Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
- THE CRACKDOWN BACKLASH
Bobby's Arms - Big-Time Survivor
A Trooper's Return To Action
Bangkok's GRAFFITI -Update!
Rumor Of The Month
December's Follies in review
Since the Benevolent Autocracy came to (elected) power it has, through an assortment of spurious regulations and even more spurious enforcements, shown that it knows nothing about the tourism industry, the Night Entertainment Industry, human nature, or common sense. Since it's early days, and the appointment of Purachai to 'clean up' what they perceived to be a besmirched national image, and restore it's perceived loss of self-respect world-wide, the current regime has enacted, enforced, forgot to enforce, re-enforced, and enacted further regulations and 'laws'. Said rules & regulations, aimed at stomping out "social evils" have, at best, provided a face-saving form-over-substance "Band-Aid" - thereby providing the Benevolent Autocracy the means to turn back and say, "See? We've done something!"
They have 'done something', all right, but all of it to the detriment of the nation. For starters, they have limited the number and types of Night Entertainment Establishments allowed to operate in Bangkok - Night Entertainment, in their eyes, being the nation's biggest "social evil". We'll come back to this point in a moment.
Not surprisingly, enforcement of all the Benevolent Autocracy's new regulations (along with all of the old regulations) was, and is, in the hands of Bangkok's Finest, which. to this day has not been 'cleaned up' -at all- despite the promises. Continuing to dispense it's own brand of street justice, Bangkok's Finest bribe new businesses for 30,000 baht for playing 'copyrighted' music, even though they are just playing music from the radio. They continue to bribe curbside push-cart 'bars' for 500 baht a shot for 'permission' to set up at night on the public sidewalk (they operate, and are the sole beneficiaries of all 'leasing' of all sidewalk stalls on Bangkok's public thoroughfares). But more worrisome than this; even though they have obtained no prior evidence of drug use, they continue to randomly raid Nitespots and Night Entertainment Areas and illegally detain all occupants while they perform mandatory urine testing on both locals and foreign nationals based solely on the assumption of guilt-until-proven-innocent. 'Due Process' is unheard of. They continue to dictate actual closing times of Night Entertainment Venues (regardless of regulated times), and the regulatory influence here is just plain money; you pay, you stay open late. They continue to close down A-Go-Go bars for a month or two months at a time, without so much as one line, one letter of a court order, or even a citation - nor, of course, is there any possibility of legal appeal. Night Entertainment Venue owners have confided in us that there are certain areas within the city that are better and easier to operate a bar because some jurisdictions of our Men In Tan are easier to buy off than others (we'll not mention names, here). These are just some examples; the combinations and permutations of street-justice, dispensed entirely indiscriminately and arbitrarily by the Men In Tan are virtually unlimited.
All of the above is common knowledge among the locals and resident Expats, most of the locals taking it for granted as a way of life on these Neon Sois. But the grand irony is that the Benevolent Autocracy's transparent pretense at a "crackdown" on these "social evils" to make the city a more 'moral' place has only increased the opportunities for institutional corruption to flourish - to Bangkok's Finest it is a linear extrapolation - the more regulations, the more 'violators' of those regulations. The salt in the wound here is that the Benevolent Autocrat himself is a former member of Bangkok's Finest, and he knows exactly, exactly, how the system works.
But the repercussions of the years-long crackdown on the Night Entertainment Industry are also producing another most undesirable backlash. We mentioned above that the Benevolent Autocracy has limited the types and number of Night Entertainment Venues, which in their view, would limit the number of people seeking nightlife in Bangkok, which, in turn, would make this a more moral, safer and better town. The Benevolent Autocracy used this same regrettably embarrassing logic when they limited the hours that gasoline could be sold in petrol stations - in the fervent belief that this would somehow limit the nation's need for fuel. Slow to learn, they are now drafting a law for passage which, among it's several ridiculous provisions, would prohibit sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays, because they are, unbeknownst to Thai citizenry, and quite unilaterally, proclaiming Sunday to be a "family day".
But their plan to limit the types and numbers of Night Entertainment Venues (through non-issuance of licenses), instead of following free market forces and sensible zoning, has backfired - blown back in their faces - in the worst of possible ways. Return visitors and house guests over the last three years have noticed an ever-increasing number of street-walkers (prostitutes). The increase has been too slow, perhaps, to be noticed by long term residents, ourselves included. Add to this, they say, is the increased aggressiveness of these Ladies-of-the-Night. Once pointed out to us, we had to concur, and at the same time note that this relative 'explosion' of night-hustler activity is something entirely recent on the Bangkok scene - we've seen nothing like it over the last almost-forty years.
