Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
Soi 33 Just Won't Stop
- THE 'DEAD ARTISTS' KEEP ON GROWING
01 April 2004
William R. Morledge
Elvis HASN'T left the building
Easy Square UPDATE
Rumor Of The Month
April's Follies in review
Fire guts Playskool
Last month, literally one hour after MIDNITE HOUR went to press, THE BIG CRACKDOWN was to have been implemented on Bangkok's Night Entertainment Industry. We promised to "be on hand to observe how the reality unfolds as compared to the myriad predictions". And 'on hand' we were, to see one of the most surprising policy turnabouts in the current Autocracy's term of office.
On 01 March, the date that all non-"Zone" Night Entertainment Venues were to close at the bewitching hour, a last-minute unofficial 'reprieve' was announced which allowed the closing hours of these non-'Zone' establishments to be extended for one hour to 01:00 am. A collective, if somewhat disbelieving sigh of relief was heard from tourists, residents, Night Venue owners and their staffs, not to mention many (privately) within the current administration, and many more within the Tourism Authority of Thailand...
But this was only the beginning of the "good news". While the Press dutifully reported 'official' closing time as 01:00, Bangkok's Finest, somehow, were allowing Bangkok's Night Venues to continue to stay open until 02:00 am. This extension of the old closing time was applied across the board, to include the smaller, outside bar beers. which for several months prior, had 12:00 midnight closing arbitrarily enforced at the capriciously twisted hands of those very same Men in Tan.
In other words, not only did nothing change for the bigger establishments, it actually improved for the smaller, outdoor bars. The MIDNITE HOUR notes that regrettably, there has been certain obvious reversions to old habits, as some bar beer areas are now on earlier closing schedules once again. Alas, unless and until Bangkok's Finest make up their mind to cease, or are forced to cease this practice of self-interpretation of the law, they will continue to deserve their 'dirty' reputation as one of Thailand's official Mafias.
When - shortly thereafter - the next "official" word trickled from the Minoan Labyrinths of Power, we heard that the 01:00 am closing would become effective on 01 April 2004 instead. But this seemingly 'official' word was not taken all that seriously; it looked to outsiders as though there was mass confusion in the 'corridors'. No one knew for sure whether this was a face-saving 'way out' on the part of the Autocracy, or whether they actually "had a plan" they intended to implement. To further muddy the waters, Deputy Preecha announced that the Zoning Law restrictions would apply only to those latecomer Night Entertainment Venues that were licensed after 13 January 2004, the day the Zoning Law became effective. Further announcements tended to contradict themselves; - one such announcement said that at least until 01 April, Nightspots outside the Zone could stay open until 01:00 am, the same time as those within the Zones (note: Zone Night Venues could then stay open until 02:00 am.) Once again "spokesmen" said that the old 'late opening' clause would be invoked after all (opening at 9:00 pm instead of 6:00 pm or earlier) Or would it? - nobody could reconfirm this. We then heard that Nightspots within the Zones would be closing at either 12:00 midnight, 01:00 am or 02:00 am, depending on the type of establishment - the types of establishments were, however, never defined. In perhaps the most conundrum-atic statement yet, Deputy Government Spokesman Thorphong Chaiyasarn said that, instead of broad implementation, the Zoning Law would be applied against only those who broke it. (Come again?) The only thing certain was that there was no certainty.
Behind this apparently very large crack in The Crackdown, one begins searching for 'motive'. Did the Autocracy finally see the light? Did they get the word that their own populace, as well as the rest of the world saw "Social Order Crusade" as just another xenophobic knee-jerking effort - a self-serving attempt to be seen as "doing good"? Did it finally hit them that they had their hands at their own throats vis-a-vis tourism? I wouldn't count on it, brother. Well, then, perhaps the hundreds of petitions signed by expat bar patrons as they walked in for their 'usual' at the local had a cumulative effect on the Powers-That-Be - bringing perhaps even a tear of regret to their eye? Or perhaps the signs in Thai language posted in front of each Night Venue appealing for special Zone consideration, combined with the banners stretched across Sukhumvit Road calling for saner hours, and 'marches' by bargirls to City Hall are what finally swayed the Puritanical Forces of Good from their self-destructive path? Don't count on it, brother.
