Stickman's Weekly Column September 21st, 2003

Should I Buy A Bar?



I receive the same old questions over and over again by email and one of the old favourites is still, “should I buy a bar”.

There are numerous reasons why I strongly recommend that one does not enter the naughty nightlife industry as an investor and I have listed them below. Some of the reasons given are obvious, some less so.

To be successful in ANY business operating in Thailand, it pays to have not just a good knowledge of the country, the people, the language and the culture, but perhaps most important of all, you need to have connections. So much of what goes on in Thailand is allowed to happen because you know the right people ­ and you know how to work with them. If you do not know any influential locals, then you might find all sorts of barriers to prevent your business from growing. And believe me, when we are talking about the naughty nightlife industry, unless you are running a tinpot bar in the middle of nowhere with a few grandmothers as the prize, then you, Khun Farang, are going to need connections. A healthy surplus of cash would almost be a suitable replacement for not having the right connections…

We are talking about naughty nightlife here, and like so many other “questionable industries”, there are a lot of really dodgy things going on. What do you do when you find out that three of your most popular girls are HIV+, that they may very well be spreading the disease to customers, the very people you are supposed to be providing a service to, trying to make happy – and may well include some of your own countryman. Punters entering your bar and barfining your girls could, in theory, contract HIV. I know I sure as hell couldn't deal with that mentally. How would you feel about the girls’ inevitable use of drugs, and not infrequently on the premises. Keep in mind that if the cops raid, they'll be looking for the owner… Now that would be you – and we all know that anything to do with drugs in Thailand is a big deal! And drugs on the premises of a bar owned by a farang….either the farang is gonna be strung up by his balls or the cops are going to get a windfall there and then – either way it ain't gonna be pleasant! Few if any bar owners have a work permit and one of the funniest things that one farang bar manager told me was that “whenever the cops come in I quietly slip away as if I am a customer and let the Thais sort it out!”

Who holds the real legal title to the bar? Yep, it has happened many times already and I have little doubt that it will happen (and again and again and again) that foolish farang invests in a bar believing that he had gained legal title, only to find that he paid money and got nout in return. Many people have bought into a bar only to find out that the person who sold the share to them never had proper title and was never in position to sell it. Highlighted frequently in this column are the situations where investors have sunk money into a bar, only to find that profits promised are never seen.

The farang oriented sector of the naughty nightlife industry in Thailand is a 6 month industry. From mid-November through to mid-May hordes of tourists flock to Thailand, plenty of punters with a pocket spilling with baht and most of them all horned up, all looking for somewhere, or perhaps more appropriately, someone, to put their horn. But as the weather starts to become more bearable in the Northern Hemisphere come mid-May, these very same people cease their trips to Thailand until the snow starts falling in their part of the world, around mid-November. And as these visitors from abroad stay home, the bars are left to fight over the scraps from the locals, many of whom are in fact lowly paid teachers who are very sensitive to price,. and who don't spend nearly as much as the holidaymakers.

Naughty bars don’t really have goodwill, at least not in the true business sense. You might buy the busiest bar in a bustling area mistakenly thinking that the good days will continue and the change of management will not be noticed. Not in this business, sunshine! When bar owners move (and when mamasans move too) a number of the girls will move from one bar to another, following the manager and / or the mamasan. I know of one gogo bar sale recently where a guy bought a bar at what I believe was a somewhat inflated price based on the success it had enjoyed for some time, only to find that on his first day, more than half of the girls had followed the previous manager to the new location that very same day! In fact the exodus was so great that within three days, the bar went from being bustling to just about dead. Customers will go where the nice girls are, and a bar that is popular this month may be totally out of favor next month. If you buy an existing bar, don’t count on the girls staying on. You have to recruit all over again – and that is not easy at all.

Have you ever run a bar before? There is more to consider than you ever dreamed of! This is a business we are talking about, a business with a lot of employees, and let's face it, the more employees, the more problems!

Do you like to be in control of your life and have the ability to choose what you do and when you do it, on a daily basis? Do you enjoy your free time? Do you like to relax in the evenings? Do you like to enjoy alcohol when you feel like it, not because you are essentially forced into it? Have you ever noticed those Western guys sitting in bars in the same seat, night after night? No, they are not regular customers ­ they are the owners! More than a few bar bosses know that the moment they walk out of the bar, or even the moment that they turn their back, fingers will be in the till and the cash will be out! They have to be there all the hours that God sends to keep an eye on things and more than anything, to ensure that they do not get ripped off. A good number of bar owners clean the till out each and every night because they know full well that if they didn't, what was left the previous night would not be there the next day! The amount of money that goes through some of the big bars in one night is more than many of the staff earn in a year.

