton Plaza' in June of 1999. The detailed history of Clinton Plaza can be read HERE.
From those modest beginnings at the end of 1998, through the beginning of 2000, Clinton Plaza experienced an accelerated growth rate. As it grew, so did the belief that it would become a major Night Entertainment Area; its success feeding on itself. By the end of March, 2000, the first A-Go-Go bar, Flowers, opened its doors to the public. By that time, 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 there were six A-Go-Go bars in the compound, with plans for dozens more. It looked like Clinton Plaza was on its way. The developers had drawn up plans to have five floors of lounges and/or A-Go-Go bars in the main building, and the large warehouse in the rear was to be ringed with one and two storey A-Go-Go bars. Once completed, it would be one of the largest Night Entertainment Areas in Bangkok. But the sound of distant thunder could be heard, as storms brewed on the horizon.
In August of 2001, there were six nearly simultaneous bar closures; five of those were A-Go-Go bars. The outside world originally thought there had been a police crack-down on the Night Entertainment Area, however word leaked out later that there was a dispute over ownership of the land and the legality of the existing bar leases. 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 rumored new deep-pocketed investors from the Middle East, then 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, accepting the inevitable, began renovations on the old Hare & Hound in preparation for its move to Soi Cowboy. Although the White House A-Go-Go finally reopened in December '01, it closed once, and for all, four months later.
In July of 2002 the old White House 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 signs and continued to open for business, as usual. But business was not 'as usual'; the 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 to be valid; in the final reckoning, it would be a matter of attrition, and/or the land owners having to buy up the bar leases.
Construction crews began taking core samples throughout the compound for what was to be 'a large five-star hotel'. As bars closed, and areas within the Clinton Plaza compound became vacant, they were barricaded off. The process continued; as additional bars closed, their premises 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 this June's closing.
The second of two 'opportunistic' Night Entertainment Areas to close this year, 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 have 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.
Cowboy Annex to close
- Night Entertainment Area gone
by December -
The third 'opportunistic' Night Entertainment Area to fall to the executioner's sword in Bangkok this year will be the Cowboy Annex. See Map HERE. The owners of the 'Annex', comprised of Asoke Corner and Asoke Plaza, started the phase-out in June, and will gradually clear the compound of Night Entertainment Venues over the remaining six months of this year. Individual Night Entertainment Venue contracts will be allowed to expire, after which they will not be renewed.
Cowboy Annex currently has fourty-four bar beers, lounges, Pool Bars and karaokes, along with a couple of restaurants and other shops. This will mean the gradual fade-out of bars will average half a dozen, or so, bars closing every month. The bulk of the bars, to include all those in the front Asoke Plaza section are anticipating closing dates between October and December. The last date for all bars to be out of both areas of Cowboy Annex, at least according to the current schedule, is 30 December 2003.
Since 'the word' came out mid-June, the following venues have already pulled up tent stakes and moved on: the At-10 2 Bar, the Only You Bar, and Request. The remaining bar owners have begun the frantic search for new digs. They have been looking into areas on Soi 22, and a couple have already relocated to "13 Night Market". However, the "13 Night Market" is relatively small and is already nearing 100% occupancy, so opportunities there are limited. Several of these bar owners, already 'refugees' from Clinton Plaza and Sukhumvit Square, are tiring of their virtually nomadic existence, and have neither the finances nor the desire to relocate.
The current occupants were told that the area will revert back to a car parking lot, at least for the near term. But the owners are also reportedly requesting from the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority District Offices the necessary permissions to construct new buildings on the premises. The rumor with the most currency is that it would be a 3-storey concrete building, the roof of which would be converted into a talat nat, and would conceievably include bar beers. If approved, the estimated time for construction would be one year - an unacceptable waiting period for incumbent bar lessors.
• July'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 30 June, 2003 :
• PATPONG I •The Pussy Collection, reported closed in these pages last month, plans to reopen elsewhere on Patpong I sometime in the next sixty days. There may be a name change in the offing, but will have the same owners.
The Platinum disco, above King's Corner on Soi Bookstore is closed - its darkened stairway littered with trash.
• PATPONG I •
• PATPONG II •The tentatively named Thailand Traditional Massage is opening in the building across from Foodland on the 4th floor in the old PP Massage digs. The ambiguity quotient is reported to be high.
• PATPONG II •
• NANA PLAZA •As reported elsewhere, Playskool A-Go-Go is under renovation, but not previously mentioned is its bar beer outside is still rocking. Expect them to reopen the interior at the end of the month.