Try this on for size instead. The incumbent Autocracy are advertising loudly and frequently that they will be running their own candidate for Bangkok Governor in the upcoming election. Under ordinary circumstances, they already know they can ignore -at will- the wishes of the people - as well as any of the opposition. But this is something not so easily ignored - especially when one remembers that the Crackdown is primarily a 'Bangkok thing', financially hurting everyone from the night street vendors on up. The current Governor, Samak, got himself elected by promising MORE freedom, not LESS - specifically, by helping the street vendors, etc., and because of this he remains popular. (Samak also is smart enough to know that he can't fight the Autocracy's money machine once he leaves the Governor's chair.)
The incumbent Autocracy can no longer take the chance that they may not be able to just 'buy' the Governorship. They now know, after their humiliating political trouncings in the South, that none of this is "a given". The goalposts have moved, and this affects even the monolithic machine built by Thailand's richest billionaire. This time around, this upcoming 'gubernatorial', they will somehow have to appear attractive to the public, as well as spend the big bucks. And they won't be able to accomplish this with what Bangkokians have come to perceive as an economically counter-productive Crackdown .
In an effort to maintain a realistic 'perspective' on the ongoing "crusade" we need to remember that this Night Entertainment Crackdown remains an ongoing story, and it ain't over until it's over. There may in fact be further changes in the Autocracy's Zoning Plan effective tonight, 01 April, and then again, we might have to wait until after the gubernatorial election to see any further changes. MIDNITE HOUR will continue to cover the high points in the upcoming months, and continue to chronicle same in these pages.
GOALS, RUMORS, REALITY
Of Easy Square's 34 new bars-for-lease to have been completed by the end of last month, 14 of them were to have been occupied in the 15 - 31 March timeframe. Although construction had proceeded to the "complete and useable facility" stage, by month's end none of the future occupants had yet completed their interior renovations.
Further, the original section (forming a "U" around the boxing ring) would not have 14 bars as originally planned, as some of the lessees had contracted for 2 or 3 or even 4 lots for their single bar beers.
Two of these bars have completed the tiling of the floors and are starting to haul in items of fixed and moveable property. Between them, they have taken up 6 of the 14 lots. It is anticipated both will open before the end of April.
The front section, containing the remaining 20 sections for lease is also physically completed, however prospective lessees have been slow to snap them up. Owner / developer Khun Kai has her offices on premises - at the rear - for those interested in leasing. She may be contacted at phone no. 01 426-3256.
In the last half of February, the rapid pace of development had everyone convinced that Easy Square would gain the necessary depth and breadth to attain the magical "critical mass" before the end of March. The reality is the Square is not quite there yet, although it is possible they will emerge as a self-sustaining Night Entertainment Area by the end of this April. In the meantime, one shouldn't fill one's head with unrealistic expectations - things just aren't coming together at Easy Square as quickly as the owners and developers would have liked.
Making matters even more ambiguous, many prospective lessees are being frightened off by rumors that the land under their future lounges and bars is destined for development into a super-large 5-Star hotel. (See our "Rumor Of The Month" Award this month.) The land owners, while confirming that the area has already been piled for just such a project, have stated that all the pilings have been broken off and have been covered over. They offer as proof of their actual intent to develop the land as a Nightspot their own multi-million baht investment in the land improvements, the interior roadways, the construction of the beer bar areas, and the several earlier lessees now enjoying long-term leases. This will be an interesting 'story' to follow as it precariously unfolds.
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 1 APRIL, 2004 :
Having often been asked, MIDNITE HOUR takes care to report a Night Entertainment Venue's name exactly as appearing on it's most prominent sign. (You would be surprised at the number of different ways some venues represent their own names at any single given time.) There are a couple of reasons for our decision to choose the most prominent sign - first, it helps our readers to quickly identify these venues when visiting for the first time. Secondly, as a matter of historical record - to chronicle "the Scene" as accurately as possible, especially when some bars carry the same, or very similar names. In the past, we frequently noticed, but did not write down almost insignificant changes in the signage, only to find out later that in some cases there had been a change of owners and /or a change in format and/or we had missed a crackdown by authorities on 'legal names'. We also record /report it's legal name, if different, and if posted. The latest bit of such minutiae (also noted last month) is S.T.V. Bar (Memphis Queen Beer Bar), where only the brackets are new - however in this case, its business as usual.. PATPONG II
The cat seems to be mostly out of the bag on the future of the once proud Rififi. Although the new owners won't quite make their anticipated 01 April opening, they will, all going well, be in the saddle and riding hard on 03 April. And who are "they"? We originally heard it would be another Dollhouse, however current signage belies that. It will be the Electric Blue, and it will be an A-Go-Go show bar, similar in format and "look & feel" to its slightly older twin sister in Pattaya.
