Stickman's Weekly Column December 2nd, 2018

Billboard, Still The Best


It has consistently been one of the most popular gogo bars in Bangkok in recent years and over the last couple has been regarded by many as the best bar of its type in Bangkok, and for that matter probably the country. It’s the second largest bar in Nana Plaza and despite its long, rather awkward shape and its location on the top floor, punters still flock there. Welcome to Billboard, still widely considered Bangkok’s best gogo bar.

 

 

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Billboard recently celebrated its third year anniversary under current management and collector’s item glasses were made.

It is some years since Billboard was created by the Nana Group, which at the time owned close to half of all the gogo bars in Nana Plaza. But in the bar industry things change fast. Billboard was good when the Nana Group ran it, but it is the current owners who acquired it a little over 3 years ago who have really taken it to the next level.

 

 

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So why is Billboard so good? It’s a combination of things but ultimately it comes back to the girls and the vibe.

 

 

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Billboard has done amazingly well in recruiting at a time when many bars have struggled to find staff, any staff. Billboard not only has a huge number of dancers, there’s none of the fatties, oldies or those who really just shouldn’t be seen on a gogo bar stage.

It’s a cliché, but Billboard is one of few bars that really does feel like the old days – wherever you look there are heaps and heaps of slim ladies dancing.

 

 

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The bar’s management is quite choosy about who it hires – and while there are plenty of mothers dancing, those who exhibit the tell-tale signs of having given birth are sent on their way and end up in the likes of Spanky’s.

 

 

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On Friday and Saturday nights, there can be over 130 girls dancing in Billboard.

 

 

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Billboard had easily the best lineup of all the bars I stopped by this trip – although it should be pointed out that as I don’t care for the atmosphere at Bacarra (the haughtiness of the girls, the fact you have to buy a drink before you enter and that if you’re not Japanese you’re largely invisible), I did not venture inside so I cannot make a comparison.

 

 

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And business-wise, those in the know say that perhaps only Bacarra is doing a similar level of business to Billboard. Crazy House has long been surpassed by Billboard.

 

 

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Miss Donut, one of the more popular dancers.

Billboard peaks early and is usually full from around 9:30 PM. That’s when the girls start being picked off – so if you are shopping, you really ought to get there before 9:30 PM.

 

 

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Donut is beckoning you to join her in the spa pool!

The layout of the bar has remained unchanged. It’s not a flaw per se, but the bar’s layout is kind of awkward. There is a large tub with a small dance floor next to it on one side of the bar with seating all around it. On the other side of the bar is a large rotating carousel-style dance floor. There’s seating between the two dance floors as well as the usual seating next to the wall and some tiered seating. Ideally, you should be able to see all dancers from wherever you are sitting, but as is the case with long bars, if you’re at one end you’ll need binoculars to see dancers at the other end. But given that there are so many attractive girls and the vibe is so good, you don’t hear anyone complaining.

 

 

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The tub still gets the smaller-framed, younger-looking girls while the carousel gets those who prefer to keep their gear on.

 

 

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The best time of the night is early evening when for a few songs all the girls are either in the tub or on a dance floor. It’s a quite unreal scene and on the busiest night close to 150 girls can be bouncing around in front of you. It’s a cliché, I know, but it really is just like the old days!

 

 

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One area where the bar scene has gone backwards in my opinion is the music played, but Billboard seems to get this right. The playlist is mainly modern but without any of that car alarm noise that too many bars play.

 

 

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Billboard kicks off at 8:00 PM sharp with not quite a full contingent, but most girls ready for duty. While most bars in the plaza get going around 8:00, some have barely a handful of girls on stage, but Billboard is full speed ahead from the get-go.

 

 

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For those looking to play, Billboard has a tiered barfine system. Take a lady out for a short time and it’ll set you back 700 baht. Take her all night long and the barfine is 1,000 baht.

