Readers' Submissions

Bangkok Bar Managers, Bosses And Owners

Before reading this submission you may want to read a column Stick wrote about me, Arsenal Alex.

For those of you who have followed Stickman for several years, or even for those of you who first started reading his column two weeks ago, the name Arsenal Alex might be familiar. This is my first, and quite possibly my last, reader’s submission. I decided to write after reading Stick’s column about The Strip.

I had actually asked Stick about how “R” was getting on, this was without knowing Stick was planning a column about “R” and his latest venture in the not too distant future. I suggested I write up some memories about the time I spent in The Strip and my memories of “R”. Stick suggested I write a reader’s submission instead. It got me thinking about my time in Bangkok and a couple of the “characters” I met during my time there.

During my lifetime I have spent several years in both Japanese and Chinese prisons. Apart from the fact this means I am not as smart as those of you who have avoided this fate, it does mean I have met my share of extraordinarily dodgy people. Very few, however, quite as dodgy as some of the people I met during the early part of 2013 during what Stick called “The Arsenal Alex period”.

At this point I will make a small correction to what Stick wrote about me in the column about The Strip. It is totally correct that I did leave Bangkok just before an arrest warrant was issued in my name. But this wasn’t WHY I left Bangkok. The arrest warrant would have been more of an inconvenience than a serious problem.

The reason I left Bangkok was I had very reliable information that one of the biggest players in the Bangkok bar scene at that time was somewhat upset with me and was planning to send some of his “men” to help me leave my apartment in the absolute quickest way possible. In other words without use of the stairs or the lift. And I lived on the 35th floor. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind this would have been my fate had I remained in Bangkok for very much longer. I wasn’t the only person to have upset this particular bar boss during his time in Bangkok and I am absolutely certain that I am not the only person who remembers him as a bully.

Anyway, as to the title of my submission, Bangkok’s Bar Managers, Bosses And Owners. You might think it would be easy to know who is who and in the case of a bar manager, it is. With the bar bosses and owners, it is not so simple.

Let’s look at a popular bar at the start of 2013. Angelwitch. The bar manager was Dave the Rave. He did the job you would expect a manager to do and basically ran the bar. He may or may not have received a percentage of the bar’s takings but he had no financial interest in the bar, as in he had no money invested in it, no ownership at all.

So who owned Angelwitch? Well if you had asked Dave who the owner was he would have said it was a man named Glen Bullard. Or G as he was known. G may well have referred to himself as the owner, he had certainly invested enough money in the bar to have said that about himself. But G didn’t own Angelwitch. G rented Angelwitch from a group. Stick has suggested in one of his columns that the owner of that group is probably the biggest player in the foreigner Bangkok bar scene, and I’m sure he is correct.

So did the owner of that group own Angelwitch? No he didn’t, because as I’m sure most people reading this will be aware, foreigners can’t own land in Thailand. Nana Plaza can only be owned by a Thai or, group of Thai nationals.

That group rents Nana Plaza and sub-lets the individual bars to the highest bidder. So basically if anyone offers to SELL you, as opposed to RENT you, a bar in Bangkok and they are not Thai, be very wary indeed. Basically a foreigner who says he is a bar owner is actually a bar boss. Not a manager, he is the manager’s boss, but he doesn’t own the bar.

When a foreigner comes to Bangkok to fulfill his ambition of owning a gogo bar, what he is really doing is buying the lease from someone who is renting the bar from someone else who is renting it from someone who actually owns the thing.

I was aware of all of this before I came to Bangkok which made my first encounter with a bar boss so interesting. I was considering making an offer to buy the remaining part of the bar’s lease. He was trying to “sell” me “his” bar.

When we sat down to negotiate, the atmosphere in the room was electric. Sadly, after not too long I was feeling blue.

I would imagine what happened next will seem unbelievable to most people, but I have it in writing and have kept it to this day.

The bar boss said I should make an offer for his bar, either verbally or in writing. Let’s say the offer was 20 million baht. After I had made the offer, I should deposit 20% – so 4 million baht – in to a bank account in his home country. AFTER the money had cleared in to his account he would then, and only then, tell me if he had accepted my offer!

How, or indeed if, the 4 million baht would be returned if the offer were to be rejected was unclear.

I may, or may not, have been the only person he was in negotiations with to “sell” his bar to at this time. Needless to say I declined to make an offer.

Another bar boss I had dealings with was the boss of a VERY well-known and extremely profitable bar. In fact one Bangkok commentator was so impressed with this bar that during the first few months of 2009 he said he believed that this bar was the best foreign gogo bar in all of Thailand.

Let’s be quite clear about it, this particular boss was very rich, there are simply no two ways about it.

Which made it quite strange that he should invite me out to dinner and give me an all expenses paid evening in his bar (including the girl of my choice) just so he could tell me all about a business he was setting up that was not nightlife related. He told me for a mere $250,000 investment I would undoubtedly receive many millions in return over the next few years. Now, as I have said, $250,000 was a sum so small to this man as and certainly not a sum he would have any problem finding in his own accounts. Which made me wonder exactly why, if an investment of $250.000 would return several millions, did he not put his own money in? I did ask the question. I didn’t get an answer.

I was totally sure that all Bangkok bar bosses were the same. In the industry for a quick profit before selling on to the highest bidder.

Then I met “R”. Without a doubt, the most unsuitable man you could ever imagine to be a bar boss. In fact if you had asked me to guess what he did I would have said school teacher or salesman or something similar. The idea that he was a bar boss simply would never have crossed my mind.

The main thing that separates “R” from the rest is that he is genuinely a really nice guy and he really cared about the customers AND the girls he worked with.

I spent several mornings having breakfast with “R” in the Landmark Hotel where he would discuss his world view and more or less any topic, except the nightlife industry.

I asked him once how he got in to naughty nightlife. He genuinely didn’t seem to know! He was so unsuited to the industry and yet he was so good at it. Just by being nice he made the girls want to come to work for him and the customers want to come back to his bar. Unfortunately for “R” he was subletting The Strip along with another man who happened to be the brother of the man they were renting the bar from. The man they were renting the bar from is the boss of other bars in Patpong and is a very clever individual.

Basically “R” performed a miracle to make The Strip as good as it was despite his various “challenges”. So if you do ever find yourself owning, or should I say leasing or sub-leasing a gogo bar in Bangkok have a word with Stickman and ask him for “R”’s number. I’m sure he will be happy to give you some tips. He’s a nice guy, you see.

Arsenal Alex

The author of this article can be contacted by sending email to Stick who will forward it to the author