The Good, The Bad And The Sometimes Hilariously Ugly
Well, some news I had heard rumours of a couple weeks ago has come to pass and a go-go bar that made quite a difference in my life from 1994–2004 has now officially closed its doors for good.
For those of you who prefer Sukhumvit, Pattaya, the islands or perhaps the Isaan, this might not mean too much to you but for those of you who have spent any time upcountry in the north, particularly in Chiang Mai, it very well could. Hang on, readers, and try not to get too bored as I recall some of the people and events that happened at a bar once called John's Place before becoming Cosy Corner…
May, 1994. After being out of Thailand since January 1992 (I got hooked into a con-artist trip to Zamboanga in the Philippines in '93) and not seeing Chiang Mai since 1989, I was excited to be going back to the "Rose of the North" to work as a tour guide for an FNG coming into Thailand for his very first trip.
I went to my old lodgings, the Top North Guest House on Moon Muang Rd, and once I had a nice reunion with staff I'd known in '88 and '89, I walked along Moon Muang, one of Chiang Mai's major streets within the moats that make up the "old" city. I got to the soi that runs at an angle from Moon Muang and was surprised to see a three-story go-go bar there named John's Place. The last I'd seen of this area, it was a German dairy shop that had big ratings in the Khao San Rd Bible (AKA Lonely Planet) Seeing as it was daytime, I had just gotten into Chiang Mai and I had to get things ready for the customer coming into the city that night so I just passed the bar by and kept on exploring the city.
Well, I got the customer in, he and I hit it off quite well and we ended up going on a trek up in the Chiang Rai/Mae Sai area that ended with the two of us crossing the bridge in Mae Sai to explore Take-A-Leak (Tachilek), Burma about, ohh, less than twenty-four hours before Khun Sa's army attacked it and blew the shit out of it!
Anyway, back in Chiang Mai, I took him to various houses of ill repute and one of them was John's Place. The 'ying were by-and-large yummy and we hit it off with them, taking different girls home in the time left before my friend had to catch
a bird back to the States. One girl I got to know there as a bartender became a good friend of mine and even though she stopped working there for a few years, she and I always stayed in touch and had lots of sarcastic laughs late at night as we
shared laughs and insults in Thai while consuming endless bottles of Mekhong. Her name is Som and she came back a few years ago but with the bar being closed, I'll have to get in touch with her and see what she's going to do now…
Not long after I put my new friend on the plane in Don Muang, I went broke and had to return here to the States myself. It was over a miserable year before I had made enough money to fly to my second home in the fall of '95. Of course I was at Top North again and of course, I went back to John's Place for more demented sanuk, Mekhong and bargirls. The way the bar effected me on this trip was that with Top North being where it was (Moon Muang Soi 2) and John's Place being where it was (27 Moon Muang; not far from Thapae Gate), I had to pass by this one bar that was on the corner of Moon Muang Rd and Ratchamanka Rd, ironically called The Corner Bar (it's still there; please visit!)
There were some pretty northern Thai girls working there and every night on my way to John's Place, they would call out and welcome me in for a drink. Whether they were bargirls or just friendly bartenders, I wasn't certain but even though I went by there many a time without stopping in, they recognized me and never gave me "You -kheeneo-farang!" Attitude about not stopping by for a drink. I liked this–and them!–so much that I went in one night and met some great girls that I became dear friends with: Nong, Meena and Pim. Meena is happily married to a Canadian in Vancouver and as for Nong and Pim? Well, Pim owns a bar on Moon Muang called the Sax Music Pub and she's my sister-in-law. As for the lovely Nong? Due to her bad taste in men, she became my tilac in '97 and my wife in '99. This all got started because of my passing by to get to John's Place!