While it is not the position of MIDNITE HOUR to condone or condemn what two people consent to by way of verbal contract, it is definitely within our purview to comment on the increased dangers in the Night Entertainment arena - both to punters and hookers alike. The biggest danger of all, of course, is the slow-motion run-away of HIV. In earlier days, when Night Entertainment Venues grew to meet tourist market demands, virtually all the sex-workers were in a controlled environment - with regular medical checks. Also, the sex workers' safety was more easily insured, in that the men they accompanied were at least seen at the Nitespot - not entirely unknown quantities. This also greatly increased the chance that condoms would be used ( see our "Bangkok's Bareback Riders" <link>). All this, of course, is out the window, now that the sex workers are taking up positions curbside instead of bar-side in legal, controlled establishments. This increased curbside activity on the part of Bangkok's freelancers is easily noticeable by other tourists; the visiting husbands, wives and daughters that traverse these pathways during the days and evenings of their visits to Thailand - thereby making a public display of the very thing the Benevolent Autocracy was trying to make disappear.
This is the ultimate and most dangerous of ironies: - where the clowns in power are scrambling to save face, scrambling to be seen to be doing "good" against self-created 'social evils'. But they are, in fact, giving the outside world ever more visible reasons to claim that Bangkok is truly the " Sin City" of earlier reputations.
(MIDNITE HOUR will not have a Rumor Of The Month for the month of December 2005. -Ed.)
MIDNITE HOUR presents the NEWS on the Bangkok Night Scene; - the 'history-in-the-making' for all major Expat Night Entertainment Areas - for the month preceding :
PATPONG INever content with just backing up to the pay window each month to collect their soiled paychecks, the Sign Gestapos have been out making substantive contributions to society yet again. This time storm-trooping Patpong's longest surviving tout-driven 'upstairs pay-for-show bar', the Pent House. Their new neon now reads Pen & House. But be advised, the sign is the only thing that has changed - it's still what denizens refer to as a "rip-off joint" (and the naughty-shows, if you are into that sort of thing, don't compare with the no-strings-attached shows (if you will pardon the expression) at the Queen's Castle bars).
The King's Group has been generally sprucing up their fleet of Patpong I bars, some of which are undergoing name changes. Last month we noted the change from Camelot Castle to King Camelot. This month, along with a face lift, the King's Castle III (the original King's Castle) has some brand-new neon - and for evermore shall be known as King's 3. A couple other King's Group bars have some new neon as well (no name change, though). See the photos below. Keep on keeping on, y'all.
The Kitchen Club is not just a restaurant - take a look at the fine print. It is a "Drink & Dancing Club Restaurant", which is an entirely different species from the venue it shares the stairwell with (note the arrow for 'Casnova"). For your edification, the touts at the foot of the stairs thrusting signs in your face and pulling on your clothing are from the Casnova (also spelled 'Casanova'). So to avoid undue hassle from said touts, we suggest you make up your mind before ascending the stairway - do you want to dine and dance, or do you want to be jostled into yet another tout-driven "pay-for-show" joint?
Last month we mentioned that Mike's Place (Spanky's), located, deeply, beside Foodland, had reopened. But, either we were wrong, and walked in on a small, but disheveled private party, or they have closed again. But the kindly staff in the sister bar, Spanky's, just outside, say that they are continuing with the renovations and will be open as soon as New Year's. PATPONG I I
The old Roberto's Italian restaurant on the 2nd floor, accessible from downstairs, or from upstairs on The Ramp, is furiously renovating into what is said to be a 'Night Entertainment Venue' of unspecified format. We'll tell you more about it as soon as we get the green light from Mr. B.
PATPONG I I
NANA PLAZAPretty Lady Agogo is enclosing more and more of their outdoor bar beer area (shades of Voodoo) - it looks like it's just a matter of time before they go the whole hog and air condition it. NANA PLAZA
Obsession A-Go-Go wasn't dead, it was just playing 'possum. It has reopened at last - and they looked quite busy last night, both inside and out. Contrary to the rumors, it looks as though there was no change in format - Transgenderite A-Go-Go remains the modus operandi. Let 'er rip, then, gentlemen...
SOI COWBOYPop Quiz: When is the Five Star 2 not the Five Star 2 ? Answer: when they've sat out their full 30 days in the penalty box, paid a lot of money to the right people, and changed their sign back to the Deja Vu. The only actual example in memory of Yogi Berra's famous, "Deja Vu all over again." We went to their reopening night on the 19th, and a wild time was being had by all. But shake it, don't break it, guys; -we saw several shades of pink more than Bangkok's Finest will ordinarily allow without liberal backhanders - the very thing you got closed down for once before. Nevertheless, let's welcome the Deja Vu back to partytown.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS(Soi 33)First, Papa closed a year ago, last November. Then it's sister bar just next door, the Brick, closed in August of this year. Things didn't look too bright ahead for the Christie Group bars. But that was then; this is now - the old Papa and the Brick have joined forces, reopening once again as Papa. Let the Nightgames commence...