Renovations are proceeding at a fever pitch in the old Rock Hard/Vixens A-Go-Go. It looks like they will reopen as a two-storey bar (2nd & 3rd floors.) They could be back at full throttle by the end of the month.
Casablanca, on the second floor, has closed for renovations and a name change. It is now sporting a new sign: Mercury Club. The third and fourth floors immediately above it are already well into renovations, and rumor has it they will be incorporated into a multi-floor bar of the same ilk as the Mandarin, located at the opposite corner.
The Fantasia has, as predicted, reopened. Let the good times roll.
• NANA PLAZA •
• SOI KATOEY •The two storey Speed (1st) / Hip Hop (2nd) has re-re-reopened. Lets see if it (they) can stay open long enough this time around to start building a customer base...
After multi-million baht renovations of the old Rome Club, the new Samsara has called it an evening after only only three months in the game. Hardened steel padlocks dangle from blackened doors. Wasting no time, their next door neighbors The Balcony, have already stuck their own decals on the Samsara's windows and are using their sidewalk area as expanded outdoor seating.
• SOI KATOEY •
• COWOY ANNEX •Among the first to fall in the now-collapsing Cowboy Annex is the At-10 2 Bar. Some of you will remember that the original At-10 Bar & Pool beer bar was among those demolished in the middle of the night at Sukhumvit Square on 26 January of this year. There is no word yet as to where, or if, the At-10 will relocate.
The Only You Bar has also exited the scene. Known as Princess Bar before their forced exodus from Sukhumvit Square, they lasted only four months here at Cowboy Annex. A balloon arcade game now fills the void.
The Request bar beer, opened in September of 2001, has also folded its cards and cashed in its few remaining chips. Only a cold steel roller-shutter greets the rain-soaked passers-by.
The Marigold bar beer, open only last month, now sports her new sign. Alas, it was put up just in time to be taken down again - the bar beer will close in the early days of this month (July). They are looking for new digs; a couple of likely plots on Sukhumvit Soi 22 are being considered.
• COWBOY ANNEX •
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS •The Akane Fashion Massage has opened in the old Athena Massage digs inside the Peep Inn. It's too new to adequately assess the 'ambiguity quotient', but as it is aimed primarily at the surrounding Japanese market, the original estimates are high. MIDNITE HOUR will keep you informed. (A fashion massage !? We'll try one, and let you know.)
Still in the Peep Inn compound, up on the second floor, the Club Ayano has opened its doors. Well, at any rate, if you happen to be Japanese, its doors have been opened. We wish them every success.
• SOI DEAD ARTISTS •
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •Friends bar beer has changed its sign to New Friends. An historical note only - the beat goes on in the pleasantly cool rainy-season atmosphere.
While we are on new signs, the bar beer that has remained nameless since its opening at Queen's Park Plaza in September of 2002 has put up its brand new sign. It has kept its Top Secret monicker from its original location in the now defunct Clinton Plaza.
• QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA •
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •The Crystal Bar in the center section is closed again. The stacks of concrete blocks, and piles of sand, and the burlap sacks full of rubble accurately indicate a renovation in progress. Give them at least a month to finish up and reopen.
• WASHINGTON SQUARE •
• CLINTON PLAZA •The Living Room lounge, as mentioned above, 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.
• CLINTON PLAZA •
• 13 NIGHT MARKET •The new sign of the tiny bar beer facing the sidewalk reads Catch Up Bar. They are looking busier than a month ago, but with only six barstools, they can't get much busier...
The Chemo 04, also facing the sidewalk, has her new sign up as well. Looking busier than ever - whatever they are doing right, they should keep doing it.
New to the tiny compound is the Sweet Home Bar. Many will remember the Sweet Home as the seminal bar, the bar that started things rolling in Sukhumvit Square at the turn of the Millennium. Welcome back to the brierpatch.
The To Day Airport Bar 2 (no kidding) has opened what may be the smallest bar beer in the world. They are getting their foot in the door while the gettin' is good, as the original To Day Airport Bar in Cowboy Annex will be forced to close when its contract runs out this year. Keep on keeping on.
• 13 NIGHT MARKET •
• The No-News-Is Good-News •• SOI COWBOY •
• TOBACCO ROAD (Soi Zero) •
© 2003, BANGKOK EYES / bangkokeyes.com