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"13 Night Market"
The 'new' "13 Night Market" Night Entertainment Area is standing on what many night crawlers consider 'hallowed ground'. In 1965 the ' Thermae Massage Parlor was constructed at this location. It was one of the then-new 'fishbowl' massage emporiums popping up all over Bangkok. The Thermae's basement coffee shop became notorious around the world as one of Bangkok's wildest all-night meeting points. The Thermae Massage Parlor / Coffee Shop closed in July of 1996 and the building was demolished by the end of the year, ostensibly for redevelopment. The rubble remained untouched for almost a year and a half, due to the 1997 economic collapse in Thailand and Southeast Asia.
The 'hallowed ground' remained fenced off for several months, but in mid-1998 the first signs of a shanty-development began to appear - both here and next door, at the future location of Clinton Plaza. The early development of these shanty shops on the old Thermae side of the fence, however, did not include Night Entertainment Venues.
In those early days, the shanties in the old Thermae compound catered to the walk-by foreign visitor with the usual counterfeit watches, counterfeit fashions and locally made tourist brik-a-brak. But by the end of 1998, the first bar beer opened in the compound. It, however, did not garner much attention from the passing expat trade.
By the beginning of 1999, a couple more bar beers opened, and as the future Clinton Plaza was also starting to grow next door, many thought these two areas would likely develop into a single Night Entertainment Area - which some wishful thinkers were already referring to as Thermae Annex (due to their juxtaposition to the New Thermae Coffee Shop now located in the basement of Ruamchit Mansions.) This surmised 'joint development project', the so-called 'Thermae Annex' was not to be, however, as the future Clinton and the old Thermae compound would follow very different development paths. In June the small cluster of bar beers next door officially became : "Clinton Plaza" after having been dubbed "Entertainment Plaza" since February. In August of that same year, the old Thermae compound was renamed, "13 Night Market".
Nevertheless, Bangkok Eyes was one of those 'speculators' that saw the possibility of a 'joined entertainment area', and began recording the 'Night Scene" details for both this area and the future Clinton Plaza. In May of 1999 we showed that there were 4 seemingly popular bar beers in operation at what would soon be called the "13 Night Market" : The Elephant Bar, the El Burrito Feliz Bar, the Arcadia, and the Thai Angel Bar. The The Rib Shack Bar and Lek's Bar (of Lek's Boozer) and the 13 Thai Dance Pub, and another unnamed bar beer were to open between May and February 2000, but the bars were plagued with frequent closures, sometimes only to reopen and close again. By March 2000, all of those original Night Entertainment Venues in "13 Night Market" had closed.
In the intervening years, there were occasional attempts to rekindle the "Night Scene" at 13 Night Market, a karaoke, a couple of bar beers and a couple of traditional / oil / reflexology massage parlors. But none was particularly successful with the expat crowd, and none lasted more than a few months. The one exception is the traditional massage/oil massage at the rear of the compound, which unofficially still stays open 24/7. (Who knew?)
In February of 2003, coinciding, not coincidentally, with the barbaric destruction of Sukhumvit Square, across the street, by the Institutional Mafias, a small bar beer opened without fanfare. Its bar chits read 'Chemo', however there was no sign to advertise its presence. In the succeeding 2 months, a couple of other bar beers opened, but there were not really enough Night Entertainment Venues, or enough volume in custom to say the area had reached 'critical mass'.
May 2003 saw a virtual explosion of activity in "13 Night Market", and by the first of June, there were a dozen Night Entertainment Venues open for business within. Many just completed, without staff, and without signs, they were nevertheless serving to a fairly active crowd of both Thais and 'Ferang'.
Not unexpectedly, several of these bars have relocated from other Night Entertainment Areas: ( Clinton, Cowboy Annex and Sukhumvit Square ) For the historians taking notes, as "13 Night Market" reached critical mass virtually overnight in that month of May; the following group of bars will jointly share the distinction of "seminal bars'.
Updated June 2003
- Richard D. Hartman
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© 2001, 2003, Bangkok Eyes / bangkokeyes.com
* With grateful acknowledgement to N. and Zootramp Publications for exclusive use of their historical database.