Is the gogo bar business model broken? Do gogo bar owners need to rethink the way they operate, lest the low takings some bar bosses complain about today be looked back on in a couple of years as the halcyon days of yore?
The basic gogo bar business model hasn’t changed. Bar bosses have two things to sell – booze and barfines. It’s a simple business model that has worked well for a long time. But nothing stays the same and technology is bringing competition and changing the way so many businesses operate. Gogo bars aren’t exempt.
It’s not that long ago that gogo bar dancers were the biggest earners in the nightlife industry. Typically, gogo dancers earned more than massage parlour workers, and much more than freelancers. And everyone made more than the poor old beer bar girls. Gogo bars, massage parlours, freelancer bars and beer bars…that was it.
Today the industry is much more diverse and ladies have so many more options. There are dozens of escort services in Bangkok alone and their popularity has soared in recent years. Online personals ads like CraigsList and BackPage have a following. There are numerous Thailand-centric dating websites which are not strictly places for prostitutes – but working girls have found that they can do well by adding their profile alongside ladies who are looking for a boyfriend and wouldn’t dream of accepting money for sex. Ditto Tinder which increasingly has more sex workers. There are more freelancer venues than ever. In other words, today there are many more choices for a lady who has chosen to make money selling her body.
Despite the attractive money to be made by gogo dancers, many working girls see gogo bar work as low-end. The idea that a lady is willing to dance naked or semi-naked and show her body to a bunch of strangers is something most Thai ladies are not comfortable with; some even find it distasteful. Many Thais consider dancing naked on stage to be degrading whereas the idea of having sex with a stranger for money is while perhaps not admirable, certainly understandable. Showing their body in public is not easy for most ladies to get their head around.
Gogo dancer salaries vary from bar to bar and range from less than 10,000 baht to well over 20,000 baht per month. The bigger, more popular bars tend to pay more and the less a lady wears on stage, generally the more she is paid.
So gogo dancers make a basic monthly salary, and also earn money from lady drink and barfine commissions.
Of course, the real pay-day comes when she goes back to a guy’s hotel room.
The rules vary from bar to bar to bar, but generally gogo dancers only get two nights off a month – and if they take off any more than that their salary is cut. The amount they are cut can be unreasonably harsh.
A lady who earns a salary of, say, 12,000 baht per month, is being paid, on average, 400 baht per day. But for every night beyond the two nights she is allowed off that she does not turn up for work, she may be cut a figure much higher, often several hundred baht. So if she misses 5 days of work over and above the two she is allowed, she would be cut 3,500 baht. That hardly seems fair. And if she misses a busy night like Friday or Saturday night she might be cut 1,000 baht for each of those nights, or more. Failing to turn up for work over peak holiday periods can see a lady cut of up to 4,000 baht per night which is outrageously harsh – and this is not lost on the ladies.
Many bars impose a quota of barfines and lady drinks that each lady must achieve in a calendar month. If these quotas aren’t reached, again, her salary is cut.
The cuts and penalties don’t end there. In many bars ladies are cut if they arrive late. A bar opening its doors at 8:00 PM might require ladies to clock in by 7:00 or 7:30 PM. Every minute a lady is late she is cut between 1 and 5 baht, so a lady who is an hour late is cut 300 baht – far beyond the amount she would have earned had she been on time.
In recent years even more rules have been put in place in some bars. There are venues which cut ladies who do not return to the bar within an hour of leaving the bar after she has been barfined. No wonder so many customers complain about rushed experiences in the hotel room. This is a major point of contention for many girls and the whole bedroom experience can be rushed due to the constraints put on her by the bar and the way she is forced to return quickly or face further penalty.
There are bars which cut ladies who wear knickers under their skirt when they’re having their period if the bar’s concept is, for example, knickerless dancing. Girls who don’t move from dance pole to dance pole fast enough and girls who don’t have their makeup done or hair made up by a certain time are also cut in some bars.