Who knows just what the authorities will do next? It is not totally inconceivable that the axe could swing and the farang oriented sector of Thailand's naughty nightlife could be cut completely, or at best, regulated in such a way that would make it very different to how we know it. Imagine you had just invested your life savings in a bar only to see the whole industry ruled illegal – and your investment gone over night. Hey, pretty much exactly this happened in the Philippines 10 years ago and with Thailand making an effort to clamp down on all things naughty and immoral, is this totally inconceivable?

After all of this, do you still want to buy a bar? Are you sure you have enough money? While a small beer bar in a quiet area might cost in the vicinity of $US 10,000, for some of the bigger bars you can add a couple more zeroes. Yep, the biggest bars will go for much closer to ONE MILLION GREENBACKS! If you have that sort of money laying around and can afford to lose it, then be my guest. And starting up a new bar is possible, but there is a small fortune that goes into constructing these places and you absolutely need a good location. The owners of some of the bigger bars do very well indeed so yes, it is possible to succeed, perhaps even get rich, but the odds are very much against you…

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was the carpark at
Erewan Falls, Kanchanaburi.

This week's pic

Last week's picture was taken at the car park at the Erawan Falls in Kanchanaburi. If you had looked closely at the letters on the side of the bus, you would have seen that it said Erawan. Easy! Well, I thought so, but only a few got it right… This week's pic is back in Bangkok. The first person to get it right wins a 500 baht credit with Cheap Charlie's Phonecards. As you can now use the card to call from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, US, as well as Thailand, the prize is available to the first person to get the pic right, from any of these places. Please be informed that any readers who make a purchase of the Cheap-Charlie card via the new Cheap Charlie website will receive a 10% account bonus if they quote "Stickman" as an affiliate code.

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Are we treated with contempt?

