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Updated February 2003
- Richard D. Hartman
In the late ‘90’s, a large property on Sukhumvit Road at Soi 10 was cleared of its existing buildings. The property was never redeveloped, due to the economic crisis of 1997. the aftermath of that economic collapse, a complex of temporary buildings was quickly cobbled together to sell locally produced goods. The sign above the new shanty compound was in Thai, and read, "Thai Help Thai".
As time passed, more and more of the shops in the compound began selling goods aimed at the passing tourist market, to include several shops catering to the more expensive tastes.
In December of 1999, just days before the turn of the Millennium, a small bar beer opened at the front of the compound facing Sukhumvit Road. It was named the ‘Sweet Home Bar’. It was open during the day as well as in the evenings, and most of its business was from daytime walk-bys from the Landmark and other nearby hotels. The Sweet Home Bar was the forerunner of all that which was to come, but could not be called the "seminal bar" in the compound; as it was hardly a catalyst for the phenomenal growth that was to take place 2 years later.
By 2001, the name had been changed to SUKHUMVIT SQUARE. A small number of other Night Entertainment Venues followed the Sweet Home into the compound over the next 24 months, to wit: Jo Jo's Bar, For Your Style Bar, Casablanca, Brownie, the At-10 Bar & Pool, and Tippler's Tavern (a REAL indoor, air conditioned pub), along with one other unnamed bar beer. But as a Night Entertainment Area , it hadn't really caught on. It hadn't reached the "critical mass" needed to draw a regular stream of custom. No one was likely to say, "Let’s go to SUKHUMVIT SQUARE tonight and check out the scene." In fact few tourists or residents even knew the area as "SUKHUMVIT SQUARE " or knew of the existence of most of the bars. But all that was about to change.
Early in 2002 in the East corner of Sukhumvit Square, adjacent to Soi 10, construction began at a furious pace. An awning-covered beer bar cluster calling itself Happy Today was coming into being. Construction was completed in February, and the 8 bar beer units within were almost immediately rented out; Chemo Bar, Ying’s Corner, Rosegarden, Tu Bar, Lovely Bar, Sport 2, Eddy Bar, and the tentatively named G-Sport were open for business. Immediately adjacent to this cluster, the construction of the Lighthouse was underway, and was completed in March 2002. (Some familiar names from other beer bar areas were to be seen, as beer bar owners continued to hedge their bets; Ying’s Corner and Tu Bar for example, had moved over from Cowboy Annex.) The mantle of "seminal bar" will fall to the Happy Today 8-Pak; they are the group that recognized SUKHUMVIT SQUARE'S potential - and did something about it.
Virtually overnight, SUKHUMVIT SQUARE was "on the map" as a Night Entertainment Area ; it had hit its "critical mass", with a total of 17 "Night Entertainment" venues. But the story was far from over; on the West side of the compound, there were at least a dozen new beer bars under construction, which opened in the March - April 2002 timeframe. SUKHUMVIT SQUARE was on its way to becoming the largest Night Entertainment Area in Bangkok; by July 2002, it already had 43 Night Entertainment Venues , and more were under construction. By the beginning of 2003 there were sixty bar beers, lounges, pool bars, pubs and an A Go-Go bar, and construction was already underway on other venues, including additional A Go-Go bars. The parking lot in the rear was envisioned as a staging area for smaller tour busses to bring groups of Taiwanese, Korean and Chinese tourists to see first-hand a sampling of Bangkok's notorious night life that they might not otherwise see on their 'package tours' of Thailand.
Long-term prospects for SUKHUMVIT SQUARE as a Night Entertainment Area were virtually nonexistent. Even at the outset, the Night Venue development was termed "opportunistic"; located on a prime piece of property on Sukhumvit Road in the heart of the Tourist Belt, it was only a matter of time before the property was redeveloped. But no one foresaw the catastrophic end that would befall the compound on the morning of 26 January 2003.
At 04:00 hours on that morning, clandestine raiders, teams of safari-suited military types led construction crews, welding crews, heavy equipment trucks and operators, and traffic control teams to SUKHUMVIT SQUARE in a large convoy. They blocked off all but two lanes of Sukhumvit Road, cut the city power to SUKHUMVIT SQUARE, set up their own generators and lighting, and proceeded to destroy the entire compound with heavy equipment, while building a 2-meter high prefabricated concrete wall around it. The "opportunity' was not lost on the safari-suited 'paramilitarys'; they immediately began looting the bars of television sets, liquor, stereos and other items that would fit into their personal pickup trucks. Detailed reports are contained herein, on Bangkok Eyes.
The eyes and ears of the world are presently focused on this blatant disregard for the individual, and for privately owned businesses, by Thailand's mafia-style gangsters. They are waiting to see if the Thai government will be good at its word in pursuing and punishing the individuals and organizations responsible. As the irony of the original name, "Thai Help Thai" sinks in, long-term residents and locals are more cynical; if massive business misadventures like the Hopewell project remain permanently unresolved, the SUKHUMVIT SQUARE incident will surely be held as no more than an 'indiscretion'. In years to come, SUKHUMVIT SQUARE likely will be only a footnote in the larger story of the Bangkok Night Entertainment Scene , but, if in the process, it spawned a few good Night Entertainment spots, so much the better.