What is it that makes a bar stand out from the rest? What makes a good bar great? Is it the girls? Is it the music? Is it the premises of the bar itself? Is service a part of it? What about prices? Is it a combination of all of these things? Or is it something that can’t be measured, something hard to define and as such, tricky to emulate?
The best bars over the years have not necessarily had something that set them apart from the rest, and just why a bar is so good is not always obvious.
Over the years many bar owners have come along with grandiose ideas and have talked up their new bar which would soon be the best in the business. Some have sunk serious money in to fitting out bars with the best lighting system and the best sound system. Some have gone on a major recruitment drive, hired the best manager and spent heavily on promotion. Most who have set out to create the ultimate bar have failed.
It’s easy to point to venues with many attractive dancers as being the best bar – think the likes of the Rainbow bars in Nana – but how often do you hear the Rainbow bars mentioned when anyone talks of the so-called best bars? Attractive dancers are part of it, but just one part of it – and the Rainbow bars are a great example of bars with no shortage of pretty dancers, yet somehow manage to disappoint.
In April, 2009, I stuck my neck out and declared that Tilac Bar in Soi Cowboy was, to use the title of that week’s column, simply the best. As best as I can recall, no-one took exception to it and many were in agreement.
And a few years later in 2013 I said that Pretty Lady on Nana’s ground floor was probably the most fun bar. Pretty Lady didn’t have anything like the most attractive dancers but the vibe was just plain fun.
In retrospect, I’d have to say that for a while Catz in Pattaya was right up there amongst the best gogo bars of all time, when in many ways it shouldn’t have been. A small, narrow bar with an oddly shaped dance floor, it was my favourite Pattaya bar back when I was making frequent trips to Sin City. Looking back, it’s only now that I realise just how good Catz was, and how it epitomised the idea that it’s about the atmosphere above all else.
I should have spent more time in Catz than I did, but that’s another story and you don’t want to live with regrets.
And now, late 2016, with the industry in a slow, almost imperceptible decline, there is one bar that in my mind stands out from the rest. It feels like it’s time to stick my neck out and declare it the best. In my humble opinion it is so far ahead of the rest that it absolutely warrants being declared as the best bar of its type in Bangkok. It is, of course, Billboard, on the top floor of Nana Plaza.
Some would argue that Bacarra is the best gogo bar in Bangkok but I’d say that as good as it is technically, it’s sterile and many of the girls make you think they just returned from a trip to Antarctica with clothes suitable for Thailand and have yet to defrost.
Others might ask what about Crazy House? Knowing some of the skullduggery that goes on there and the way some of the (not always Thai) dancers’ rights are abused, I could never recommend that place.
What about the great bars of yesteryear like Tilac and Pretty Lady? Tilac isn’t what it was and Pretty Lady was sold a few years ago and no longer exists.
One area where Billboard stands out from the rest is in its ownership and management structure. One of the two partners is – this is going to shock some – a white woman. I don’t doubt that the unique perspective she brings is a contributing factor to the bar’s success.
Another area where Billboard stands out is its mamasans. Amongst them is Miss Tukata who was for many years a loyal lieutenant to the owner of Pretty Lady. Bad mamasans can ruin a bar while good mamasans can make it. Too many bar bosses neglect mamasans and place little importance on them. That Tukata has featured in two great bars, Pretty Lady circa 2013 and Billboard 2016 is no coincidence.
Great bars have attractive ladies and no-one could complain at the current line-up in Billboard.
There is one commonality amongst all of my favourite Bangkok bars – and it’s not what you’d think. You could rack your brains for years and you’d probably never get it.
What sets Catz (Pattaya), Tilac, Pretty Lady and Billboard apart is, strangely enough, the owners. In each case, they’re the sort of people you’d be happy to hang out with away from the bar industry, to shoot the breeze or enjoy a meal with and generally do stuff with that has nothing to do with the bar industry. They’re solid, people you’d be happy to invite around to your place, the sort who would succeed in whatever business they tried their hand at. In other words, if you met them in the street you wouldn’t think they were pimps. That’s not something you can readily say in this industry where there are plenty of scoundrels and ratbags.
