On Gogo Bar Layouts
There’s not much written about gogo bar layouts. For me it’s one of the top factors that determine whether I stay for longer than one beer, or even walk through the door.
Many gogo bars have the same classic layout – a ‘high altar’ in the middle with 2-3 rows of ‘church pews’ on either side. It’s the classic layout for worshipping women on display, designed to emphasize the lineup, with all eyes drawn to the girls as the single point of focus and be damned everyone else. Other factors like comfort, conversation, interaction, decor, furnishings/fittings, etc. come a distant second to the main game. The classic layout is pretty intimidating, and if you’re on your own it can feel awkward and exposed as the guilty unprofitable "lookey-loo". The classic layout is designed wholly for the singular purpose of quickly picking a barfine and getting the hell out of there inside 30 minutes. It is not designed for stayers, and the uncomfortable knee-crushing economy class wooden pews are about as much as I can stand for 1 beer before I move along.
When you’ve been in Bangkok for 10 years, the classic layout becomes boring. It’s so common that there’s little to distinguish the bars. So I find myself “bar hopping” – one beer from one bar to the next – in the forlorn hope of finding something interesting to make me stay.
With the classic layout, the only differentiator between bars is the quality of the lineup. But with girls harder to find than ever, I question the wisdom of continuing with it. Bars need to accept that fewer quality girls (and the decline of the barfine business model) mean they need to emphasize other factors such as design, comfort, layout, quality of furnishings, ambience, conversation, interaction, etc.
In other words, I look for a bar that clearly wants me to stay – and the layout tells me a lot.
Some bars are trying, with varying degrees of success and failure. I like the quirky niteclub feel of Black Pagoda in Patpong. The girls are “around me” rather than lined up in a row high up in front of me. It makes for a fun and flirty interaction. There’s also a view overlooking Patpong and a cozy, dark ambiance, with comfy lounges to break up the room. I could even conceivably enjoy a beer here with no girls at all (perhaps not). The only problem with the layout is the wall which cuts the bar in half and obstructs the 360 view. It’s awkward and I would bash it down.
Bada Bing is another bar with a low-light “speakeasy” feel. There is a much lower 'high altar' and no pews. I can squat in the comfortable lounge seats for hours without feeling exposed or awkward, and there’s some interesting nooks, crannies and corners to break it all up.
The Strip has the curtained booths, which I guess is an effort to make things a little different. They're not for me, personally, but I do like the spacious bar area at the back where I can hang out without feeling like a condemned “looky-loo”. The Thigh Bar is trying to be different by using the floor as a stage to bring the girls down to our humble level. But it hasn’t quite nailed it with a somewhat barren, austere look. Some points for trying.
The Pink Panther has for years mixed the girls with the guys. I personally like the old-style tabletop dancers and I wonder if this layout ever lost its appeal in Bangkok? There are other things that I don’t like about the Panther (the crushing-pink hues and fake boxing) but I’d like to see more table-top layouts like this.
Bangkok Bunnies in Nana was brave in attempting to create a ‘super gogo’ but the layout just doesn’t work. It’s still basically 2 separate bars that cannibalise each other. It’s confused and when I'm there I feel like I’m sitting on the same fence as the owners.
I suspect the revival at Billboard upstairs is partly because of the layout. Yes, it’s all about the girls and the hyped-up new management, but the separate carousel and bubble bath break it all up nicely and give the bar an eclectic rough-house "saloon" feel. I’m not yet the biggest fan of the layout because the table seating in the middle quickly fills up, leaving only the murky and unappealing ‘church pews’ along the sides. When I couldn’t find a seat at a table it was easier to walk out. Pity. (It also has something to do with ‘Pol Pot’, the unpopular dragon mamasan they hired from Crazy House). They need to find a way to use the sides of the bar more.