I have been told repeatedly by Thais that Farangs have NO rights in their country. (I have been told this in casual conversation only, usually in reference to some incident involving another Farang unknown to me- never as a direct threat to myself). What I'm getting at, is that the Thais I've met seem VERY aware that in any dispute or altercation involving a Farang, that THEY, the Thais, have the upper hand and the final say. For example, I have heard many times that if a Farang gets into a fight with a Thai (a fisticuffs) that every Thai man, woman and child, within view or earshot will rush to the scene to help the Thai guy. It doesn't matter what the fight's about, who started it, who is right or wrong (the Thai is automatically right) – the Farang is going to get beaten, kicked, scratched, choked and pelted with various missiles (rocks, bottles, etc.) until he is dead or at least senseless. Anyway, I think that the Thais respect power, and they realise that while we are in their country, we don't have any. Because they perceive us as comparatively weak, they treat us with contempt and take liberties they would never attempt with a fellow Thai.
What is the story with these guys? Scary shit.
About a month ago, a friend and I rode his bike through some of the sois adjoining the Walking Street. We were just doing a little sightseeing, if you know what I mean. Well, at some point we came out to the pedestrian zone, and because I thought "TIT," we just drove on. Imagine a Bkk footpath without a motorcycle on it, that would be a strange day. Well, anyway, after not more than 10 seconds we were approached by approx. 4-5 young Thai girls and guys wearing polo shirts with the print "volunteer tourist police" on the chest. They told us in polite but certain words that this was a no-driving zone. As my friend and I were just about the turn the bike back into the "tork", this fattish bald British fella approached us and simply pulled the key out of the ignition! Even though we tried to excuse ourselves and say that we were indeed leaving anyway, the "officer" just wouldn't hear us out, but proudly proclaimed that we were to pay the fine at the police box, and that was the unshakeable fact of the matter I said, "ah come on man, let it be", as we were just at the mouth of the "tork" anyway. But the guy seemed like he was the sheriff of high noon. Then a Thai cop in plain clothes approached us and told the same story about this being a pedestrian zone. Luckily me and my friend can speak Thai, and so excused ourselves to the copper, but asked him to give us the key back. He did so, told us not to drive in pedestrian zones, and asked us to push the bike back into the adjoining "tork", which we did. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to stare at the fat farang "sheriff", but he certainly left a bad imprint in my memory on how to deal with tourists, Thais, and minor offences in Thailand. Who the fuck was that amateur anyway?!
Fxxx with the locals and you will get fxxxed
It is very interesting just how Thai people will treat us farangs from time to time. I have had experience with just about every type of Thai one could imagine – from the second highest ranking policeman in the Kingdom, right down to the lowest inhabitant of the Klong Toey sector of Bangkok. Without any doubt, the vast majority have been pleasant enough, mostly I guess because it saves any loss of face. There are nonetheless many who seem to hold us farangs in complete contempt. Sometimes this contempt is due to misunderstanding, but my suspicion is that mostly it is as a result of experience with none to pleasant farangs. OK – I can understand that. My God, how many times have we seen the ugly farang abusing all and sundry, drunk, spoiling for a fight? Sometimes they get their wish and end up quite deservedly in hospital or sometimes perhaps not so deservedly dead! I remember years ago witnessing a very distasteful character from, lets just say a European country. He was drunk every day I saw him, staggering about and abusing everyone he came into contact with at a beach side bungalow in Samui. The staff of course at the bungalows gave him a very wide birth indeed. After many incidents with other farangs including myself I asked one of the Thais on the front desk why they do not send him on his way. The reply was because they feared he would not pay his bill. Jesus Christ I thought – tell the asshole to settle his bill then kick him out. But revenge and a certain satisfaction was not far away for all. After a few days he inexplicably disappeared. I enquired at the desk and the Thai man had a broad smile on his face. He just stood there and grinned like a cat that had just eaten the bird saying nothing. A few day past and the low life reappeared. He looked more like a slow moving Egyptian mummy, covered in bandages and not in a good way at all. Gossip had it that he pushed his luck with the wrong Thai man who put his sorry ass in the hospital.
The moralists don't know the full story.
If this partial crackdown continues on the nightlife of Thailand and the do-gooders have their way and put the bars out of business what will all the poor girls do for money to support their families? I would love to see these moralist farangs take a good look at what they are doing. Will they write checks to support the families of the girls they put out of business? Yes there are other jobs but are there enough of these jobs.
Pissed off.
Regarding the cops raiding bars to make customers give urine samples: This is clear and plain harassment and has nothing to do with tackling Thailand's drug problems. If they want to catch Farangs on drugs, they would do better to look on KSR, Koh Phan Ngan, Koh Samui, etc. and leave the sex tourists alone. (although I'm not recommending they hassle backpackers either). If they are concerned about Thai kids on drugs, they should look where the kids hang out: Discos, shopping malls, college dormitories, etc. If I were ever told to pee into a cup at the point of a gun, I think that under those circumstances I could more readily provide a stool sample. What a humiliating way to treat visitors to the Kingdom.
Anyone got the TAT's complaint phone number?
Went to Panthip and was really shocked how they have really cracked down on the valuable dodgy software and MP3s there. Any chance I can make a formal complain to the tourist police about this tragedy?

I have heard that the fellow in the soi 4 bar scam got rid of Hunters and Titty Twister deliberately so he would not have to pay back *any* of the purported 20 million baht that he borrowed, (or would it be more appropriate to say – manipulated and conned out of people). He was true to form and lied and cheated his way right the way through it all. He spent two weeks in a Thai prison and is now apparently on the run from investors, Thai police, Immigration Police and others! Good lord, this guy must have balls the size of coconuts if he thinks he can pull this off! He got rid of things quickly to try and ruin any chance the poor Scandinavian had of taking him and his wife to court and attempting to recoup some of his investment. As far as I know, he, the alleged scammer that is, never even turned up for the court date. So, not only would it appear that he is a liar, a cheat, a sad con man and a complete prick, but he is also a total coward. Apparently, he also tried to steal a retired couple's retirement fund! Two months before he got rid of the bars, he tried to sell a share in Hunters to a married couple who have retired in Thailand. I am reliably informed that the man is 76 and his wife is 75 years old! So, not satisfied with stealing from a man in a wheel chair, he will also stooped as low as attempting to stealing from the old and vulnerable too! Truly disgusting.

Not much news from Nana Plaza at the moment though trade seems to have picked up a little bit…just as well cos some nights there have been horribly quiet recently. Very positive things are being said about Spanky Bar, the new bar next to Hog's Breath. Haven't been there myself yet, but heard that there are lots of pretty girls and last night at least, thy had Miller draft for 50 baht! Whoa!