The meetings I had with two other individuals on that trip also happened because of John's Place. There was another bar parallel to John's Place called Cosy Corner (which is what John's Place would end up being called a few years down the
road; you figure it out–I haven't!) and one afternoon I was hanging around at the outer bar nursing a Mekhong-Coke when this Irishman sits down next to me and we begin chatting away. His name is John McCoy and he's been an expat in
Chiang Mai for a long time. Both of us being Irish, we love to drink and we hit it off right away. In fact, one of my best memories of that meeting was being completely shitfaced with him just before sunset and explaining what the term "epicanthic
folds" meant! Once he realized it was the accurate scientific answer to "slant-eyes" he loved it and we still laugh about it to this day. John has gone on to be one of my best friends and I was the best man at his Catholic wedding
in Chiang Mai to a cute Thai girl in January '98(Even though I'm an ex-Catholic now a Buddhist, I was the closest he could find to a Catholic so I got that job!) When he wasn't taking care of his bookstore The Irish Rover, we often
went down to John's Place for a drink or twelve. Now he's got a Thai wife, a handsome luk krung son and spends several months per year teaching English in Saudi Arabia but I'll always have good memories of that first day we met
up at the bar.
On that trip in '95, also at Cosy Corner, I was in there drinking one night and met a fellow American from Connecticut, Gary Witten. It turned out we both knew some of the same people on Cape Cod, Massachusetts (my home when I'm a financial POW here in the States!) and once we discovered this, we became great friends. He and I have had many adventures in the States, Thailand and Cambodia but at that time, when he and I met, we also got involved with two sway mahk girls working at John's Place. One of them I didn't get involved with as a tilac nor was I able to sleep with her I still fell deeply in love with, largely thanks to her being one of the most beautiful Thai girls I've ever known in a country full of them. Her name was Sunee and while she could be a bit of a sarcastic princess at times, she hit it off with Gary and I. So too did her friend, Lah. Lah was lovely but much more relaxed than Sunee. Gary and I took these two girls as friends–not tilacs or bedmates–to the Chiang Mai Zoo, up Doi Suthep to Wat Prathat and Phuping Palace before we made our big trip up Doi Inthanon, a spectacular mountain.
Back in John's Place, the two girls always took good care of us and because I was a regular at the bar who could speak reasonable Thai and wasn't too kheeneo with Lady Drinks, I had many friends in there and good service that was just like what
I'd find on Soi Cowboy.
Gary went off to Nepal, I went off to Laos but when I came back from Vientiane and realized I was just about broke enough that I'd have to go back to the States, I still had enough baht to spend a couple more nights at John's Place and once the 'ying understood I was almost finished with money, I wasn't hassled for Lady Drinks. When I showed up on my last night before heading for Bangkok and Boston, I was given many an affectionate goodbye and a kiss or two.
I came home in '96 and had the same good times at John's Place with Som, Sunee and Lah plus I got to know other girls there and I was becoming friends with many of the long-term expats who make Chiang Mai such an interesting place. Before I had to go back to the States around Christmas, however, I couldn't help noticing that the bar staff was starting to lean towards the more-mercenary stage and I often found myself spending as much time across the street at The Spotlight Go-Go Bar or at Corner Bar. That was when John's Place was beginning to make me a bit cynical but I didn't fully realize it at the time. Chiang Mai was definitely my home in Thailand and my biggest dream was to find the right girl, get married and take up permanent residence in Chiang Mai lao-lao.
Well, I found the right girl in Chiang Mai in '97–Nong–and we agreed to get married while she and I were living together at the ever-lovable Veerachai Court off Thapae Rd in the winter of '98. I still put in appearances at John's Place (now called Cosy Corner) but between having Nong as my tilac, drinking at the Sax Music Pub (a non-bargirl bar well-worth the visit!) and visiting Nong's village, I didn't have as much time to go there. The sad part was that I also just wasn't enjoying it as much as I once had; it was getting more business-like all the time with non-emotional Borg-like bargirls who quite frankly weren't anywhere as beautiful as their Isaan cousins down at Soi Cowboy or Nana. The change was coming for Cosy Corner and it wasn't one I truly wished to have much to do with at that time. Uh-uh.
When I came back to Chiang Mai in late '98 to get ready for my wedding to Nong in '99, I was looking forward not just to getting married in a Buddhist ceremony in Nong's village with my parents making their first ever trip to Thailand (or anywhere west of Hawaii) but also to having a man show up from Brighton, UK who had begun to become one of my best friends the previous year when we met at the Sax on a quiet night and were the only two customers in there: Dave Leggatt. Dave had been threatening to bring two of his best friends over to Thailand from Brighton to attend my wedding (among other things!) and in January he did just that! Phil Newton was one of them and he had seen Thailand before when he and Dave had done an Asia-Pacific-Down Under Trip before but for Justin Hill, it was his first ever trip to the kingdom!
