Stickman's Weekly Column October 28th, 2007

The Beginning Of The End Of An Era


"Close me!", he screamed out over the dark night of Nana Plaza. The neon signs had been turned off and the house lights inside the bars cast shadows out on to Nana's narrow walkways.

"I want my 30 day closure order. Close me!", he bellowed, his voice ringing out over the plaza. The unmistakeable American accent with a hint of alcohol had zero effect on the girls scurrying out of Nana to soi 4. Someone yelling out at the top of his lungs rates almost zero interest, unless the number "5,000" and the words "time" and "short" are said together in the right order. The few Westerners still in attendance found it rather amusing, although most didn't have a clue what was going on.

It was 2:25 AM, Saturday 27 October. That's the early hours of yesterday. Nana had closed and the plaza's angels were drifting out on to the main road, looking for a late night snack, or preferably, a customer. As the Bangkok night enveloped the plaza with more and more lights slowly being turned off, this lone bar owner vented his frustration, saying goodbye to Nana in his own special way.

He retreated inside and walked to the back of the bar and cranked up the volume of the sound system. Music blared out across the plaza half an hour after the official closing time. The bar owner was tempting fate, but even if he was to receive the closure order, it really wouldn't matter…

The boys in brown slowly had already slinked off into the night, disinterested in the antics and revelry from the bar no-one wanted to leave.

It was the last night for the Big Mango Bar in Nana. After a shock announcement on Wednesday, the Big Mango closed its doors at its current location for the last time this past Friday night.

In what really is a sad state of affairs, the negotiations for rent of the spot where the Big Mango is located broke down, with the leaser asking for an outrageous price increase. How much? Assign a numerical value to the word outrageous and you've got it.

But why do I think this little bar in the corner of Nana Plaza where you'll see less flesh than anywhere else in all of Nana makes for such a huge loss?

A year ago there were five reasons to visit Nana Plaza – the Big Mango, Hog's Breath, Angelwitch, Rainbow 1 and Rainbow 4. With Hog's Breath and now The Big Mango gone, there are only three. 30 good bars is good for Nana. 3 isn't.

The three bars in Nana that are worth going out of your way for are much the same, gogo bars with lots of pretty women. Sure, each is a little different but the fact remains that they are still all gogo bars.

Much conjecture and concern surrounds the future of Nana Plaza – and this isn't something new. Many of the bars, the girls and the bar managers have created an unpleasant and unfriendly atmosphere that in no way resembles the fun had there in the late '90s. But actually, that is not what I am talking about. The major issue on many people's minds is just how long the plaza has left, in its current form.

There have been all sorts of crazy rumours over the years and I am surprised that those of its conversion into a 5 star hotel, or a car park, have not been heard recently.

Here's the deal. The land on which Nana Plaza is located is owned by a Thai / Indian family. They have leased the land to a bunch of Indians trading as Nana Castle – their office can be found on the floor above ground on the left hand side. Nana Castle then lease the space to the various bar owners who then build and operate the bars. This is relevant because Nana Castle has, over the past few weeks, been re-negotiating the leases with the bar owners. Leases expire on November 1st. Yes, just a few days away. Many bars have signed already and the rest are set to follow. The bottom line is that Nana as we know it should remain in business until 2012. That is barring any major catastrophe like the boys in brown suddenly outlawing the industry or implementing those confusing entertainment zoning laws.

But not all of the bars in Nana Plaza lease from Nana Castle. The bars at the front of the plaza like Cathouse, the Big Mango and Mandarin Table Top actually lease from the shophouse owners below, i.e. the business downstairs, be it the jeweller's or the tailor's. These bars are on their own to negotiate and this is how, sadly, the Big Mango got screwed. Nana Castle lease space to gogo bars but these other establishments which essentially lease space above their existing businesses don't understand the plaza, don't understand the industry and are really in the dark.