In Soi Cowboy this week, it was the umbrella bearers doing a great trade as the soi was lashed by the monsoon rains. These entrepreneurial types were ferrying customers to and from each bar, or in between bar and taxi, for 20 baht a journey. They were doing a brisk trade, more trade than some of the Soi Cowboy bars! Bacarra had girls dancing in full bikinis downstairs and completely naked upstairs on the glass ceiling. Sheba's had only a handful of customers, but there were both topless and naked dancers, much to punters' delight in these times of "no show." Entering a bar with a famous Hong Kong lady of the night's name, there was a surprise as a naked lesbian show was taking place! Good lord, what is going on down at Cowboy?! The old stalwart Long Gun's show for now consists of little more than fancy outfits until that last raunchy show with four girls executing flying splits and pole spinning acrobatics. Out of all the bars only Bacarra and Long Gun were doing reasonable trade but even then their bars were by no means full. Has Long Gun become complacent, or has this no show really stumped them? I was also surprised to see that some Cowboy bars have no shame in charging 110 baht for drinks.

Bourbon Street in Washington Square has had a new coat of paint and the second room as I refer to it has had a minor facelift with the tables laid out a little differently. What was once a little dark, is now a much more inviting part of the restaurant. Bourbon Street has always had the Stickman thumbs up for consistently good farang food. If you've never been, go on over and check it out. It will satisfy your farang food fix for sure.

Why do people listen to the British Embassy, yet not listen to me? Tut tut tut! Man, there are some people out there who need a bit of bloody sense shaken into them. One fool emailed me this week to tell me that even though he had read in this column that there was a crackdown on dodgy visas, he went ahead and got one anyway. Sorry mate, but you are a bloody moron! Now that he has read the announcement from the British Embassy that there really is a crackdown, he is worried. It would seem that washing machine serviceman all around Bangkok doing a roaring trade as all and sundry, heaps of foreigners, are apparently washing their passport in the washing machine, destroying it ­ and with it the evidence of their dodgy visas! From what I gather, and I wouldn't take this as Gospel, dodgy visas obtained in the past won't be picked up on…many of you can breathe a sigh of relief. But, if you got a dodgy visa recently, it looks like you are either going to be putting your passport or your soiled trousers through the washing machine…

The DVD and dodgy software situation has tightened up recently. Vendors who used to crowd the pavements in popular areas like Sukumvit and on Silom around Patpong, are now conspicuous by their absence. At Panthip, DVDs are not openly available but vendors have lists and get retrieve the contraband for you. A rumour was going around that from Monday earlier this week, no DVDs would be available at Panthip for 6 weeks.

One of Sukumvit's "gentleman's clubs", one located not too far from the Nana BTS station, has voluntarily taken down their website as a preventative measure against any flak that might be targeted against such business at this time. Some of the rooms have also been relocated to a nearby establishment. It is business as usual, but just a little different for now… Very prudent indeed, I believe.

More than a few businesses in the naughty nightlife industry are hurting badly. I have heard of more than a few few that are having real problems paying bills, and some have even had troubles paying salaries at month's end! Not good at all. It has been a bad year… Still wanna buy that bar?

PlaySakoon has put its drink prices up to 125 baht. See, I told you others would follow…

Popped into the Peppermint gogo bar on Pattaya's Walking Street. A girl walks around with a bucket of ping pong balls with numbers written on them. You buy ping pong balls at twenty baht a time, then throw them at the stage, in theory at a girl you like. She catches the ball and gets twenty baht. That's fine in theory, but of course there's a mad scramble for the balls as soon as they're thrown at the stage. One farang was buying ten at a time and tossing handfuls onto the stage. Made me think of throwing peanuts to monkeys and I wasn’t sure whether it's demeaning or just part of the fun. I guess it’s no more demeaning than showing your body to a group of overweight sex tourists, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth.

Finding a decent hotel in Pattaya gets easier and easier. And many of the new entrants are ‘guest-friendly’ which means they don’t care who you take back to your room. Best of the best for my money is the Sandy Spring Hotel on Soi 13 Pattaya Beach Road. Good rooms at 990 baht, Deluxe at 1,500 and a superb suite with great sea views and two TVs for 2,500 baht. Fans of Nana’s Dynasty Inn will also be glad to know that the company has opened up a brand new hotel in Pattaya, also on Soi 13 Pattaya Beach Road. Smiling, friendly staff (so not too similar to the Bangkok operation) and a room rate of 990 baht. Hopefully the arrival of hotels like this will being down the prices of the run-of-the-mill places which have been getting away with charging high prices for tired rooms for too long. And don't forget, Pattaya Hillside Resort is a bit away from the action, but is in a very nice, quiet location, for those of you who do not want to be right in the middle of the hustle and bustle.