In defence of bar bosses who feel the need to impose these rules and harsh penalties, many Thais push boundaries and the absence of any punishment would make it a free for all.
Girls hate these penalties and some are choosing to work elsewhere, or opt to work for an agency where they are paid a day rate for the nights they work. That’s one reason why so many ladies have elected to work as coyote dancers instead of gogo dancers. Many coyote dancers work with an agency and earn a day rate, usually in the range of 500 – 1,000 baht per day. They can come and go as they like and they aren’t cut for the days they don’t go to work – they simply don’t earn anything that day.
In recent times some gogo bars have increased gogo dancer salaries to over 20,000 baht per month in an effort to retain existing staff and recruit new.
The problem bar owners of today face is in some ways historic and in other ways related to technology. Many bar bosses have mistreated the girls over the years, imposed strict rules enforced with harsh penalties. And technology has given the girls many more options.
The gogo bar business model has traditionally been in the owners’ favour and in the days when ladies were only barfined several times per month, the monthly salary was a big part of what they earned. Things have changed and now the salary from the bar makes up a much smaller part of their total earnings. As the girls realise they have options, they are turning their backs on chrome pole bars.
Many gogo bars are struggling to retain staff. Unless they change their ways and play fair with the girls, they will struggle to maintain staff numbers as the girls exercise other options. The girls have all the power now and they are exercising that power.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week’s photo was taken on Bamrung Meaung Road in the old part of the city, not far from the Giant Swing. It’s a street that features stores with large Buddha statues outside along with many temple supplies shops. Something a bit different this week with today’s photo taken outside of Bangkok (but in Thailand).
FROM STICK’S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.)
Thailand’s naughty nightlife on YouTube.
I’m curious if you’ve seen all the clips going up recently of the bar scene on YouTube. Guys walk around with cameras filming everything and sometimes secretly film inside the bars. This is not exactly new, but the amount of footage on YouTube is quite striking. Browsing through one of the videos I found a comment by a Japanese guy asking for a video to be taken down as it had caught his friend in Thermae. I don’t really see anyway to completely stop this, but no doubt it will have a negative effect on the industry if guys know that there is a decent chance they’ll be on YouTube holding hands with a lady of the night in a sketchy Thai bar. Here is a good example filmed inside the Thermae. <Modern video cameras and small video recording devices that can be concealed produce amazing quality these days. I would expect the trend to continue and more videos from inside bars where recording is supposed to be forbidden will end up on YouTube – Stick>
Technology replacing service industry jobs.
I took my son to the revamped Big C mall in North Pattaya, which is now called Central Marina. We ate at the new MK Suki which now has touchscreens at the tables for ordering. I had heard of these touchscreens popping up in the US in response to increased minimum wages, but was surprised to see something like this in Pattaya where salaries are pretty low. It was a great experience, but a little scary thinking about the effects of technology on future job markets.
Woodstock Nana Plaza, a history lesson.
In your 22/1/17 article you stated that “Woodstock may have been the first bar in what is now Nana Plaza but Bob’s places lay claim to be being the first girly bars“. In fact in the ’80s, Woodstock was a girly bar. It had a good selection of girls, many of whom could really dance. Woodstock may also lay claim to having been the originators of the dance competitions, as the bar used to hold them fairly regularly. The competitions were open to any Bangkok bargirl and the rivalry was intense and very raunchy. On competition nights the bar was packed to the rafters. If memory serves, it was necessary to purchase one or two drinks at the door but you also received a free Woodstock T-shirt. Judging was by a panel that I recall at least once included Trink. Sadly, the 4 owners of the bar eventually decided that managing the girls was just too much hassle and changed the format to what it was in the later years.
Contrasting Nana and Cowboy.
Cowboy was busy last night, at least out on the street. It has a very different vibe than Nana and is actually more classy. You have all the girls out in outfits looking good trying to entice ’em in. At Nana you have girls sitting along the balcony with their crap strewn about, leftover meals and the sorts, and staring at their phones.
