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Bangkok's Night Scene In Review



01 January 2012
William R.  Morledge

January's Nightlife News
Bangkok's Bars - 10 Years Ago  
A Smile in the Land of Smiles.
Ask Us ! - Early 'Boy Map !
Graffiti  -BKK's Midnite Vandals - #75

         What is known for certain is the term "Mama-san" is a Japanese-American "hyphenated compound word" - ("mama" from mother; "san" from the Japanese honorific form of addressing others).   The term originated in Japan after WWII during the American occupation.   However, the details of the origins of that now-ubiquitous term remain vague and contradictory (but probably closely follow the story-line of the fictional geisha, Lady Red Lips).   Prior to WWII, the geisha were both sophisticated entertainers, and/ or providers of sexual pleasures, depending on stature and circumstance.   One chapter of that clan, the 'Onsen Geisha' tended to work 'outstation' and were often 'sponsored' by wealthy individuals to travel here and there ("onsen" being the Japanese approximate-equivalent of Turkish baths).   And as might be expected, the onsen geishas were held in markedly lower esteem than their classier courtesan counterparts in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Yasunari Kawabata wrote Yuki Guni (Snow Country) in 1934.   His central character was based on the real-life onsen geisha Matsuei, above.

         Although there are many accounts of one-on-one encounters between the American forces and local ladies in Japan in those days and nights of the Occupation, it is most probable that the onsen geisha houses played the primary role in sexual recreation - in that the onsen geisha houses, and the onsen geishas' stature in the community had continued to be 'ambiguous' since before the war.   These onsen geisha houses were the first to adapt to provide for the entertainment of the Gaijin on a regular basis.   And it was (most probably) the onsen geisha house madames that first acted as the go-betweens, assisting the GI's in making their selections in the baths.   And, again, knowing the overseas American servicemen's unending penchant for incorporating the latest slang into daily conversation, it was (most probable) that these venues first saw the term, "mama-san" being used to refer to the onsen geisha house madames.   All very logical, but in the final analysis, still very speculative.

- Copyright Chris Coles - used with permission.

- Copyright Chris Coles - used with permission.

Among noir artist Chris Cole's favorites (and our's) are his paintings of Bangkok's mama-sans.   Visit Chris Coles at his website - ''Chris Cole's Gallery''   <link> .

         Five years later, American and allied forces were back in Asia in another war, this time in Korea.   And the term mama-san returned with them.   And mama-san meant the same in Korea as it did in Japan - the house madame.   But it wasn't until yet another Asian war, this time in Viet Nam, that the term became broader in meaning.   During that 8 years of active combat, approximately 2.7 million Americans rotated into and out of Viet Nam - all the while picking up existing and new multicultural slang, and, of course propagating it by word of mouth, on Zippo lighters, tattoos, items of apparel and letters home.   A book could be written on it.....   Here, in Viet Nam, the term, "mama-san" was broadened in meaning, tacitly and through laxity of use, not only to mean, 'female brothel manager', but also to mean 'female bar manager', 'female massage parlor manager', and then on to encompass "hooch maids" and other menial female employees, and, eventually, any less-than-young Vietnamese female - regardless of status.   And variations began to appear; "papa-san" (any elderly Vietnamese male), and "baby-san" (which originally meant Vietnamese babies, but later took on the additional connotation of any young Vietnamese girl).

      More than 20 years as a 'mama-san' in, and around Nana Plaza, the lady pictured above was previously the head mama-san at the Fantasia.   It was there, a little more than fifteen years ago, that she showed us "The Book".   We noticed that one girl had been bought out more than thirty times (several buy-outs more than that of the #2 dancer) - and the month was not yet over.   We asked what was so special about that young lady, to which she replied, "She's Khmer, you know...."   Not wanting to show our ignorance, we never did find out what -exactly- that meant....

         As most readers are already aware, the Viet Nam war had large U.S. support contingents in nearby countries (primarily the Philippines and Thailand).   Additionally, both Manila and Bangkok were R&R centers during the conflict.   So it will not surprise us to learn that the American G. I. slang, so prevalent in Viet Nam, made it's way to Thailand, and to the Thailand Night Entertainment Scene.   Although the term was, and is, firmly entrenched in Thailand, the broader definitions have disappeared; meaning now (almost exclusively) the 'floor manageress in a bar or a massage parlor'. Interestingly, however, the mama-san's function as 'facilitator' has remained intact - making introductions between the employed ladies and male customers - precisely as it was in the 1946 Tokyo.