Be careful in one of the major Bangkok bar areas. A gogo girl there tells me that there has been an influx of fifteen-year-old girls dancing. The legal-age girls aren’t happy about the fact that underage girls are being taken on in the bars, but there's nothing they can do. It’s no good checking ID cards, either. Most are using cards of older relatives. Which won't do you a bit of good if you get hauled in by the boys in brown. You've been warned…

Shop for Kamagra

A sign in a Bangkok branch of McDonalds advertising for staff indicates that McDonalds pay an hourly rate at the whopping amount of 23 baht an hour. Whoa! Now, given that a Big Mac costs 55 baht, that means that the local hourly rate is about 40% of the cost of their flagship product. Is there anywhere else in the world that McDonalds pays so poorly? I guess a Big Mac in the States costs around $3.00, but I bet the wages pay are more than 40% of the cost of the burger!

I made it to the Irish Xchange this week for the first time since its name change and I have to say that I was well impressed. The decor has been changed and if anything, it seems t have actually lost something there – but in every other way, things have improved. The genuine Irish Pub feel has largely been taken away and it feels like, well, an Irish Pub in Bangkok. Yeah, the nice comfortable seats which I recall having a nice cloth finish now have a vinyl finish and in terms of comfort and atmosphere, I think it may have taken a small step backwards. But I was not there for the quality of the upholstering, but to get some decent Western tucker into my grumbling stomach and it is here that a significant step forward has been made. The food in what used to be known as Shenanigan's was ok, but they have spruced up the menu and if I am not mistaken, lowered the prices. The menu is good (though there is almost no Thai food) and the food is great – good quality and large portions. They mix good drinks in there. Overall, a good spot for a beer and to refuel, if you are in the Silom area.

I couldn't imagine staying in the Nana Hotel for my couple of weeks holiday of the year, yet that is something that thousands of people do. Once checked into the Nana Hotel, it is not an insignificant number who do not go any further than about 100 metres from the hotel, and many go no further than straight across the road into Nana Plaza. Meals are eaten downstairs and entertainment, when not in the plaza itself, is upstairs. But the Nana Hotel is grim, it really is. I used to use the restaurant there as a place to meet people, but an hour in there gets me depressed…two weeks, hell, I couldn't imagine it.

Quote of the week comes from a reader "I am generally more wary of the police in Bkk than of the 'criminals'".

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Each week, Mrs. Stick will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick is an open-minded Thai lady who is happy to answer your questions. Please send questions for her, via me, at the usual email address. Two or three questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I may attempt to correct her English from time to time. Note 1: I may not necessarily agree with what she says! Note 2: Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email.

Question 1: Do you think Thai ladies prefer tough or macho guys (those who hide their emotions and act like a rock) or sensitive guys who share their feelings and problems but not necessarily their feminine side with their girlfriend/wife? Is there an issue of face in this matter?

Mrs. Stick says: Women do not like guys who are weak, Thai women included! I guess ti depends on where we draw the line of when we consider a man feminine. Is a man who cries showing his feminine side? I do not think face is an issue here at all. We are talking about human characteristics and I do not think nationality has uch to do with it so what a foreign woman likes, a Thai woman probably likes too.

Question 2: My girlfriend has not talked to me on the phone for nearly a month now. She has told me, she has problems with her friends, and does not want to talk on the phone to anyone. When she has a bad mood, she goes to her room and she just wants to be alone! – she closes her door and puts her mobile to receive SMS only. (She sends me SMS every 2 or 3 days) Would a Thai woman think about the long time that we not speak together?? (she tell me, I'll talk to you later!)

Mrs. Stick says: This doesn't sound normal at all. You really need to find out more because this is not normal at all and is not the way to deal with you. These doesn't seem to be any justifiable reason for her to behave like this. Not talking for a month is awfully suspicious. I would suggest that you let her go and move on because I would strongly suggest that she already has another special friend. So cut her loose, let her go, and move on.

Despite the fact that it is often riddled with errors, both of a grammatical and factual nature, a lot of work goes into maintaining not just this column, but the entire site. My best estimate is that I put in about 20 hours per week, and at no insignificant sacrifice to myself. Time that could be spent reading the latest novel, catching a movie or flirting online are spent working on this website. I can't say that there is no reward, and all of the adverts are from people and businesses who kindly contribute, helping to keep this site going. PLEASE, do click on the banner ads and check out what is on offer. If you are in the market for that type of product or service, consider making a purchase. As much as I enjoy putting this site together, without the advertisers it wouldn't exist.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave.