Coffee Shop At The Grace Hotel – Portal To Hell
As a celebration of perversity, and perhaps in rebellion over the staid direction my life has taken, I decided to revisit the legendary coffee shop of the Grace Hotel after an absence of 22 years. I first visited the Grace back in 1980, a few years after
Playboy magazine had immortalized it with the line, "If you can't get laid out of the coffee shop of the Grace Hotel, you can't get laid anywhere on earth."
Already then the hotel was in a state of decline, but there was still a lot of good fun to be had with the freelancers in the coffee shop. I paid a return visit in 1983 and the the place had become a hellhole- even the mice had tattoos and carried tiny daggers- so I never went back on many subsequent visits to LOS.
Until 2005, that is. I knew the Grace had deteriorated considerably from its halcyon days as an R&R destination during the Vietnam War, but nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prepared me for the existential horror I encountered. The writings of Joseph Conrad, or even Stephen King, don't come close to capturing that particular heart of darkness. The sign that reads, ''Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,'' should hang above the entrance to the Grace coffee shop, not Dante's Inferno.
It was the scariest collection of male individuals you'll ever see outside Death Row at the Texas State Penitentiary. The cutthroat contingent included Chechen and Kiev mobsters, al Qaida sympathizers and a rainbow coalition of drug smugglers. As I stepped in, a couple of them stared at me like they'd cheerfully kill me for the change in my pocket or the fillings in my teeth. One looked at me and licked his lips, as though he was thinking about dinner. I could imagine the inhabitants of the Grace coffee shop bargaining over the sale of everything from babies to weapons of mass destruction, at least when they weren't engaged in acts of ritual sacrifice or cannibalism.
These guys can't get service, or least wouldn't be welcome, at any P4P establishment in BKK. And with good reason- they are lousy (literally and figuratively) customers. To most of them, personal hygiene is an unknown concept and bathing is a seasonal activity at most. Some have a body odor that makes your eyes water at 20 paces and breath foul enough to stun an orangutan. They also kick the designation "Cheap Charlie" into a whole new realm.
Worst of all, they physically mistreat the girls. Their hands-on approach to women is about as gentle and refined as Godzilla trampling a subway car. They do things which are intended to deliberately inflict pain, even injure. Their idea of hot sex is burning a girl's nipple with a lighted cigarette.
The less malignant types were a few over-ripe hippies and an old-fashioned wino who couldn't pass the dress code at a shelter for the homeless. Some were so comatose they seemed to have taken root and become part of the coffee shop's fixtures. One, cobwebs hanging from his face, appeared to have been dead for three days, but no one even noticed, much less cared.
And the women! You'd need a new word in the English language to describe them, "mega-hideous" is the closest I can come. The creatures in the Stars War cantina scene had more sex appeal. These women are at the very bottom of the P4P scale, about as far down as it's possible to slide. They don’t even rank on the conventional 1-10 scale, they’d have to be given negative numbers. Most should be at home babysitting grandchildren, not peddling pussy. Because of the years of abuse, they've aged about as gracefully as a dog's chew-toy.
I'm a firm believer that personality and attitude trump appearance in most P4P situations, but considering the customer base at Grace, the personalities of these women must be uglier than their faces. Severe cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome had to be the least serious damage to their psyches.
Yes, there were some farang hookers on site, but they looked to be descendants of Tamara Press, the female locomotive engineer from Kharkov who won gold medals for the Soviet Union in women's shot-put events at the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games. They've sold their souls and their bodies to one East European mob or the other and have zero chance of escape. They know what would happen to them – and their families back home – if they welsh on a debt.
I also began wondering what disease, STD or otherwise, leaves red blotchy marks on your skin – a lot of the individuals at the Grace, male and female, had them – and whether it could be airborne. I was worried about catching a terminal disease just by breathing the same air, much less touching any of them.
I began gingerly backing towards the door, sort of like Indiana Jones extricating himself from a pit of snakes or Aragorn retreating from an army of orcs. I hoped I'd make it out without significant harm to either my health or my sanity. I know "one man's meat is another's poison," and all that. But if I live another 100 years, I can never, ever understand why anyone would set foot in the Grace, unless, like me, it was a mistake of sorts. To anyone who says they enjoy the Grace, I have to ask- What else do you do for fun? Swim laps in a cesspool? Travel to India to watch people die in a hospice?