But Billboard is not perfect.
The bar is smoker-friendly, something a lot of us really wish wasn’t the case.
Some of the seating in the middle of the bar is tall stools that are not that comfortable and with the Jacuzzi full of pretty young things, it has become an attraction for some grotty gits trying to do the sort of thing to ladies that should only happen in private quarters.
Billboard is still a work in progress. The owners tell me there’s more work to be done but at the same time there’s every reason to believe that the best is only going to get better. I am loathe to stick my neck out and say one bar shines above all others, but in my eyes Billboard is the best bar of its type in Bangkok at this time.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week’s photo was taken of the new condo building under construction on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and Soi 6 called Stonehenge, where condo prices start at a very reasonable 26 million baht. You are, after all, just around the corner from the Nana Plaza World Heritage site so 26 mill is surely a bargain! If you know downtown Bangkok well you should have no problems getting this week’s snap.
FROM STICK’S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week’s column.
Jomtien in the ’70s.
Back in the 70’s I rented two different homes in Jomtien when it was just that, homes! Even the closest neighbour was way beyond hearing distance of our blaring stereo. There were no bars, food stalls, or any other kinds of businesses. They just didn’t exist back then. The whole length of the beach from one end to the other was just “get-away-from-Bangkok” homes for the Thais. My friends and I were the only farangs renting there for years. It was awesome and for the most part the only locals that we interacted with were the fishermen who stopped by each morning to drop off our daily seafood order to our house girl / cook, consisting of a rather large basket of just caught fish, shrimp, crab etc. We could go for days and not see any vehicles of any kind, the road was not even paved back then and normally we only stayed there on the weekends as an escape from the Bangkok traffic. I fondly remember the sunsets each evening at Jomtien. Our rule was that everyone had to be home for sunset. After that, we prepared for our nightly attack on the Pattaya bar scene. It’s obvious from looking at your photos that I wouldn’t recognise the area today. Can’t stop progress however and it looks like if I ever do return there, I’ll have to go even further south to get away from the crowds.
A Jomtienite speaks.
I have lived here in Jomtien for nearly 6 years and there are a few things that I would like your readers to know. First, the over abundance of condos. Most buildings even when finished – and those are few and far between – have an occupancy rate of just 3 – 7%. The saunas / spas, restaurants and gyms never happen. Many condos for sale have been on the market for over 5 years. Unlike elsewhere, the prices for these condos go up year on year even when no-one is buying! The biggest disappointment is that condos are getting so small – can you imagine a 2-bedroom condo at 38 sqm? My balcony and bathroom is bigger than this. As for the nightlife, here in Jomtien we are only 15 – 20 minutes away from Walking Street, and to tell the truth I do not miss it at all. The only thing that Jomtien does not have is overpriced gogo bars. All the other entertainment is here, including expat gentlemen’s clubs.
Ruskies spreading their wings.
I was over past Jomtien earlier this year, Cosy Beach actually where there is a proliferation of Russians too. I passed a sign advertising a popular Russian language newspaper. It read something along the lines of “Pattaya’s most popular Russian language newspaper”. Oddly though, this was written in English!
Why get braces?
Why do girls get braces for their teeth if they really do not need them? I can understand tattoos and piercings as Hollywood promotes self-disfigurement and self-expression to impressionable young adults. However, why do I see perfectly formed teeth wrapped meticulously in rubber and wire, for all to see the trappings of one’s lunch in the bacteria-laden crevices of these unsightly medical devices? Furthermore, instinctively in the mating game the hygiene of a potential partner is often determined by skin, eye and dental health. The use of braces questions the overall health aspects of that individual. So what are your thoughts? <I asked the other half about this and this is her response: Traditionally braces are installed on young teenagers to straighten their teeth. This happens at a time in their life when they are young and cute. So many people associate braces with being young and cute. From there it has developed in to a fashion thing with some people associating braces with looking cute so they get braces installed and take it one step further with multiple colours, thinking that it is fashionable and that braces make themselves look cute.>
Showing your stick to the local dogs.