A number of the bars have renegotiated already. It looks like many were looking at an effective increase in rent of 20 – 30%. Given that for many bars trade is down, this is a huge kick in the teeth. And given that no repairs or maintenance work seems to be taking place in Nana, one has to wonder just what they get for that? That said, I believe that rents have not increased for about 6 years so an increase has been long overdue.

The Big Mango's departure follows that of Hog's Breath, a popular hangout for a lot of the expats that live here as well as those in the construction / oilfield industry. For many, it was first stop when they got into town, just to see who else was in town. The dynamic of the crowd at Hog's Breath was similar to that at the Big Mango. Punters would meet up with friends before doing the rounds – and spending money, often lots of it. Many people like to start the night out in a quiet bar with friends, enjoying conversation before things get crazy. With Hog's Breath and Big Mango gone, Cathouse is the only venue left for where a quiet beer can be had. But Cathouse has not been that popular since their prices increased markedly.

Nana's problems run deep with no shortage of afflictions which punters grumble about on a daily basis. Increased prices for suds and the girls were just the start. Nana girls are rapidly becoming known for their urgent 3 AM meeting with their mother, ill brother or crippled buffalo. The Rainbow bars in particular have a dreadful reputation for girls promising long-time, delivering short-time and threatening blue murder if the original negotiated (long time) price is not paid. But these problems are just the tip of the iceberg.

The escalator on the right hand side is in total disrepair and it will cost at least 1.5 million baht to repair it. Who is going to pay for that?! Nana Castle? Don't make me laugh!

The Farang Connection <the one in Nana Plaza, NOT the one in Surin>, which closed a few weeks ago, has all but given up on finding a buyer and are simply hoping that someone will step in to take over the lease.

One bar owner is well behind on his rent, the same owner who had trouble paying his girls a month or two back.

Another bar has had circuitry installed so that no more than half the air-con units can be used at any one time. Yep, for just a few thousand baht saving a month, this bar owner will sacrifice his customers' comfort – and they have been leaving in droves, just like his girls.

The ground floor of Nana Plaza is in a sorry state. Private BBQs are sometimes held with the smoke wafting into bars on the upper floors, disturbing staff and patrons alike. Motorbikes and other vehicles block access into the plaza and sometimes restrict access into ground floor bars. Make a complaint and the most likely outcome is a bunch of the biggest Thai guys you've ever seen paying you a visit to work out the issue. And let's not even begin on the flawed design of the plaza, with a narrow passage providing the only way in and out.

One bar owner said to me that he felt the main issue dragging down Nana is the lack of any co-operation between the bar owners. In fact there is real hostility between some of the owners with certain owners and managers barred from certain establishments. Compare this to Pattaya or Cowboy where owners frequently drop by to other bars and chat with the staff and other bar owners.

Some people have tried to tell me that these things go in cycles and that Nana will be back. That's nonsense. Nana Plaza has been in steady decline since the late '90s, every year getting a little bit worse. Things can only get worse for so long and then they get downright bad.

Nana's great chance to turn it around was the elaborately designed Cascade Bar, a venture the owners sank serious money in. There was a fancy laser light system custom-built in Taiwan but it was damaged when being offloaded from the plane and as far as I know, it never made it to the plaza. What had promised to be a great bar never really took off and later became another katoey cave. For me, that was the turning point for Nana. If that bar had worked, it might have brought the crowds back, and forced increased investment by other owners as they attempted to compete. Nana Plaza would have become a draw again. Alas, that was not the case and as Nana dragged its feet, money was being pumped into Cowboy.

The Big Mango's departure is not just a case of goodbye to one bar. It's goodbye great burgers and food. Goodbye reasonable prices. Goodbye fantastic meeting spot. Goodbye free wi-fi internet access and goodbye great service. More than anything it's a case of goodbye Nana Plaza.

With rental hikes across the board and some bars clearly hurting, the local wisdom of less customers necessitating price increases will likely prevail. Prices will likely go up, service will continue to get worse, the place will fall into further disrepair and punters will bypass Nana and drop into Cowboy for a few on their way to Pattaya.