Tax return, Thai-style.
This week’s column about Jake and his efforts to stay legal reminds me of an incident that happened to me. I was teaching at a school in Phuket when one day the owner of the school said that she had done my taxes and I would receive a 5,000 baht refund. She gave me a copy that showed my refund. Great! About a month later I asked the owner where my refund was. She said it’s gone! Only in Thailand!
Intellectual stimulation in the Land of Smiles.
The difficulty finding intellectual stimulation is one of the reasons I doubt I’ll settle in Thailand. In my 3-month trip to Thailand last fall I did have one intellectually stimulating date. With a Korean woman educated in Switzerland and the USA. My Thai gal pals and lady friends are real sweethearts, but that’s just not enough for me. On that trip I also visited Taiwan, where I met a great gal. However, she’s quite sharp and my numerous trips to Thailand might actually kill our budding relationship. I even went to a mixer with other Bangkok expats and met some nice and interesting people, but intellectually stimulating? Not so much. Except for one woman. Guess where from? Taiwan.
Making the most of visa runs.
I feel sorry for your friend Jake that he needs to risk his safety and health to do border runs. I don’t know the man, but you say he is of retiree visa age and professional, so life is too short to subject yourself to that. I know a few expats in Thailand who need to do visa runs. They decided to make the best of a bad situation rather than suffer. They plan 3-day getaways during the visa run time, getting a cheap flight, cheap hotel room, and visit interesting places in the region like Vietnam, Burma and Laos. There are plenty of inexpensive flights and they all seem very happy to have given up sitting in cramped vans driven by maniacs.
Girl Of The Week
Goy, dancer, Lighthouse, Soi Cowboy
Lighthouse in Soi Cowboy is continuing its fabulous Wednesday night special when most drinks are 100 baht all night long. (Only Corona, cider, cocktails and lady drinks are not included.)
The number of dancers at Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy has swelled which in turn has seen an increase in customers. The word is that Dollhouse has a real party vibe.
On the subject of Dollhouse, a funny observation reached me about the Nanapong dance contest held there last weekend. One of the judges must have been a veteran of the Nanapong events and he went along prepared, taking a raincoat with him! As the raunch ratchets up on stage, various props are provided to the girls including beer, milk, yoghurt, cream, to say nothing of certain other fluids that have been known to play a part. The judges don’t just get splashed, they often find themselves the target as drunken girls go wild. What a brilliant photo that would be, a bunch of Thai girls going wild on a gogo bar stage with beer being sprayed everywhere, and a judge sitting ringside in a raincoat!
The disaster that is EQ (ground floor of the Nana Hotel / what was once the great Nana Disco) continues. EQ has transitioned from a late-night venue called Equality with a mix of ladyboys and genuine ladies to a freelancer bar with coyote dancers. Entering EQ today feels like stepping in to the heart of Nigeria as the denizens of that dodgy sub-soi off soi 3 have found a new place to hang out on soi 4. If that’s your scene, you’ll love EQ.
Mandarin in Nana Plaza will host another Wild Wild West Party this coming Friday, February 17th. Consensus is that the last Wild West-themed night was a winner. The DJ will play real American country music, there will be a western buffet and a prize with each drink ordered.
Valentine’s Day is a big deal in Thailand and the Thais love any excuse to get dressed up, party and have fun. Expect to see bars and restaurants throwing parties all over town this coming Tuesday. Billboard in Nana Plaza will host Love and Chocolate on Valentine’s Day featuring 99-baht champagne flutes. And you will be able to feed the girls strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue! It’s great to see bar owners putting some thought in to parties and doing something original. Doors open at 8:00 PM.
The Stumble Inn Group is offering free shots and lots of love from the girls in all of their venues – Stumble Inn, Big Dogs, Lucky Luke’s Tiki Bar, Nana Plaza Beer Garden, Temptations, Cockatoo and Mercury. That’s one free shot per customer at each of the Stumble Inn Group venues on Valentine’s Day. I guess that means if you floated around all of their venues you could end up with several free shots. There you go, cheap Charlies, score!