The rabies virus is on the rise in Thailand after a 30-year decline and the locals have nobody to blame but themselves. In Pattaya I jog around Pratumnak and carry an ASP-baton, the 26-inch long model like the cops have, easily purchased for 500 baht, for the sole purpose of crowning any mutt that wishes to take a snap at my ankles. Soi dogs may be a dire health risk but they’re not stupid, and they clear out real quick when they see my baton!
Joining in family activities.
You asked the question about being included in activities when visiting your Thai in-laws. My experience is that on our annual visit to Thailand we always spend at least half of our time in Isaan visiting in-laws. We are always warmly greeted and I am always included in family activities. This last trip was during Songkran, which includes at least a week of daily Buddhist ceremonies. My wife’s family is very involved with the local wat so we went to every ceremony. I was one of very few farangs. One of my favourite activities this past Songkran was when my wife and I were given the opportunity to make merit by buying locally made ice cream and handing out ice cream cones to villagers at the wat. Since Songkran is during the hottest time of the year (37 degrees C with very high humidity) the ice cream cones were welcomed!
Old school Thai hospitality can still be found.
I had a long weekend away at Amphawa, a nice little town and got to see the famous train market. One place highly recommend to eat is Baan Gun Ang, a local café with delicious and very reasonably priced food. I ate there 3 times in 2 days – it really was that good! The guy didn’t have any scotch, so he gave me his private stash of Gold Label Johnnie Walker and charged me 100 baht for 3 drinks. Truly old school Thai hospitality. You’re right, every so often we see the old Thai hospitality. It’s just a pity it’s so far and few between these days.
Girl Of The Week
Let’s just call her Miss Billboard.
Gogo dancer at Billboard, Nana Plaza.
And best of all, she does not have braces and is tattoo-free!
When the market is down, some see a buying opportunity. This phenomenon transcends investment markets and includes the local meat market or to put it a little more palatably for the naughty boys, the naughty nightlife industry. While some bar hounds have been whining about shortened bar hours, the real players have seized the moment and headed out in to the Bangkok night where ladies’ remuneration expectations have turned back the clock years. The reason for this is simple. For many years, the ladies’ business model was building up a small number of suitors who believed that she was their darling and exclusive to them, for which they would pay for the privilege by sending a monthly stipend. That model doesn’t work so well these days due to a combination of awareness amongst punters and a spluttering economy where many have less discretionary spending money, no real job security or both. These days for the girls it’s all about volume, and with bar trade down between 30 and 60% at this time depending on which bar boss you talk to, the girls’ income is down heavily too. The net effect is that the ladies have to fight harder for the fewer customers around and their attitudes have improved, customers are treated better and plenty of ladies will accept less than they would have just a month ago. Think of this as a mini golden period. Ignore those who say it ain’t worth going if the girls ain’t showing. You might not have it this good again any time soon so enjoy it while it lasts.
All indications are that regular bar hours will resume a bit over a week from now. From Monday November 14th closing times should revert back to 2:00 AM closing in Nana and Cowboy, and either 2:00 AM or 3:00 AM in Patpong. The closing times for bars in Patpong have fluctuated between 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM in recent years although recently there have been efforts by the authorities to pull it back to the uniform 2:00 AM. The way things are currently – and should be for the next week – sees a mass exodus from bar areas at midnight (or 12:30 AM in the case of Nana Plaza) and small armies of hungry girls standing around on the street hoping for a customer.
Has the worm turned? Reports from all 3 Bangkok bar areas are of trade significantly up this past Friday night with a couple of venues reporting that they did as well as they would on a regular Friday night as if they had been open through until 2:00 AM. All of a sudden business owners have stopped singing the blues.