Like Boss Hogg who also got out early, the Big Mango boys will have the last laugh. The two bright, young entrepreneurs built up a loyal following and more importantly, a brand name. They built up a reputation, a good one. Reasonably priced drinks and food, good service, a great atmosphere and all with a view overlooking Nana will always be a winning formula. Wherever they move to, their customers will follow. The gogo bars of Nana can hardly up and move, can they?!

It was nice knowing you Nana, but the writing is on the wall. This is the beginning of the end of an era.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was of the Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya, previously known as the Merlin. It has been suggested that room rates tripled when the Hard Rock took over. Yikes! The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Fish And Chips restaurant and the second wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a well-established, popular restaurant, offering authentic Tex-Mex Cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11.

FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II)

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – I'm a complex character!

Reading through your leader this week I had mixed feelings. Sometimes I'm wondering if you're trying to be all things to all men, so many contradictions, the devil's advocate on one hand and then on the other a curiosity and familiarity of don't feed the animals that are behind the bars at a zoo. You lift your hat off to her, whilst at the same time you neither condone, respect or would seriously entertain her as a friend, lover or wife. But by the same token you admire her, because as far as sinners go she's the best. Re-assured confidence of someone in her mid 30's, no wonder as there's every chance she been on the road for half her life, and had the stuffing knocked out so many times that any semblance of hardness or bitterness has long since dissipated. Outlived her shelf life by a long margin, back on the game as a last resort, and maybe just one trick away from the knackers' yard. 100K at the end of the day living off immoral earnings in her mid 30's is someone that should be congratulated, hmm somewhat hypocritical when you and most others wouldn't even give her the time of day. Sometimes you really must be wondering what on earth you are doing in these establishments at 2:00 AM in the morning, not partaking in the fruits de la mer, have no genuine interest in striking up a conversation with these demoiselles, refusing to anaesthetise yourself to the predicament that you are in, and further more to cap it all, to have the state of mind to be able to calculate her financial well being at such an un-Godly hour beggars belief. Okay, it beats meditating.

Terrorised by the wolves (Normally I wouldn't run a piece like this but I know the guy in question and trust him 100%.)

I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable sort of guy. Some may not agree but whatever my shortcomings may be, I am not mean of spirit or mean with money. However, I have vowed never to spend another single baht in The Tilac Bar, renovations or no renovations. Fair enough, the dancers in there are young and mostly cute and the beer is reasonably priced especially during happy hours. So what is the problem? I'll tell you. It's the goddamned service staff. They are not girls but a couple of old dragons and one who is younger but just as objectionable. Every time I go there I get singled out by this pack of wolves that terrorise me for lady drinks. Last week they singled me out even though I was with two friends. I drank up and told the guys I'd meet them in another bar across the road. I paid and left. A couple days later, there on my own waiting for a friend to arrive I got the 'you buy drink for me' treatment again. There is nothing polite about their approaches and on previous visits I have politely declined and sometimes had to get quite rude with them just so they would leave me alone. This time I just asked for the bill and paid for the one beer I had had and left without leaving a tip. One of the dragons pushed me unceremoniously in the back as I walked out of door. This is piss poor treatment and I will never go there again.

For the cheapest of Charlies.

On this weeks article re: high prices in gogo bars and nightlife places, I noticed this week from hanging around Lumpini Park around 9 PM (don't ask) that there are many girls not much less attractive than those of Nana and Cowboy still available 500 baht ST with 200 for ST hotel if needed. These prices were confirmed by a taxi driver. I was waiting at the bus stop near Brown Sugar bar and was approached three times in ten minutes, not for me as married but an affordable alternative to the overpriced tourist places – and no lady drinks and barfines to take into account either.

Another French restaurant recommendation.

Regarding your French restaurant piece in last week's column, there is a great little French restaurant in the big mango too. It is Le Bouchon on Patpong 2 (couple of doors down from Star of Light towards Suriwong). Serge runs it personally and is there every night checking on things and even cooking some of his most special dishes himself. It only has half a dozen tables which are always full. The menu has a lot of variety and everything we have ever tried over the years has been great.