As a reminder, if you like any of the bars or restaurants in the small sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 11, that is the soi with Charley Brown’s, Cheap Charlie’s etc., that you should drop by soon as the soi is going to be levelled to make way for a new development and all businesses in the soi need to stop trading by March 31st. Tapas will concentrate on their branch in Silom Soi 4. Snapper, Alchemist and Moghul Room have all closed already. Chez Pape aren’t sure what they’re doing. The soi 11 clinic which was once considered the place to go for Bangkok expats with STDs hasn’t found a new location but is looking. Bangkok’s longest running Mexican restaurant Charley Brown’s continues in the current soi and has found a new location in Sukhumvit soi 19 to which it will relocate later on. Cheap Charlie’s wants to stay on Soi 11 but I can’t imagine where it would go. That leaves Stash, Gallery 11 and the big Thai place at the end whose respective plans remain unknown.
It’s several months since the owners of CheckInn99 were given short notice to vacate the premises, yet the premises and the alley behind have yet to be redeveloped. In the same area there is a large sign stating the market has 17 days to operate after which time fake sex pills and dildos cannot be sold. How long has that sign been there?!
For fetishists in Pattaya, The Castle now opens daily from midday with entrance in the afternoon made from the small soi, “Sodom Castle”. There will be at least 2 ladies (a mistress and a slave) waiting for customers keen for a bit of afternoon delight, or is that afternoon depravity?
And for Bangkok fetish fans, Demonia in Sukhumvit soi 33 will celebrate its 14th anniversary with a party this coming weekend, February 18th and 19th. Fetish bars are an acquired taste and drinks pricing is not consistent with what you find in other venues – which, suffice to say, is an indirect way of saying they are damn expensive! Still, it’s the sort of thing anyone fascinated by Bangkok’s nightlife probably wants to see at least once.
The Strip in Patpong soi 2 is a bar I have had a long association with, going all the way back to 2008. It’s a bar I have taken more photos in than probably any other and I feel like it is a bar that I have had more good nights out in than any other. Change is coming to The Strip. For the past year the popular gogo bar has been run by a Brit and an American. The Brit departed this week and the Yank will depart next month, at which point the bar will revert to the group which runs Bar Bar and Black Pagoda. They’re good, experienced operators but one does wonder how the change in management will affect not just the vibe in The Strip, but also the staff. The Brit was candid and brutally honest in explaining to me the reasons why he is not just stepping down from his role at The Strip, but why he is leaving the bar industry for good:
1) Running a go-go bar is hard work. To run a bar successfully requires a total commitment and it means being around. Most, if not all of the time. Patpong is not the most desirable place in the world to spend one’s time and the thrill of being around girls and alcohol has long worn off for me.
2) Running a go-go bar is not good for your health. One hears stories of this bar owner dropping dead and that bar owner meeting some terrible end and when you see the exposure to drugs, alcohol and enough smoke to cure a kipper every night you can understand why. I regularly get home at 5 AM and am in bed as the sun comes up, only to rise early afternoon and get ready to begin the cycle again.
3) Running a go-go bar is a risky business. In the past few years I have seen major Police raids resulting in owners having to cough up in excess of a million baht to stay open and some have ongoing cases in the courts.
Considering all of the above, I believe that if you want to be in this business you need to be making a good deal of money. Over 300,000 THB a month, in my view. If you are working for a wage, then I don’t think you’re fully evaluating the risks to your health, well-being and the potential financial disaster that may befall you if it all goes wrong.
It’s not just bars which host events on Valentine’s Day, many Bangkok restaurants put on special menus for lovers. While I don’t doubt that the food is great, I have often felt the pricing for some Valentine’s Day specials is over the top. I don’t mind paying decent money for a good night out but when you see the so-called special deals that are two or even three times what you’d pay in a similar venue here in New Zealand, I scratch my head and wonder.