It would be easy to say that the only difference at Soi Cowboy between how things are at present and how they usually would be is that most of the neon is turned off, there are no girls standing outside bars calling passersby inside and there are few mainstream visitors traipsing up and down the lane. But that would be inaccurate. Trade at Soi Cowboy appears to have suffered more than the two other major Bangkok bar areas over the past few weeks and continues to suffer, with trade awful in some bars despite most having a full complement of girls. I put it down to Soi Cowboy attracting more mainstream visitors – and with the soi in relative darkness its appeal has diminished. A selfie with a dimly lit soi for a background doesn’t generate many Facebook likes.
It should be noted that in the past few days things have changed a bit at Soi Cowboy with girls back outside bars calling passersby inside. Most of the neon – and all of the large neon signs above the bar awnings – remain in darkness.
There is a foul mouldy smell in Shark Bar that reminds you of walking in to a massage house where you strongly suspect that none of the bedsheets or towels have been washed for days. No, I’m not suggesting that you can get a naughty on the premises of Shark Bar, but I am saying that the smell really is foul.
Soi Cowboy is generally smoke-free – most bars won’t let you smoke inside the bar proper, but many will let you smoke in the area outside the bar where there is seating. But the no smoking policy inside Shark bar applies to customers only. The DJ is exempt. If you’re sensitive to smoke, avoid sitting anywhere near the DJ booth in Shark, or avoid the bar altogether.
The price of a standard lady drink at Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy is 150 baht which puts it at the lower end of the range of what you can expect to pay for a lady drink in a Bangkok chrome pole bar these days. But the question has to be asked about how Dollhouse came up with the price of 280 baht for a beer lady drink. That seems unnecessarily high. I can understand that the cost to the bar of a bottle of beer is much higher than a small tumbler of Coke – perhaps a 40 baht difference in costs – so tacking 40 baht on to the standard lady drink cost and making it 190 baht would seem fair. But they didn’t do that – and at 280 baht, they’ve almost doubled the price of a standard lady drink. What’s that all about?! And while I am on Dollhouse’s case, it has to be said that the low visitor numbers aren’t helped by a lousy lineup. While Shark bar smells stale, the lineup in Dollhouse looks stale. I recognise faces in there from years ago. New Dollhouse manager American Deano – formerly of Las Vegas in Nana Plaza – has some work to do to get Dollhouse humming for the high season.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Lighthouse in Soi Cowboy is so good is that a few of the dancers are not hardcore working girls, but university students dancing – and doing other stuff – to help finance their studies.
I don’t know when the happy hour prices at each of Shark and Lighthouse went up a little but they’re beyond the 80 baht price point they were for years. Shark’s happy hour runs through until 8:00 PM with drinks at 90 baht and Lighthouse’s happy hour goes through until 9:00 PM with most drinks 95 baht. Both are a good deal.
Word is that the girls from Black Pagoda who were taken away a few weeks ago following a raid which found 5 dancers with traces of illegal drugs in their system are still languishing in jail, unsure of what the future holds for them.
Cockatoo in Soi Cowboy advertises itself as the only ladyboy bar in the soi – which is true – but that is not to say other bars in the soi don’t have the odd ladyboy. Midnite had a few ladyboys for a while and Crazy Cat currently has at least 1. Point being that if you are one of those who finds ladyboys bothersome and shirk Nana Plaza in favour of Soi Cowboy thinking you will avoid ladyboys if you stay away from Cockatoo, think again. In Soi Cowboy, just as in Nana Plaza, there are some ladyboys about.
There was a reason that Halloween parties weren’t mentioned in the column last week – because most bars did not hold them. Decorations went up in some bars but that was about the extent of it. Thailand is still mourning the passing of His Majesty The King and bars are being asked to be respectful and not celebrate or party at this time, hence the usual Halloween parties that are so popular in Bangkok’s gogo bars for the most part did not take place this year.