He really didn't tell me the bar, damn it!

Several months ago I bought two girls, in a Soi Cowboy bar, some drinks. Tequilas and Cokes. They slugged down the Tequilas but without the typical slight grimaces I've always noticed as the Tequila goes down. This made me suspicious and when the next round of drinks arrived I took a taste from each shot glass. Pure water. I was a bit irritated since the drinks are expensive and I find the girls are more fun if they are a bit tipsy. I made them take the water back and checked to make sure that they got Tequila. My first conclusion was that the bar was being cheap and trying to maximize profits by substituting water for Tequila but the girls said this was not the case. The girls often make the request. Some of the girls really don't like a shot of hard alcohol but get more money from the Tequila / Coke because they get money for two drinks. Sometimes they have already had too much to drink and just don't want to get drunk. I'm not mentioning the bar because I like this bar and don't want to tarnish its reputation.

Did someone want a cut?

The last two times I arrived to Bangkok I did what I had heard many locals do: Instead of going downstairs to the area below Arrivals, I headed upstairs to Departure level and walked out of the terminal to catch a ride with a taxi that had just dropped someone off there! Back in May that wasn't a problem at all, but it was very much so last month! It was no problem finding a driver willing to take me, however as soon as we got going we were pulled over by the police! Then a heated discussion ensued between the police officer in charge and the taxi driver! I was waiting inside the taxi and really my Thai isn't up for it yet, so I missed out on what exactly they were talking about! However, it seemed quite obvious to me that the driver was scolded for picking up a passenger there without having joined the queue at the taxi stands two levels below. Eventually we were let go. I guess next time I'm in Bangkok I'll try again! I wonder what will happen then…

Catz A Gogo in Pattaya (Soi 16, Walking Street) is holding its 2nd anniversary bash next Saturday, 3rd November. The two 'R's (Robin and Robert) are laying on a special spread so you'd be advised to have a light lunch! There'll be drink freebies as a way of saying thanks to all their loyal customers of the past two years. If the free food and the party atmosphere doesn't do it for you then be aware Catz has seen a major influx of cute girls recently and has also introduced several new shows – so if you are in the area don't miss out on what promises to be a very special night.

The new branch of Jameson's Irish pub is set to open with a soft opening next week, November 1st on the ground floor of the Holiday Inn, Silom Road. John Bell will be the manager.

Many bars will celebrate Halloween this coming week. Both branches of Angelwitch will celebrate on Wednesday, October 31. The bar will be decorated with witches and the staff will be dollied up for the occasion, if you can call dressing up as witches and ghouls being dollied up. Many of the bars do a really nice job on Halloween night, so it's well worth going out mid-week to check it out.

Down in Cowboy, Shark is getting in on the act and will host a free buffet and lottery Halloween night.

Bourbon Street is also getting in on the Halloween act. Their Halloween special this year: any customer who buys a ground rib eye steakburger gets the choice of a free pumpkin soup or a pumpkin pie. This deal runs from October 26 – 31.

There is a new kid on the block. A new beer bar on Soi Cowboy has opened its doors called the Shadow bar, hardly an original name down there. It's an open front bar, the same as Sam’s 2000. The interior is tastefully done out and it matches the upgrade trend that we have seen a lot of in Cowboy recently…and not in Nana!

Things are picking up down in Cowboy with what seems to be an influx of tourists. Both Sheba's and Suzie Wong are doing a 60 baht happy hour until 9 PM.

If you're already missing your favourite Big Mango girl, head down to Soi Cowboy and start the hunt for her! A handful of the girls have relocated to Cowboy. Yep, they've have enough of Nana too!