I got along well with both Phil and Justin and count them as two of my best mates. When we all got to Chiang Mai and showed Justin the Sax and the Corner Bar, we then took him to Cosy Corner and he got heavily involved with a pretty girl named Annguun (Grape). The two got along quite well but also had their share of problems due to her limited English and Justin's limited Thai (he did learn Thai fast, however; he's good with linguistics!) and it was fascinating as hell to watch the two of them together. They broke up a year later but still remain friends. Dave got involved with a righteous Bitch From Hell who for once I'll be politically-correct and not name but she ruined him much more than once financially, emotionally, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Phil went with a few 'ying but his bad event there wouldn't happen for a couple more years.
That was a busy year as I was married, nearly killed in a motorcycle accident and spent three weeks in a coma (see "Sabai Sabai Memories") but every so often, I'd either meet up with the Pommy version of The Three Stooges (Dave, Phil, Justin)
or just wander (AKA stumble) into Cosy Corner on my own. The visits weren't bad but they weren't too impressive, either and being happily married to a pretty Thai wife takes out a lot of the burning desire to be in a go-go bar.
I came back in Oct. '99 and stayed through Feb. 2000. I still went into Cosy Corner and at night it was possible to watch the mini-shower shows which were interesting in my not so humble opinion but it didn't take long before I got bored as hell in there and would just live in the Sax with my own bottle of Mekhong. Justin finished up with Annguun, Dave remained foolishly involved with his monster and Phil was mostly in the Neutral Zone with the girls. I was showing up less and less at Cosy Corner and not feeling bad about that at all.
In 2001, Justin couldn't come back to Thailand but Dave and Phil did and that's when a girl at Cosy Corner became Phil's First-Class ticket to the Land Of Self-serving, Backstabbing Cunts. We'll just call her Nit and one of the first things I must admit to you now as I always did at the time I knew her back in '01 was that Nit was one of the loveliest Thai girls I've ever seen and for this alone, I could completely understand why Phil fell for her. However…
However, Nit was a big fan of "Let's-Play-Mind-Games-With-The-Stupid-Farang" and she screwed him in every way but sexual. Yeah, you heard right–a "working girl" who wouldn't put out for my dear friend and he put up with this because he'd fallen so deeply in love with her.
As yummy-looking as she was, I didn't take to her too much when I met her the first night my boys got in from Brighton and Nit had us take her, multiple female friends and her "brother" (AKA her Thai tilac!) to a karaoke club where we had
fun with overpriced drinks and–among other human rights violations taking place that night–yours truly verbally mangling the hell out of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" (Redone as "Thai Way"). After that "sanuk",
it just got worse for Phil with Nit. He did everything he possibly could to help her (money), learn about her life, her family, her village and her culture. He asked her opinions of various things, he wined and dined her, he bought her jewellery
(haven't we all done that with a bargirl at least once..?) and besides never having sex with him, she often treated Phil like fresh dog shit her high heel had accidentally stepped into on a humid day in July. At this point, I essentially
hated her guts and my wife had no time for her, either.
Well, around May of that year when all of us had to go back to the States and the UK to make more money, Phil didn't officially break up with Nit but even Stevie Wonder could see the reality of what was bound to happen and it did by the time we all came home in late '01/early '02: Nit was history from Cosy Corner and had completely lost interest in Phil once he cut off the wiring of quid into her bank account in Chiang Mai. We haven't seen her since then and it's no loss whatsoever…
Between working my butt off as a writer, being with my wife in our house in her village that's an hour southeast of Chiang Mai and having a shitty exchange rate for the US dollar versus the Thai baht, I didn't get much time to see Chiang Mai in '02/'03 but when I went with Dave and Phil to Cosy, it was usually either for a quick visit or a couple hours being attacked by bargirls who wanted nothing but Lady Drinks. Oh, we had our friends there and that made it good but it had just gotten to the point where I could see almost no legitimate reason to venture in there even though it was mere feet away from one of my favourite restaurants in Chiang Mai (Bierstube) or my own family's joint, the Sax Music Pub.