What is with this worship of bar owners and managers that you see on some forums and you sense amongst some bargoers. Bar owners and managers are not born with an innate sense of knowing how the bar industry works nor are they necessarily the nicest people around. There are some good guys out there, but there are plenty of rotten scoundrels too. I fully believe that to thrive in the bar industry – or let’s call it what it is, the prostitution business – you need a hard edge and that means you’re probably not the most likeable person. So why do so many people suck up to bar bosses?!
Bangkok’s best known private investigator Vincent Calvino is back in his latest adventure with the release this past week of the 16th book in the Calvino series by Christopher G. Moore, Jumpers. This time around, Calvino investigates the death of a friend, a Canadian painter. The medical examiner finds the young man has ingested an exit drug, and the police verdict of suicide seems justified. But in Bangkok appearances have a habit of deceiving and sometimes jumpers are given a leg up in their leap to the next life. Fingering the helper can be a risky business, and for Calvino this promises to be one of those times. The new Calvino is out in ebook form at just $7.95 and you can get it at Amazon. In the next week, a POD (print on demand) or paperback edition will also be available at $13.95.
Christmas is still several weeks away and at this time of year in Bangkok you’d expect shopping malls and various other public spots to have put up Christmas trees and Christmas carols would be playing. There’s been none of that so far this year.
In last week’s column I mentioned that the speed of Internet connections in Thailand is pretty good and I stand by that. But there is something that one of the largest Thai ISPs (Internet Service Providers) does which drives me up the wall. One ISP is known for caching pages – and that can be a problem. By caching pages, a copy of a webpage is saved on the ISP’s own server, presumably so the ISP can save costs on international bandwidth. What that means is that when you try to access some websites, the ISP might serve a cached copy of that website from its own server and not from the actual – and current – version from the actual server of the website. When this happens there is a chance what you see might be an older version of the site which could be anything from a few hours to a few days old – and not the current version. In the case of certain websites where the posted info is not time-sensitive / has not been edited or updated, this won’t matter but in the case of frequently updated websites like newspapers it is a problem. From the end user’s perspective, there are ways around this. It requires either begging your ISP to stop caching (fat chance in Thailand with that, at a guess) or using other servers to serve your web traffic – which isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing but for a technophobe it could prove a challenge. So if you’re in Thailand and the local ISP serves an old page but insists that it is current, you’re right, and not them. It’s true!
How often these days do you hear stories of Westerners buying a house upcountry for their betrothed and later losing it as she returns to her Thai darling or decides to upgrade to a wealthier guy? I don’t hear that many stories at all these days. In fact, how often do you hear of foreigners buying a house in their darling’s name at all these days? The dangers of doing so seem to be better understood these days.
And so I wonder if the homeless foreigner currently living in Benjakit Park – the park 500 metres down Rachadapisek Road from the Asoke intersection which is the best spot to exercise in downtown Bangkok – was perhaps discarded by a Thai girlfriend or wife? He looks rough and with a few weeks of facial hair growth he is going to look mighty scary to many Thais who often think those who are unshaven to be criminals. He has what appears to be his possessions in plastic bags placed next to him.
Good luck finding a toothbrush at the so-called international supermarkets in Thailand that is not soft or very soft bristled. I recently hunted through the international supermarkets and it seems the locals don’t care for hard bristled toothbrushes because I couldn’t find one anywhere. I don’t recall it being that way in the past.
Fewer customers in the bars is mirrored by what appears to be declining traffic on the few remaining Thailand sex tourist forums, where the quality of posts also appears to be in decline. One of the more popular forums can go a couple of hours without a single post, an eternity on a forum with decent traffic. It’s just another indicator that the sex tourism industry continues to be in a (very slow) decline. On another forum I notice the departure of a member who provided what I thought were the best posts in the forum’s history, helping out guys who wished to retire to Pattaya with comprehensive financial planning advice. The incredibly detailed replies to people who shared their financial situation provided the sort of plan that could help them fulfil their wish of retiring in Pattaya before it all
turns to shit changes. Users would provide details of their finances from their earnings to their savings to their assets to their monthly outgoings along with things like their age and when they wished to retire in Thailand and this one poster would provide incredibly detailed but very readable posts with advice outlining possible options. The detail and analysis was fantastic and the posts engaging, even for those of us who have zero interest in retiring in Pattaya. Sadly, this fellow was hounded on the forum by the usual bitter old bastards and it eventually reached the point where he felt that enough was enough and he did what many are doing and left the forum, requesting that all of his posts be removed. It’s sad to see how many forums have gone this way. As a friend said recently, Facebook may be a better option because you can choose whose posts you read and who is allowed to read you and you don’t have to put up with all of the idiots out there.