Spice Girls in Cowboy is open and the bar is very pleasing on the eyes with both table top dancing as well as stage dancing. It looks like they will need more girls as the bar can comfortably support many more than they have presently. It's good value at happy hour but after that it goes up to the ridiculous prices of the owner's other bars meaning a lady drink Heineken will set you back 170 baht. Ouch! For the time being it feels like a big empty cavern that needs more girls. Imagine an Angelwitch Bangkok sized-bar with only 10 girls and you get the idea.

If you're looking for Silver Dragon in Nana, you're going to have to look really, really hard – and even then you won't find it. Silver Dragon was renamed Mandarin Table Dancing. Actually it was renamed a few weeks ago and I forgot to tell you. Yep, I know, I'm a slacker!

Sunrise Taco's new facility across from the original branch in the Price Leader complex is targeting a November 1 opening date. The original restaurant will remain and will predominantly be for takeaway and delivery orders, the new venue for sit down customers. I believe the bar seating in the original branch will remain.

A reminder of the dangers of Bangkok, even central Bangkok, late at night. A farang reader's friend had the crap beaten out of him on Sukhumvit Soi 9. The number of attackers is unknown but his jaw was broken on both sides. Be careful on the streets of the capital late at night – that's when most of this sort of thing occurs.

And another reader confirms what I wrote about last week, the phenomenon of sky high tipping in the gogo bars and how it results in higher prices paid for services by those guys who barfine. Said reader reports that he witnessed a punter in Diamond A Gogo in Pattaya doing exactly what I had said, stuffing one, two and then three 100 notes into the legging of what he described as a very unremarkable gogo girl – and then he followed up with a 1000 note! Said reader joked that the guy was acting like he was in heaven! Amazing!

There's a really cool, funky bar down the end of Sukhumvit Soi 11. No, I am not talking about the home of poseurs, Bed, or the "No hookers are allowed on the premises" Q Bar. If you're after something a little different, where young, professional, intelligent guys are more concerned about good conversation and a good laugh than who their next lay will be, check out Fun House. Open for a couple of years now, I checked it out this past week and was pleasantly surprised. It reminded me of a neighbourhood bar with a bunch of sharp-minded guys. I'll be back for sure. It's not the place for those looking to barfine, but if one of the few girls there likes you, there is a chance, a small chance mind you, that you might have your wicked way with her.

Oh lord, I am envious. A long time reader in Laos told me the prices of Beer Lao in Thailand's Communist neighbour. 24 cans of South East Asia's finest brew can be had for a mere 110,000 kip (392 baht) or at 65,000 kip (232 baht), you can get 12 x 650 ml bottles. If it was available at those prices I'd go out and buy my own dedicated beer fridge and fill it up!

When a duty free store opens a top-end hotel, one has to wonder if they are perhaps diversifying a bit far beyond their expertise. But the Pullman King Power property which is nestled in between Soi Rangnam and Sri Ayuthaya Road is a fine hotel with a very nice bar and at least one very nice restaurant that makes it well worth going out of your way for. I'm not sure if it is a promotion which will be offered indefinitely or just an opening special, but one would be advised to get themselves a King Power card – which is available free, simply by completing an application form at any branch. This allows every second person to eat the buffet for 10 baht, making it essentially free – and you get a 15% discount in the swanky bar. All in all, it's a venue worth going out of your way for. And by the way, the lamb in the buffet is the best I have had outside of New Zealand. Cooked to perfection and sliced properly. Lamb is a delicate meat and not only must it be cooked right, it should not be hacked into pieces either, as some Bangkok restaurants and even some of the better buffets, seem to excel at.

Thai women and Western women are different. Really different. Different in so many ways. And one of the differences I have always talked about – and have upset more than a few readers, is when I state, for the record, that Western women like sex more than their Thai sisters and are better in bed than their Thai sisters. It is my experience and I truly believe it. On that subject, one of the Thai dating sites, Thai Kisses, profiles users and they have the opportunity to say how they rate sex – high, average or low. Only a few girls rate sex highly – mostly it is listed as merely of average interest to them. It might not verify my point, but it sure is a supporting argument.