One venue which offers great food and excellent value for money is Margarita Storm on the corner of soi 13 on Sukhumvit Road. It will celebrate Valentine’s Day with two special menus. The Love In The Country menu features a Caesar salad, two grass-fed Australian strip loin steaks with sides and Valentine’s Day sundaes, all for just 995++ per couple. They also have a Love In The City menu with onion rings and chicken wings, pizza supreme and Valentine’s Day sundaes for just two for 495 ++ per couple. These prices are per couple – a great deal!
Why is it that when you rent in a condo in Bangkok you often get reasonable furniture, a nice – often very good – TV but almost always end up with a terrible bed? That’s how it has been in most of the condos I rented in Bangkok. Some of the beds you get in furnished condos are shockers and feel like they’ve been designed by someone who bombed their chiropractor exams. In a cheap condo I would expect a cheap bed but when you’re paying 25,000, 30,000 baht or more a month, surely it’s reasonable to expect a reasonable bed, and not something that cost just a few thousand baht?! And it’s not like you can’t buy a reasonable bed in Thailand for not a lot of money. I never understood why a condo owner would spend 30,000+ baht on a decent flat-screen TV but only a few thousand baht on the cheapest bed they could find.
I threw out some old clothes recently and for the most part those items destined for the bin were made in China or New Zealand. Of all of the Thailand-manufactured clothes I have – much of my wardrobe – not one item was discarded. I’m generally no great fan of things made in Thailand but when it comes to clothes, my experience has been that Thai-made stuff bought in mid-range stores like Central, Robinson’s wears well, keeps its shape and retains its colour.
Reader’s story of the week comes from Pattaya Gary, “Night Fighters“.
Tragedy in Phuket after an Aussie couple riding jet skis collide and she dies.
The parents of the lady who died in the tragic jet ski accident on Phuket say it was just that, an accident.
The driver of a visa run van falls asleep – and the inevitable happens.
Single-entry tourist visas for Thailand will remain free until August.
Five foreign tourists are left stranded by their tour bus and their cash is stolen.
Philippine cybercriminals are targeting men in Hong Kong with sextortion.
A Canadian who robbed a Singapore bank is still being held in prison in Thailand on charges of failing to declare cash brought in to the country.
Ask Sunbelt Legal
Sunbelt Legal Advisors is here to answer your legal questions related to Thailand. Send in any questions to me and I will forward them to Sunbelt and run their answer in the next column.
Question 1: I believe there have been a lot of topics on the (im)possibility of owning land in Thailand without being a Thai citizen. However, I would appreciate some advice on the following: I have been in a relationship with a Thai woman for about 5 years. Although there is still progress in the relationship, we have not married yet. Recently, a good opportunity emerged to buy property in the countryside: 3 rai of land in an area which one might call an unspoiled village. Prices have been increasing over the past 5 years with good reason: the area is beautiful, laid-back and in close proximity to a town with all modern shops. We are planning to buy this land for investment or perhaps even for retirement or to settle down if business back at home is good. One more variable that might make things more complicated: all the land in the area has not officially been registered (“no official paper”, is what I hear from Thai people). When a patch of land is transferred, police and town officials (secretary and prefect) sign it off to complete the transfer, which is normal practice in that area. In the next 5 years, local people expect that the government will make an analysis to register the area in an official way. Being the major sponsor in this deal, I am wondering if there is anything that can be done to prevent this investment of mine from vaporising if anything changes in the near future (change of regulations, relationship going downhill, etc.)? Is there a way to have a legal position as an investor of property, without actually having it registered in your name (which seems to be very difficult in Thailand)?
Sunbelt Legal responds: It is illegal for a foreigner to purchase land of any kind of registration in Thailand. Any money you gave your girlfriend for the purchase you would have to sign a document stating you have no rights to the property.