Reader’s story of the week is of the old bargirl done me wrong genre that was once so popular – this time it’s from Vietnam, “Miss Vung Tau“.
Quote of the week was overheard in a South Pattaya Road coffee house last weekend, “If you’ve got even a little bit of a nest egg, why would you want to retire in the UK?”
The 5-year sentence handed out to a Thai sexual predator is slammed by the American family of the victim.
The Bangkok Post reports that a single ticketing system for Bangkok’s skytrain and underground systems should be in place by mid-2017.
On Walking Street, a Kiwi objects to his ass being pinched by an Iranian and floors him.
Central World’s cool season beer garden and New Year celebrations have been cancelled.
An Aussie survives an elephant attack in Phuket.
An Aussie con man, said to be a former boiler room boy, who is wanted on kidnapping and torture changes, was spotted in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit soi 22 this week.
A survey by ThaiVisa shows that expats are not as happy in Thailand as they used to be, and that half of all expats considered leaving in the past year.
Two of England’s finest are caught shoplifting from a Family Mart store in Pattaya.
Question 1: I run a small online consulting business (working through the internet and phone). This business gives me a monthly income equal to 75,000 – 100,000 baht (before taxes) and requires only 20 hours of work a week. I have almost no costs for running this business and my customers are all entirely in my home country in Europe. How do I legally run this business in Thailand and what is required to do so? I will live in Thailand as a year-around expat and I also want to bill my customers through a Thai bank (Thai company?) to avoid the high taxes in my home country. (I am fully aware of the rules of my home country to legally become a non tax payer there). I also have a related question: I am currently 47 years old. When turning 50, is there any possibility to get a retirement visa and still run this business while staying in Thailand? If not, is it possible to have a retirement visa and still have a Thai company and to bill customers through this company, even though I’m not working in the company by myself anymore? Let´s say someone else does the work for me and I’m just the owner of the company? If so, does the one who work for me have to be placed in Thailand or can he / she be placed in another country?
Sunbelt Legal responds: If you wish to open a company in Thailand and bill companies through this business you must register a company. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in doing so and can walk you through the process. However, if you wish to have a business visa based on the company you will need four Thai employees and two million baht in registered capital. If you wish to manage this business you will need to have a non-B visa and obtain a work permit. You cannot have work permit on a retirement visa or retirement extension. All employees must be Thai, must be based in Thailand and you will need to pay into the social security system for these employees. It would be best to come into the offices or get in touch with Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors to discuss possible options for you, but these are the basic requirements.
Question 2: I was wondering if you could point me toward a reputable service to help me secure a US student visa for my wife’s niece who just recently graduated from high school in Nong Bua Lamphu.
Sunbelt Legal responds: Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can help you and your niece prepare all the required documents for a US student visa. For that we will require :
1. ID card.
2. House registration.
3. High School Diploma.
4. Program of study description.
5. Accommodation information.
6. Evidence of funds to cover tuition and living expenses for either the length of her study or one year, whichever is shorter.
Additional documents may be required upon request of the embassy.
Let me reiterate the first point I made in the news section this week. For those who enjoy the nightlife, you have been gifted an – albeit short – golden period, a temporary reprieve from the poor attitudes, high prices and general mediocrity that have blighted the industry for some years now. If you are one of those who lament the way the industry has changed, get yourself down to the bars now and enjoy this short golden period while it lasts. It might only be this way for another week or so!
Your Bangkok commentator,