The Decline of Bangkok’s Girlie Bars
Given the fact that I do not currently reside in Bangkok and noting that I haven't been there for a while you may decide to disregard this overview. But, having travelled the world extensively and bar hopped many times for many hours in South America; South-East Asia; the Far East; The Middle East and Europe I feel qualified to comment.
Parallel: The numerous girlie bars in Wanchai, Hong Kong's red light district experienced a similar problem several years ago. Their customer base consisted mainly of transient tourists and visitors on short term business and buying trips. The bar's terms of trade were non negotiable – high priced drinks and steep bar fines – demand exceeded supply. Many of the girls had a surly demeanour. Demand dropped sharply following the 9/11 debacle when Americans curtailed long haul trips to the Far East for fear of flight safety risks. Oddly, the problem was resolved by the opening of high-end wine bars in derelict girlie bar premises. Wanchai is now a vibrant drinking zone including active girlie bars catering for all types and classes of reveler. Their target audience is more now the expat and less the casual visitor.
Basics: in broad business terms all successful enterprises have common key drivers: supply and demand – quality; service and price plus a unique selling point (USP). Bars are like shops and the mantra within the retail industry is "location, location, location". In the main Bangkok girlie bars are in an estate position surrounded by direct competitors – all with the same Modus Operandi (MO) – with supply exceeding demand. The ladydrink practice is archaic and punitive. Who knowingly wants to buy a girl a glass of coloured water and pay more for it than a glass of beer. Inflated barfines drive potential customers in to the grateful hands of freelancers. The lack of promotions simply reflects the laziness of club owners and bar managers. Experienced travellers want to see marketing activity in licensed premises for it tells them that the venue is making an effort to get their custom. Why-o-why do so many of the Thai bargirls wear shorts? If I want to watch people in shorts I'll go to a football match. Get them to wear mini skirts or dresses – the shorter the better – for titillation is the order of the day. Furthermore, why do the Bangkok bar management employ girls with bad attitudes? The last thing I want to see in a girlie bar is an unfriendly hostess!
Example: in my mind Lisbon, Portugal has the best girlie bar culture in the world. The bars are in close proximity to each other but each venue has its own distinct USP. The MO of the bars are however similar in format. The girls do not ask you to pay for a ladydrink. The barman may ask you to buy the girl a drink. If you say no the girl does not automatically dump you and go in search of another punter. If you say yes the girl – out of respect for you – orders the same drink as you or politely asks you if it's okay to have something else to drink. Drink or no drink the girl will stay by your side if she enjoys your company. The girls, who are mainly Brazilian may not speak very good English but have got body language off to a fine art. The barfine system does not exist in Lisbon. The girls are free to leave the club at any time. The girls pay an entrance fee to the bar but earn commission off the drinks bought for them. If she chooses to leave the bar with a paying customer for sex the price paid is determined between the two participants. The girls do not wear a club uniform but dress to kill in outfits of their own choosing. The bars for their part fill the club from wall to wall with attractive girls. Customers in their droves come to socialise with the girls and freely spend their money on reasonably-priced drinks and bar food. The dance music played in the bars is not ear splitting and adds to the atmosphere. And a good time is had by all! One of the best and busiest girlie bars in Lisbon trades from 4 AM to 8 AM only. It opens when all the other bars close – now that's what you call a USP.
Conclusion: The Bangkok girlie bars need to react quickly to the decline in their market. Failure to do so will result in closure. The required changes are relatively low cost and do not require largescale additional investment. It's not rocket science. I'm sure the expat Bangkok residents will react positively to noticeable changes in style and culture. It's a fact of life men like beer and birds. Men are simple souls – tickle their fancy and they'll give you more. Rip them off and they'll walk out the door. On a different level the new landlady (ex city dweller) in my moorlands village pub has increased beer prices twice in 6 months. Guess what – trade is now like the proverbial "yellow submarine".
I wish I could own and run a girlie bar in Bangkok. As the Meerkat says: "Simples"