- Photo courtesy 'ATM Charlie'     

      Without a doubt, everyone's favorite Soi Cowboy "mama-san" was Pam of Pam's Cocktail Lounge (Sold to Baccara in 2007).   Pam was also owner and manager.   ....If we could turn back time......

         As the oft repeated line goes, "If you feel lonely in the Far East, look for a Mama-san.   She knows how to help you to have a good time."   While this is true more so for those new to the Asian scene than those long-term residents and regularly returning visitors, it does point out that a primary function of mama-sans in the modern scene is that of the 'ladies in the middle'.

Mama-Sans and Noodles

      Typically, when Nitespots are hiring, they will hang out signs similar to the above.   The approximate translation:

"Receiving applications for - employees of all positions.
Mama, Waitress, D. J.
P. R. - attractive young lady - on monthly salary
(Telephone number...)"

The above "Mama" is of course, a Mama-San.   It is interesting in that they have spelled it exactly the same as the famous "Ma Ma' noodles.

   However, today's mama-san has other responsibilities as well.   She is required to ride herd on the khon-serbs to insure customers are served quickly, and that the chits are quickly and correctly stuffed into their respective cups, and to insure departing guests have paid their tab.   The mama-san also insures the dancers, be they coyote or A Go-Go, are up on stage when it is their 'floor'.   And behind the scenes, the mama-san will 'keep the book" on the girls - recording when they come to work (or not) and which days they are "opped", and for how many times.   This latter bit of accounting, concerns significant amounts of money, and is important for the bar and the bargirls.   It is not surprising, then, that the bargirls whose assignations with customers were facilitated by the mama-san will regularly, and without fail, tip her (usually about Baht 100).

- News photo clip, source unknown

      Mukda of "Shake it, don't break it" fame, was the undisputed queen of the Bangkok mama-sans.   She was first spotted by us at Dino's at the top of Sukhumvit Soi 29 in 1975, where she TAUGHT her A Go-Go girls how to dance - 'hands-on'; none of this up-country shuffling for her.   She also taught her girls how to perform a specific act by practicing on peeled bananas, and they didn't get a "Pass" if she found even one tooth-mark on the banana.   ....Or so the legend goes.   Mukda passed away in the '90's from cancer.   RIP.

         Just as many new farang arrivals to Thailand will soon have a regular tailor (to whom they refer as "my tailor"), and a "my jeweler", and even a "my shoemaker", many will have at least one "my mama-san".   We at Midnight Hour have known many mama-sans over the decades, and while some of them were cold, mercenary and calculating, most were friendly, helpful and open, and a very few were star personalities in their own right.   And while the mama-san's importance as the 'lady in the middle' is diminishing due to the girls' use of the mobile handphone and the Internet, a good mama-san is as important to the success of a Nitespot as an honest cashier.   ....Well, OK, let's not stretch credibility too far, let's just say, 'a reasonably honest cashier'......

      In the Viet Nam war in the '60's and '70's the definition of 'mama-san' broadened to eventually include virtually any mature local female.   This included the likes of day laborers, cooks and hooch maids.   Babies of both genders and, then younger girls, sometimes even into their teens, were referred to as "baby-sans".   The above photo was reportedly taken in Long Binh in the late 1960s.   This broader definition faded as the term "mama-san" migrated further west to Thailand..


          If one views this month's Thai Smile for long enough, one is likely to smile back....


Bed Supperclub extends
Chris Coles noir exhibit

         The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, and goodly numbers of those eyes have already viewed Bangkok's own Chris Coles' unique works at the current gallery showing at the Bed Supperclub on Sukhumvit Soi 11.   For those of you still unfamiliar with Coles' original portrayals of Bangkok's nightscene, this is a 'golden opportunity' - His showing has been extended until 31 January 2012.

- All works Copyright Chris Coles - used with permission.

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Many Thanks,
William R Morledge

 Historical Minutiae Dept.

Early 'Boy


      I read your site every month, and I notice most of your maps are out of date.   This is not a complaint letter, but you said we could ask any reasonable question, so here goes.   My first trip to Bangkok was in 1995, and I remember we spent a lot of time on Soi Cowboy but I have forgotten the names of some of those great bars.   Do you have a map of Soi Cowboy from that era?   I think I was there in November, but any map you have around that time would be super.   Keep up the good work.


Greetings, "Jake",

      Thank you for reminding us - we do need to update our map section, to include the additional maps we have made of other areas.   Using our running historical database we are able to quite easily provide a map of Soi Cowboy in November 1995.   See below (note that only 30 percent of those bars have survived to the present day).