One amusing event happened up on the 3rd Floor one night (2nd Floor to you Pommies!)–Dave, Phil and myself stumbled into Cosy Corner's karaoke bar and while Dave laughed his drunken head off but refused to sing, Phil sang a nice version of a Thai
song that had our alphabet for subtitles underneath the Thai Sanskrit and I of course executed viciously "A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Miles". Ugly but entertaining, especially for the bargirls up there who were always lao-lao to replace
our Mekhong and Beer Chang.
And now–probably much to the delight of you poor readers!–we approach the end of these renderings. I went home to Chiang Mai last November and was there until March of this year. Yeah, I hit Cosy Corner a few times with the boys, especially when Justin came back after being away a couple years and greatly missing Thailand, but I'd had enough of the usual Day-To-Day BS that made up the "quality" of life at Cosy Corner. Funny how life works at times, ain't it just?
Phil had to go back to Brighton first. I was next, coming back to Cape Cod two weeks later.
Dave and Justin went back to Brighton in early May. And the news was brought to my attention just recently from Phil e-mailing me to tell me that both Somchai (the owner of Cosy Corner) and Pim (my sister-in-law) had been arrested and/or fined for keeping
their bars open past midnight. Yes, thanks to the current mentality in Bangkok, both the Sax Music Pub and Cosy Corner had broken the rules. And that was enough for Somchai. He's a real sweetheart that I've known for over a decade now
and even when I didn't pop in too often at Cosy Corner, he always remembered me with a smile and a discount on my drinks. Now those days are finished. He decided to shut down and that's it for Cosy Corner. It's finished minus a
"Happy Ending". When I get off my Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in late Oct./early November and hit Moon Muang that night for my reunions (which always feature gallons of Mekhong), I won't be able to visit Cosy
Corner or even wave a slightly-inebriated "Sawasdee kob, mia noi!" to the girls in the outer bar because it won't exist anymore. I know it sounds Hallmark Card Hokey but this makes me very sad. Chep Jai, as the locals put it.
Yeah, I know–it was just a goddamned go-go bar and correct, I didn't meet my wife there or even have a great girlfriend who hailed from there. I had rotten times there, more than one miserable experiences plus the Helpless Bystander Mode of sitting there with a Mekhong-Coke and watching my best friends get voluntarily fucked over by severe bitches that they were dumb enough–and human enough–to fall in love with. It hurt at times.
This establishment most assuredly wasn't always sanuk.
But then again, there were more than enough times it was.
I had many a laugh here much more than once.
I had fantastic sex with more than a couple bargirls.
I made strong friendships with lots of girls in there who are now like family to me.
I met and became good friends with two gentlemen from the United States and Ireland.
I strengthened new friendships there with gentlemen from England, Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, the United States and other countries.
I saw, smelled, felt (okay–felt up), tasted, heard and did things that could never happen here on Cape Cod but they sure as shit happened at Cosy Corner.
And now it's over, finished, set-lao.
Thinking about this, I cry a bit but more importantly, I laugh more remembering the good times.
My best thoughts and wishes to all of the Thai/Lao/Burmese/Chinese/hill tribe and farang who made Cosy Corner what it was and–in our hearts, I suppose–always will be.
Cosy Corner will live on in my fictional works (yes, please feel free to e-mail me about my first novel Missing In Asia! A lot of it takes place in Chiang Mai!) and I don't reckon I'll ever forget her.
To those of you that have had enough of this, get on to your favourite bars at Cowboy, Nana, Pattaya, the Pong, Koh Samui, the Isaan, Phuket, Phnom Penh, the Grace, the Thermae and enjoy the cocktails and the bargirls and your fellow drinking mates but when you have a bad time or an annoying incident at a place you normally can't get enough of for fun, remember what happened to the Cosy Corner upcountry and that it could happen to your hangout so enjoy what you've got and respect it for every lousy satang it's worth. And hey, come upcountry sometime, huh?
Comments to follow, one day, maybe.