I don't know what the world record is for covering the distance between the Grace and Landmark Hotels, but I must have come close to breaking it that day. I almost knelt and kissed the inlay thingy in the floor of the lobby of the Landmark, so glad I was to have escaped the hotel of the living dead. I saw it as a midway point on a metaphysical journey- from the very bowels of hell to the earthly paradise of the Eden Club later that evening.
Back in my suite, I stripped off my clothes and sent them to be dry cleaned (fumigation wasn't a realistic option, the valet said). I then soaked in the tub for an hour and scrubbed away the top layer of my skin. My body cleansed and dressed in fresh clothes, I took the short walk to Eden to restore my soul. It was a perfect touch as streaks of the setting sun broke through the clouds just as I turned into Soi 7/1. The sex-show tout who pushed a brochure in my face kind of spoiled the heavenly image, but pure faith kept me going to the entrance of Eden.
The nightmares from my one-minute visit to the Grace haven't entirely disappeared, but the ministrations of the Eden girls have lessened their impact. On bad nights, I still dream that I'm visiting Bangkok, but the coffee shop at the Grace Hotel is the only establishment open for business. And I wake up screaming.
"The horror, oh the horror."
I fully appreciate the appeal of a sleazy atmosphere, it can add an extra element of excitement. That's the fun kind of sleaze you find at the Kangaroo Bar, Star of Light or Thermae. Not my taste personally, but you like it, you go for it. But the coffee shop of the Grace Hotel is in a whole different category. It's desperation sleaze, marked by missing teeth, HIV, prison tattoos, borderline madness and bloody phlegm. It's empty wallets, empty minds and even empty bellies.
It's possible some Western mongers who've seen and done everything get a kick out of bottom fishing at lower and lower levels just to see how long it takes to hit impenetrable sludge. I can't believe that many of this board’s readers would look for a sexual partner at the Grace when so may other infinitely better options are available in BKK. A few – a very, very few – may go to revel in the degradation, much like men a hundred years ago went to geek shows to watch poor retards bite the heads off live chickens.
Some veteran Bangkok hands have the skills and experience, not to mention strong enough stomachs, to pull off a visit to the Grace. But if your average 20-something newbie, his wits clouded by booze and "It's a Small World" mentality stumbled in, he'd be as out of place as Bambi in a cage of hyenas. The spookiest part of my brief intrusion into the P4P netherworld was the forest of Charles Manson eyes, all staring at me in unison and blazing with so much aggression it blistered my skin.
Like all members of outcast groups, the guys at the Grace keep it together by despising the rest of the world. They loathe you for what you are, where you come from and the opportunities you have they never will. The coffee shop at the Grace Hotel reeks of hatred, misery, brutality and ruined lives. That's not much of an erotic stimulant, nor is it entertaining. In fact, if there was ever a commercial need for an anti-aphrodisiac, all they'd have to do is distill Essence of Grace Coffee Shop and it would certainly do the job. There's plenty of fun sleaze in BKK. Leave the desperation sleaze to the truly desperate types.
And it’s not just a question of aesthetics. A Canadian friend was in BKK for the very first time a few weeks ago and had way too much to drink on his first evening. By mistake he wound up at the disco at the Grace Hotel instead of the Nana. He was ordered to leave- he doesn't know if it was because he was drunk or just didn't fit in. It's not that he really wanted to stick around. After seeing the clientele there, he was sorry he hadn't taken an airline vomit bag along with him. He said the visual impact brought to mind the words of a commercial on North American TV – if ugliness were bricks, the men and women at the Grace would be the Great Wall of China.
However, my friend didn't like being ordered around by disco Dervishes. One guy got physical with him, then a lot of others jumped in. My north-of-the-border friend got tuned up pretty bad. He held his own in the one-on-one, but successfully fighting multiple opponents simultaneously is a Hollywood myth.
That first-night experience put a real damper on his whole LOS trip. His injuries weren't too serious, but because he was exposed to his assailants' blood and spit, he has some fretful weeks and months of waiting for test results ahead of him. And we're not just talking HIV – it's tuberculosis, bubonic plague, Dengue fever, Ebola virus and a host of other very nasty diseases for which he has to be tested.
So the lesson is pretty clear. Stay out of the Grace. Nothing good can happen there and more than your sense of beauty could sustain damage.
Yeah, the Grace truly is a hole!