'Boge' Hartman

  • Email and "ASK" - -   Click Here
  •           We can answer virtually any (reasonable) question on the Expat Night Entertainment Scene in Bangkok - be it Historical or very recent.   Send us an e-mail and we will do our best to answer you soonest.
    'Boge' Hartman
    Historical Research
    * Zootramp Publications

    Let the January 2012 Follies  begin...
    BANKOK EYES' Expat Night Scene.

      PATPONG  I  

                After two months of promises The Club King's opened in the old Bat Boat / Cleopatra digs.   We went upstairs to check it out - blackout is the theme, with a single A Go-Go / Coyote Dancer of indeterminate gender swaying on a chrome pole.   The cheapest drinks, sodas and juices are Baht 250.   That's not a typo.   The Club King's does not have young ladies to sit with customers, but you are welcome to buy your own bottle of cognac for about 3 thousand baht, and presumably keep it there.   Not for your average nightcrawler.   For the record, the downstairs (with 10 medium-sized pool tables) was most recently called King's Corner Pool House Restaurant.)   Welcome them to the sharkpool.
      PATPONG  I  

                Nice Massage (the second, upstairs one) has some new neon up (they were previously operating without).   Looking good....
      PATPONG  I  

      PATPONG  II  
                The Chill Chill, up on The Ramp, has resurrected itself - modus operandi  unchanged - it's a pool lounge.   We have to admit, it is 'comfortable'.   Welcome them back to the machine.
      PATPONG  II  

                A for-the-archives pic of the Bar Bar and The Strip, located down at the Silom end of Patpong II.   Let the good times roll....
      PATPONG  II  

      SOI  COWBOY  
    Door Art Of The Month

              Last month, the Rawhide was furiously finishing off their new neon.   This month, it looks as though the marquee as well as the topside have been completed.   This facade is one of the best around.   And we hear that they are adding some ground-level neon.   ......Perhaps ,more pix next month.....

      SOI  COWBOY  

     NANA  PLAZA  
                The Nana Plaza is probably Bangkok's only "community" Night Entertainment Area.   Last month we noted they had a communal Christmas tree, and now this month - free musical performances on New Year's Eve - that is if you call look thoong music.....   Take note - they went all out on the New Year's decorations.   Good work, lads.....

      NANA  PLAZA  

      SOI  KATOEY  
                Last month we noted the For Fun was under renovation.   Well, all that is behind them now, they are up and running again.   They are also opening their second floor for 'fashion' - what ever that may entail.....   Welcome back to the night circus.
    SOI  KATOEY  - (SILOM  SOI  4)


                The Onna No Ko was closed down tight when we walked by the other evening - but with the promise of a reopening after New Year's.   We note that the larger sign to the left indicates they are hiring.   We'll go back and come back and advise if it did not, in fact, reopen.

                Last month, we noted the reopening of The Horse Says Mooooo Restaurant & Wine Bar, and the upstairs Zantana Spa.   But that was then, this is now - neither Nitespot will be coming out for the next round.   Ashes to ashes - so be it, then.....

                Another "for-the-archives" pic - this time of the classic Bourbon Street Restaurant & Oyster Bar sign.   (They have oysters?).   May they continue feed these hungry faces.

                The Cockwell Inn is coming up on it's third birthday in a month or two.   They are now sporting a free barbecue evey Friday night - all welcome.   Could this be the beginning of the next 'Hobo Feed'?   Only time will tell.....

      SOI  EDEN  
                A gaggle of 'nurses' (although they are no longer wearing their uniforms these days) in front of Dr. BJ's Salon beckon to a passing night crawler.   
      SOI  EDEN    SUKHUMVIT  SOI  7/1

                Another for-the-archives pic of the Down Under.   Still going strong after all these years....
      SOI  EDEN    SUKHUMVIT  SOI  7/1

                The last (only) straight Nitespot in the Twilight Zone, Five Star Entertainment, has completed it's renovations, however it is now the At Chai Massage, which is not that 'straight'.   May they persevere....

    - File photo        



    Bangkok Eyes jumps back in time to have a look at who was new - and who was through.   We'll be willing to bet that many of you "Old Bangkok Hands" will be reminded of some bars you'd almost forgotten.   (We also will be willing to bet you WON'T EVEN REMEMBER an even greater number....)

