Cowboy Is The New Patpong
Interesting to read your thoughts on the future of the bar areas; thoughts I broadly agree with.
I've always maintained that Nana was a better venue than Cowboy, even in the latter's heyday. Yes, Nana was tatty around the edges, couldn't boast the neon visual appeal of Cowboy, but it more than made up for that in the number of good bars. And I measure good not by the upholstery, the lighting, the costumes, the music, but by the ratio of good-looking, approachable girls. Cowboy had some, Nana had more.
You are right to say that Cowboy has declined. For you, it has slipped below Nana in your estimation. For me, the gap has widened further. What's happened? Certainly prices have headed north and attitudes have headed south. Certainly the Arab's 'initiatives' are unwelcome: high prices, unavailable coyote girls, dishonest, unfriendly service staff and mamasans, plus thuggish door staff.
But the overarching problem is rubber-neckers. In that sense, Cowboy has become a victim of its own relative success! Sit outdoors at Cowboy around 8 or 9 PM and count the number of tourists who are just there for a gawk, wandering up and down the soi taking photos and staring at the bargirls and genuine punters like they're looking at animals in a zoo. Then go into a gogo and see if you can find one that doesn't have the same crowd present. Last time I went into Dollhouse, on the ground floor there were nine customers not including me and a mate: two western men, two western women, two Indian-looking men and three Indian-looking women. As I was leaving, I was asked why by the mamasan (who has been brought over from Rainbow 3 to give Dollhouse an overdue presence of someone who actually manages rather than sits in the corner doing FA) why I was going and I said 'nak thorng thiaow yer bpai'. <Translates as "far too many tourists" – Stick>
It's a classic case of Thai business myopia. All they think about is their revenue for the minute, the hour, maybe for the day, but no further than that. They should realise rubber-neckers cost them revenue. Take Shark Bar for instance. Anytime after 9 or 10 it's chockers. But have a close watch of the punters. There's a hell of a lot of them nursing their drinks, sitting there for an hour or two with no inclination to buy a lady drink let alone a barfine. I did a little survey last time I was there. Got a very poorly positioned seat near the door at around 10 PM, and sat for 45 minutes counting how many girls left with a customer. One. At prime time! Yet the bar was full. The management should be asking themselves – how many genuine punters (i.e. those at least open to the idea of buying drinks for a girl or barfining a girl) could not come in because the seats were full? Tilac has the same problem. Baccara does to some degree – lots and lots of lookie-lous – but still has a hard core of Japanese punters stumping up the 600 baht.
Now consider the cause of Patpong's sharp decline as a punter venue. Chiefly it was the emergence of competition in Nana and Cowboy, but another major factor was the introduction of the night market. The area changed into one swarming with regular tourists rather than the single white male demographic. You couldn't bar hop there without thinking you were going to run into your next door neighbour, your Auntie Pat or some bloke you went to school with. Cowboy has almost reached that level now – there's always a feeling that the next group of fat blonde girls and their cowed male counterparts wandering up and down with cameras at the ready will include a friend of a friend or an ex-work colleague. Sure Nana has some of that crowd too, but nowhere near as many, and the layout of the place severely reduces the chances of being seen by someone you don't want to see you.
So, high prices, bad attitudes, a multitude of regular tourists out rubbernecking – Cowboy is becoming the new Patpong.
Briefly, on another note – and I don't want to sound like the voice of doom too much – but I can't share your optimism about the likely improvement of Nana. Why would the crappy bars – and there are more than a few – suddenly raise their game because a couple of venues have improved? The likes of Hollywood, Voodoo, Fantasia, G Spot etc have been woeful for years, even as other bars in the Plaza packed them in. So its not as if they're unaware how poorly their bar compares, or don't know the formula for success, it's simply that they're not willing to put in the money to improve it. The concept of 'spend money to make money' just does not exist here. Those bar bars are happy to run on the smell of an oily rag, with incompetent ladyboy mamasans and unappealing girls. Instead of thinking 'how can we make more money', they're thinking 'we're saving tons of money by not hiring new staff'. That attitude will not change.
That's my vent done. Happy New Year. Good to see you haven't abandoned your readers yet. I don't think you need to change much with the site. If it ain't broke….
Thanks for the thoughts.
My optimism for Nana is because I believe the crappy bars will find that they don't even have the option to renew their lease, either because it simply isn't offered to them to renew by the new landlord, or the cost of renewing is so high that they won't bother. I am picking that there will be quite a clean out in Nana and with a bit of luck, the good bars will stay and the crap ones will go. Remember, the group that has bought the 30-year lease to Nana run bars too – and I don't doubt they will want a piece of the action as bar owners, and not just landlord – which means some existing bars will have to "go"!