Without regurgitating the entire listing of name changes and openings & closings over the last 2 years, the King's Lounge Disco has opened it's second floor doors once again. (Located on Soi Bookstore, which connects Patpong I & Patpong 2.) We wish you constancy. Once again. PATPONG II
Not to be outdone, the Koi Gokoro has also dropped its old sign, putting up a fancier, more complete version for public consumption:- Koi Gokoro Club & Karaoke. All else remains the same... SOI DEAD ARTISTS
As anticipated, the Oliver reed's Club may now be counted among its peers. It has thrown its ample doors open and rolled out the red carpet. No, you aliterates, Oliver Reed was not an impressionist painter, he was a thespian more famed for his drunken shenanigans than his profession (he once passed out on a baggage carousel at an airport, making the full circuit several times before authorities finally removed him). He finally drank himself to death (3 bottles of rum at a single sitting) during the filming of Gladiator. Can this really, then, be that good a name for a bar? Who are we to say? We noticed on the new sign that 'Reed' was not capitalized -- was this a case of , or was the guy just drunk? Seriously, though, we welcome them to the slaughterhouse. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Just next door, in the same complex the You and Me Club have only recently finalized the interior decorating and have hung their sign out to glow. It's attractive hostesses greet the passing denizens-of-the-night from the almost-street-level front porch. 'Lounge-Bar' the prime agendum. May there always be a chin-choke in your corner. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Across the street, the just-plain Papa has also made its maiden sortie into the night-world this last month. It has switched on the colored lights and unlocked the liquor cabinet with a vengeance. The hostesses provide a pleasing ambiance and welcome one and all in for a visit. 'Lounge-Bar' is, of course, the modus operandi. May Papa and staff prosper at the feet of the night-Gods. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Most of the action in Tobacco Road seems to be at the top of the soi, where Duang Phithak Road meets Sukhumvit at the railroad tracks. The outdoor noodle shops, while selling a few bowls of kwei-tiew now and again, are making their real money selling buckets of ice, bottles of Mekhong whisky and tall bottles of Beer Singh. Last Saturday, a fairly large local crowd, mostly from the Ma Chim chum chon, had gathered at the approximately two-dozen folding metal tables and were proceeding to get themselves good and plastered - Thai style. While certainly an interesting development, and not particularly disconcerting to the regular expat, it might be a little off-putting to new arrivals making their way past all this to get into the bar area. TOBACCO RD (Soi 0)
The downstairs Speed has absorbed its upstairs Hip Hop R&B yet another time, becoming just Speed - yet another time. We have no idea when they will stop their name-games, and we are quite certain they have no idea either - perhaps it's another case of battling Mor Feng Shui. Nevertheless, they are survivors - wish them well. SOI KATOEY
At what was dubbed the "soft opening" the second round of Muay Thai matches was held in Easy Square on 27 March. The venue was the slightly-smaller-than-regulation boxing ring located in the center of what French developer Ludo Ludvig is tentatively, if more than a little ambitiously calling 22 Square Boxing Stadium. The event looked more like a moo-baan Saturday night than an expat attraction, but things will soon change if Khun Ludo has his way. Once the 'stadium seating' details are worked out and constructed, it will be a professional arena for martial arts and shows, with tour busses supplying the bulk of the ticket-buying customers. We sincerely hope this comes to pass without incident, but our past experience -(failed boxing rings at Clinton Plaza, at Sukhumvit Square and at Cowboy Annex)- leads us to tread warily. In each of the above mentioned cases the nak-leng element soon raised it's ugly head, and aside from rampant gambling, there were often alcohol-augmented fights outside the ring as well. All previous attempts failed after a few months in operation. Nevertheless, we admire his enthusiasm and welcome him to the wolfpack. By the bye, Khun Ludo has a few bar beer sub-leases available ringside - and can be contacted at mobile phone no. 07 914-0488. EASY SQUARE
The Golden Eyes has a new sign which says just that. The old sign, in place for several months, had fallen victim to - it read, 'Golden Eeys'. The new sign, aside from being spelled correctly, is an improvement over the old. 13 NIGHT MARKET
© 2004, BANGKOK EYES / bangkokeyes.com