I answered a question in last week's column stating that I had not heard of Western professors in Thailand lecturing in Thai. I was wrong and have since been informed there are a few – and they speak truly fluent Thai.

In front of a certain branch of Pizza Company someone is hawking tazar guns. I know you can buy most things with ease in Bangkok, but this is starting to get a bit ridiculous.

Fans of Christopher G. Moore can now buy his books online here at a 15 – 30% discount. Delivery inside Thailand is free. And for those of you who have not read "Risk Of Infidelity Index", BUY IT! It is right up there with the very best novels set in Bangkok – in fact it may even be the best of the bunch!

I had a chance to wander around the new airport this week and there was something that struck me about the place, something positive. Now we all know that airports all around the world are home to some of the most ridiculous prices you will ever see, but at Suwannaphum, while you can find silly prices if you look, you can still get a meal at any one of a number of outlets for pretty much the same prices you'd pay in downtown – which is great. Think Paragon prices and you're in the ball park.

From the Philippines comes a story where the cops appear to be giving confusing instructions.

His name may not be as widely-recognised as Needham, Moore or Leather, but John Burdett's Thailand based novels are enjoyed by many. The IHT profiled him this week.

And Reuters reports that the Thai police are hunting for many paedophiles in Thailand, particularly Germans!

Quote of the week comes from that wily devil, Dave The Rave. "Thailand is an unforgiving place if you are down on your luck!"


Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick returns after a lengthy sojourn to help you with you relationship and culture questions and the things that baffle you about life in Thailand. She accepts questions on matters of the heart or cultural misunderstandings. Her answers are entirely her own without any influence or editing by me. She looks forward to reading and answering your questions, so please give her a big welcome by sending in some thought-provoking things.

Question 1: My girlfriend of 6 months is a virgin and as far as I can tell she is. She works as an accountant and is 25 years old. She said after marriage we will have plenty of sex but if I can not wait it is OK for me to go for a sexy-massage when needed. Is she testing me to see if I will and then break-up if I do or would a Thai virgin see this as an option for her boyfriend? I am 31 and turning blue.

Mrs. Stick says: I think she meant what she said that you could go to a sexy-massage when you feel like it so that you won’t bother her about this. But of course she wouldn’t like it if she knew that you do that (no matter whether you tell her the truth or she finds out herself). And I can’t guarantee the result. Do you think it’s worth risking?

Question 2: When marrying a Thai woman and bringing her to your home country, it can be a rough transition for her. Do you have any recommendations on how to make the transition to a different country, a different culture, a different life, as easy as possible for her? Teaching her to drive a car and language classes are the first place to start of course, but what else can help?

Mrs. Stick says: Very good question and actually a tough one. If possible, it’s best to take her to your home country for a couple of months before you get married, or if it’s too late, let’s say before you move there. I believe there is less pressure this way as she knows that she’ll only be there for a certain period of time and she’ll be more open to the new things. There’ll be culture shock and homesickness but once she gets back to Thailand and thinks back, she’ll then have a better idea of how to live her life there and be better prepared. Good luck!

Question 3: Despite being divorced from a Thai girl (after 6 years of marriage) I am still very much appreciative of Thai girls and am interested in again finding a Thai wife (hopefully a permanent one). After completing my PhD I’m considering looking for a University position in Thailand teaching in my field (not English language teaching). My first question is, how negative of a connotation does a farang being divorced (and from a TG) have for "good" Thai girls (I’m not interested in bar girls)? If it makes any difference, my previous divorce was due to my wife leaving me after she made a number of single American "party girl" friends and wanted to join that lifestyle.

Mrs. Stick says: There will be no negative connotations or anything like that for a divorced farang guy. In fact, I think being a single guy who has experience in a relationship with Thai girls helps a great deal. Use it!!!

There's been plenty of nightlife related material in the column the past few weeks which funnily enough, I find less fun to write about. So after a few weeks of nightlife related openers, I am going to get back to relationship stuff and more general pieces about life as an expat in Bangkok.



Yours,

Stick Mark II