The Thoodaw Massage at the back of Sub-Soi 3, across the way from Blu-Bar-BQ have thrown in the steamy towel. Only darkened windows and shuttered doors greeted passers-by. They drifted quietly off into the night sometime this last November. SOIDEADARTISTS
Likewise, it looks like the Bar Za Bar (& Shoku Sai) have said their final sayonara. Located in Sub-Soi 4, they closed at 10:00 p.m. every evening. Perhaps it can be said that for a Night Entertainment Venue to succeed, they need to be open at night? Should we even have to say it?
A single shophouse bar is quietly abuilding in Soi Pan Pan (Sub-Soi 1), next door to a venue called "No-Body Body Center". We'll get back to you next month with some details - both on the new bar and as to whether this No-Body Body Center is a Night Entertainment Venue - or not.
After duly reporting the demise of Arsom Sabai Massage, we see that they have popped back out of their crypt and are continuing to offer up a variety of massages and ambiguity. Welcome back to the Nightfollies.
SOI KATOEYThe biggest Nitespot news on Soi Katoey, and perhaps in all of Bangkok this month is Bobby's Arms will be closing. But there is much more - it will be reopening in the Hyatt Erawan, bigger and better than ever. And Mr. B. has big plans for the soon-to-be vacated Soi Katoey premises - the downstairs will become a gay pool bar - the working name at this juncture is "Pool Boy". The upstairs is tentatively slated for a small pub and an 18 room hotel. May the fates deal them all aces and faces.
The Home Bangkok Pub has closed for some high-speed renovations - and plan to reopen on the 5th of December. It may be postponed, however, to the 6th, if the bars are closed on His Majesty's birthday...
Closed two months ago, and reopened last month, the Orchid Massage has hit itself in the backside with it's own door for real this time. There to pick up the pieces and to run with the ball (if you don't mind a mixed metaphor or two), was the Massage-Sho. 'Orientation Oriental' in any case. Keep on a-slippin' and a-slidin'.
QUEEN'S PARK PLAZAIt seems the Friendly Bar and the 2 Corner Bar have joined forces - at least as far as sharing the mutual pool table just adjacent. Friendly Bar's new lighting is much more conducive to a relaxing drink of an evening...maybe they oughta' just go ahead and leave it this way. QUEEN'SPARKPLAZA
Last month we reported the The Captain's Inn was either closed, or just gone home early. We are happy to report that they are not only not closed, they had a very busy Saturday night last week. Remembering, of course, that regular hours is conducive to regular customers - funny how that works. Pump up the volume. QUEEN'SPARKPLAZA
SUKHUMVIT 1 PLAZAGone, but not gone, the Hello Bar had seemingly disappeared and someone else had taken over their operation. But shortly thereafter, we saw that the Hello Bar had moved upstairs into part of what is the DC-10. But, then, who is downstairs operating the old Hello Bar? Why, the DC-10 people, of course - and they hope to have some neon up to help us identify who is where very shortly.. We don't pretend to understand the details of the swapped real estate, but all appears to be operating smoothly. May the capricious night gods see things their way - at least most of the time. SUKHUMVIT1PLAZA
The Isaan 40 Degree Bar have apparently found things a little too cool for their liking, and have abandoned 'the dream' entirely. Now we see them, now we don't - it's as if Mandrake The Magician had gestured hypnotically. We hope they find things a little more to their liking a little further on down the road a piece. SUKHUMVIT1PLAZA
SOI EDENThe Absolute 7 Bar has a lot more going for it than meets the eye - in this case, Bluetooth. So if you are looking for an out-of-the-way place to log on, you've just found it (BYO laptop). However, you might find doing your email fairly difficult of an evening, when the house band is cranked full-tilt. -The place tends to get pleasantly raucous - if that isn't too contradictory... A lot going on; all of it good. Let the good times roll.
OTHER NIGHTSPOTS OF NOTEWe've mentioned Titanium before in our column, but we thought we would do so again, now that we have a photo of the comely hostesses in their traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai. No, they are not Vietnamese, so if there are any of you antiquated, dinosaurical Southeast Asian barflies out there who are reading this, you will get nowhere offering to buy them a 'Saigon Tea'.
The well-appointed lounge-Pool Bar jukebox club has rolled out the red carpet in one of the most improbable places - just around the corner and down a hundred feet from the top of Soi Dead Artists (Soi 33). Nevertheless, we thought that Pedros Music Room, also on Sukhumvit (near Soi 23) was going to suffer from location-location-location, but they have maintained a healthy clientele since they opened. In expectation that the same will hold true for the jukebox club, we welcome them to the rough-and-tumble.
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS DEPT.
--- Datzit Fernow
William R. Morledge