    10 YEARS AGO  :
          Ten years ago, Eden Garden Kama Sutra reopened (yet again).   It was located on the ground floor, two levels under today's Red Parrot.   There is no Nitespot at that location today.
    PATPONG   2 -  January 2002

          A decade ago, Angel Witch and it's attendant Angel Witch Beer Bar (just outside) closed.   It would reopen the following month.    It is still there today, however the beer bar has been 'absorbed' by the indoor venue.
    NANA   PLAZA -  January 2002

          Also a decade ago, The Den opened - on the same side of the Soi as the Telephone Pub - down at the current 4 Sport location.
    SOI   KATOEY -  January 2002

          A decade ago, Phoenix Club  (Blue Power Shaft) closed.   It was located in the Peep Inn Plaza.   It would be a brief one-month closure.   It is no longer there, however, - and the Peep Inn Plaza is now the S-33 Hotel.
    SOI   SOI  DEAD  ARTISTS  -  January 2002

    ASOKE  PLAZA  /  ASOKE  CORNER - (previously Cowboy Annex) - 2002

    Asoke Corner / Asoke Plaza
    Night Entertainment Area
    ( March 2000 - February 2005 )

                 Ten years ago, Flipper and Choke Dee bar beers closed.   They would be combined into a single larger bar (to be announced).

                 A decade ago, the The Run Amok Bar bar beer opened in the '6-Pak' next door to Lolitas in the Asoke Corner half.

                 Also ten years ago, the Night Eyes Karaoke opened along the left wall on the Asoke Corner. side.

    ASOKE  PLAZA  /  ASOKE  CORNER - (previously "COWBOY ANNEX") - January 2002

    CLINTON  PLAZA   - 2002

    Clinton Plaza
    Night Entertainment Area
    ( November 1998 - 7 June 2003 )

          A decade ago, the White House A Go Go reopened it's doors.

    CLINTON  PLAZA   - January 2002



    (An "Introduction" for those interested in
    the "Art" and the "Controversy" behind Graffiti.)

             Perhaps one of the most extraneous and arcane forms of Night Entertainment is that of graffiti.   Often illegal, frequently artistic, occasionally humorous, and most of the time controversial.   Graffiti is not a form of 'entertainment' that all will enjoy.   Many see it as vandalism - plain and simple, while others see it as an art form, or 'art brut' - a street sub-set of Modern Art.      (....Continued....)

    (New to this page?    Click HERE  for the full "Intro to Graffiti")

    [ Check out Bangkok's dedicated Graffiti page at " BKK"  <link>. ]


    1Up Gets One Up

             For those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of Graffiti, there are two kinds of graffiti writers / artists; the lone-wolf and those who are part of a "crew".   1Up is a crew out of Berlin.   In spite of the likelihood that you have never heard of them, the crew come with many labels, such as Germany's greatest, Europe's greatest, The World's Most Famous Graf Crew, and the like.   There are other labels like, "Notorious" - and for well-earned reasons.
    Some of you may have noticed 1Up's giant tag from the Sky Train (between Siam and Rachathawi stations).   We noted another such tag on Sukhumvit Road, however that area has since been demolished - unfortunately before we could get down to photograph it.

             The 1Up crew members remain anonymous - after many years of 'bombing' the streets of Berlin and elsewhere.   Some of their less-than popular outings (at least with the local gendarmerie) have included 'painting' an entire train in broad daylight, while filming the entire proceedings (and then putting it up on YouTube).   However, this time around, they have done something entirely legal - they have made a movie.

          The film's title : 1UP Berlin One United Power is not currently in theaters (although the premiere was).   It is, however currently available on DVD - (4 hours of graffiti sampled from the past eight years, including various writing actions, street-pieces, roof-top rollers, and reactions from the public, both pro - and - con.).   The film is, unsurprisingly, in German, and is available in various subtitles (Russian, English, Arabian, etc. ).   The first DVD is shot in their home town, Berlin, and the second features their works in Thailand (Yes!) , Romania, Brazil, Austria, France and Cuba.

    - And now to Midnight Hour's own brand of Bangkok Graffiti ....

    Graffiti #519
    4 ft. high x 4 ft .

    Graffiti #520
    5 ft. high x 16 ft.

    Graffiti #521
    6 ft. high x 8 ft.

    Graffiti #522
    More Weighty
    3 ft. high x 6 ft.

    Graffiti #523
    7 ft. high x 8 ft.

    Add Stock

    Graffiti #524
    Too Mache
    3 ft. high x 2 ft.

    Graffiti #525
    Mister Two
    6 ft. high x 11 ft.

    Graffiti, Graffiti , and more Graffiti - Bangkok's original graffiti Site !

       The MIDNITE HOUR Graffiti Page is prepared by Staff Contributor "Boge" Hartman.

    (Boge's photo, above, is not a graffiti per-se, although there are those who have insinuated....   - Ed)

     --- Datzit Fernow

    William R. Morledge

    Copyright 2002 - 2011,   BANGKOK EYES /

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