The Bar Closings
The early closing hours for bars and other entertainment venues raises a whole slew of issues, some of which have already been nicely raised by you or your readers, e.g. the impact on less fortunate Thais, the enforcement of a nanny mentality in this country, etc. But there are some additional issues to think about as well.
First, why were some areas designated as 2 a.m. areas and some not? What criteria were used? The media has been silent about this and of course the Thai government has no transparency about what real criteria were used. But I'll suggest one: Follow the money. Could it just be that certain areas are owned or sought to be owned by tycoons who want to develop the land now used in bar areas for apartment buildings or shopping centers? Who thinks Soi Cowboy will survive a 12:00 closing hour? I'm guessing that short street will disappear altogether. Same point about the Nana Plaza. I don't know who owns the land, but just how long will the Plaza stay intact as a structure if income drops and rents can't be paid? Some tycoon will sweep in and raze the whole place and build another new tall building, just what Bangkok needs to give it some character.
Second, the manner in which this bar closing business has come about raises a more serious issue for Thailand as well: When the government directs a radical change in business environment with little notice, no transparency and no recourse to the public, what does it say to other would-be investors in Thailand? Today, it's the bar and restaurant owners outside the approved zones who are being screwed. Tomorrow, which sector is next for reform? If I were an investor thinking about making a commitment in Thailand, how secure would I feel about the future in the sector which interests me? Uncertainty is anathema to a business investor.
Third, will the police enforce the new closing rules in the same way for upscale Thai private "clubs" as they do for bars which attract farangs? Thai men as consumers no doubt pump tremendous sums of money into the night time activities. Have you ever noticed one of those clubs with all the chauffeurs waiting outside? Are affluent Thais prepared to go home to their wives at midnight? Will the police close down their clubs at the stroke of midnight? Is designating a bar as a private club (hanging a sign which says "Private Club" and charging an admission charge) one way around the new rules? If so, maybe this is a solution for those farang bar owners who are facing financial disaster (but don't count on it). Have the new rules even been published so business owners know exactly what they are?
Finally, if the new rules are enforced for a lengthy period of time, just imagine what is going to happen to the economy of the entire Sukhumvit area. Different parts of an active economy reinforce each other: people who go to restaurants also take taxis, stop in nearby bars, guarded by off-duty police officers, order drinks with ice (don't forget the poor ice vendor who will be hurt by all this), buy things from street vendors, etc. Some people even buy apartments in an area with a thriving restaurant and bar environment (perish the thought). Will residential property values in the Sukhumvit area suffer? (The Ermita area in Manila turned into a slum after a former mayor decided to "clean up" the neighborhood. That mayor is now long gone and the area is now experiencing a revival.) Maybe the world will not cave in as a result of these early closing hours, but of two things I am sure: I will spend considerably less per 24 hour period when I visit Thailand (the only silver lining in this for me), and I will have less fun while doing so. The earlier forced closing at 2:00 a.m. of bars a year or two ago already made Bangkok a less fun city to visit. The whole dynamic of the evening changed in virtually every bar and in many restaurants, although I can't articulate why. An earlier closing to midnight will make it even worse. For those of us who have loved visiting Thailand, we are coming upon hard times.
Great points made in this piece. This is your forum! Write in and tell us what you think about the bar closings!