While unregistered land can be bought and sold by a Thai national with a sales contract with the head of the sub-district signing as a witness, the land has to be checked with the Land Department because there are several kinds of “unregistered” lands. This is to ensure that this is not government land. If it turns out to be government land then it can be taken back later by the government and the “owner” will have no claim to it.
If you purchased unregistered land you can’t have your name on the title as leasing it or as a usufructuary. So, you would have no legal recourse on this land if you went ahead with the purchase.
If she is intent on purchasing this piece of land, the best way to protect yourself is to lend her money and she gives you collateral. If it is land that you can live on that you are interested in, Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors only recommends land with a chanote title on which you can have a lease or usufruct.
Question 2: My Thai wife and I will relocate permanently to Thailand in 2018. We have a lot of furniture and household items that we would like to take with us, ranging from sofas to beds to TVs to appliances etc. These are high-quality items and we wouldn’t get much money selling them here and it would cost a small fortune to buy the same or similar in Thailand. Finding a company that will move all our stuff to Thailand is easy, but what are the considerations with regards to Customs clearance & duty? These are all our personal belongings, are all used and none are for resale. Also, if we wanted to take our car, what are the ins and outs of that? Is duty payable? It would be a 3-year old Japanese sedan that we have had since new.
Sunbelt Legal responds: Regardless of whether or not it is a Thai national, customs and duty will be charged on used / second-hand household effects brought in to Thailand in reasonable quantities. It is necessary that the items have been owned and used in the country where you lived before moving to Thailand.
Electrical appliances can be imported but only one unit of each type of item is eligible for duty exemption. If it is a family then two items of each type are allowed.
It is key that the items be imported not earlier than one month before and not more than 6 months after the arrival of the applicants.
Importing a Japanese car is more problematic. An import permit is required from the Foreign Trade Department of the Ministry of Commerce, Tel. 02-5474804. For vehicles with a weight of less than 3.5 tons, the importer needs to obtain an import permit from the Industrial Standards Institute as well.
You can import only one used vehicle for personal use. If you are a non-resident not married to a Thai national then you must be in Thailand for at least one year and present a non-Immigrant visa and hold a work permit at the time of importation.
If the importer is a Thai resident married to a foreigner, he / she is required to present evidence of marriage and proof of changing residence to Thailand. Also, the importer has to own and possess the imported vehicle for at least one and a half years overseas, from the date of transferring the ownership to the date of arrival in Thailand. If the importer is a Thai resident only then the one and a half years overseas ownership requirement is still in place plus they need to show a driver’s license.
I enjoy interviewing well-known expats and expat characters with a story to tell. But it’s not the same when I am not there in Thailand. I can always do a Q&A by email but nothing beats doing an interview in person and letting the conversation take its own course, rather than putting a dozen questions to someone by email and running their responses.
There are some expats for whom there would be a real upside in being featured and interviewed in this column. It would raise their profile and generate website traffic for them, exposing them to thousands of new readers – the sort of targeted exposure that would be hard to come by through other means. That is one reason why I am surprised at those who have turned down interview requests as well as others who mucked me around when I expressed interest in interviewing them.
The one we call The Arab agreed to my interview request several years ago but just as I was leaving the condo to go and meet him, he sent a message to say that I could not publish it and his story was only for me. Duh, what good is that?!
I have tried to interview Dave The Rave numerous times but due to a combination of the paranoid folks he was previously employed by as well as his preference to avoid the spotlight, it never happened. Dave’s story gets more interesting by the year and I am still keen to interview you, Dave….and you can’t use your current bosses as an excuse because at last you’re working for the good guys.
And then there was the interview request I sent to Thailand’s best-known farang investigative journalist, to which he responded 14 months later saying that he was ok to go ahead with it. I then sent off a bunch of questions and never heard from him again!
I do have plans to carry out some interviews and run them in upcoming columns but that has to wait until I am next in Thailand, whenever that may be.
Your Bangkok commentator,