 

 

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Some of the girls in Billboard have been fixtures in the bar for a few years, but few seem to be hardened in the way that some of the veterans of some other bars are.

 

 

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Miss Milk is still only early 20s but is a veteran of Billboard and someone I have photographed before. Miss Donut too.

Milk is probably the most photogenic lady I have shot since Bonnie, of Bangkok Escorts fame who I first shot 4 years or so ago. And just like Milk, Bonnie is still around…

 

 

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As attractive as they are, the ladies featured in this week’s Billboard photo essay are not the most attractive ladies in the bar, but simply the 6 ladies the bar made available for a photo shoot. In other words, there are plenty more attractive ladies to be found in the bar.

 

 

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Just as it is difficult to compare sportsmen from different eras, so it is with bars too. How would Pele perform today against Messi or Ronaldo? Which begs the question, how good is Billboard – probably the best bar in Bangkok in recent years – compared to, say, Tilac, arguably the best bar of the last decade?

 

 

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As good as Billboard is, I remember Tilac as being more fun. Billboard today has probably more pretty dancers than Tilac did, but Tilac was just good, plain fun. At its height, the girls in Tilac showered customers with attention. That doesn’t happen in Billboard or for that matter, any gogo bar these days. If you want attention you have to pay for it – and keep paying for it. There is no illusion these days and the girls are there to make money. All power to them, but perhaps they have taken it just a little bit too far and the enjoyment just isn’t there like it used to be. At least that’s how I see it.

 

 

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Many agree that Billboard is currently the most popular bar in Bangkok of its type – and by some margin. It has been consistently popular for years and the American couple running it are doing a magnificent job. Long may it continue!

 

 

 

Billboard Bangkok

 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit Road, opposite the original branch of Villa Market, near Sukhumvit soi 33. Only 4 people got it right. The one and only clue I’ll give for this week’s photo is that a year or two ago this area was rather more built up than it is in this shot. If you’re a Sukhumvit barfly, you’ve probably walked past here many times….

 

 

 

Lighthouse Soi Cowboy

 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.  Please note the following: The emails to Stick section is your chance to have your say. There is no fixed criteria for choosing which emails to publish and at the end of the day it is at my discretion. Emails responding to anything in the previous week’s column, informative emails or humourous stories are those most likely to make the cut. It should be noted that emails are edited for brevity and names (of people and businesses) are often removed. If you email me and for any reason don’t want your email published, please say so in the email.

A good time to buy a Bangkok condo?

The condo building going on in Bangkok is interesting. As an economist, I regularly wonder what lays in store for the world economy given that we are definitely quite late in the business cycle. However, one thing is for certain, a downturn is coming at some stage, it’s just a matter of when. Subsequently, I do wonder about the stability of the Bangkok condo market given the rampant prices and oversupply. It’s almost as if people have forgotten the lessons of the Asian Economic Crisis where building was ongoing right until the end despite the lack of willing punters ready and willing to buy. Now obviously, Thailand doesn’t currently experience the same external currency pressures as it did back then due to most bonds being now priced in THB and the fact that their foreign currency reserves are fairly substantial so a currency crisis is unlikely. However, sharp falls in trade, in particular in tourism and vehicle / car parts could pitch the country into a recession which is concerning given the fact that a trade war between the U.S. and China is in the offing. So I question how stable the property market is likely to be in the future during a downturn. Let’s just say, at those prices and where we are in the cycle, I wouldn’t be buying at the top end of town. Anyway, just my 2 cents on what risk factors are looming.

Suitcase draggers.

You make the point about dragging luggage vs. a taxi, but really you answered your own question with your opening on traffic. I’m currently in the Phachara Suites on soi 6 and the soi is a traffic nightmare now. It’s the main turning back on to Sukhumvit Road from Nana. Unfortunately, it’s narrow and one-way (unless you’re Thai), blocked by taxis camping outside hotels and in the evening home to returning Chinese tour buses. These bad boy tour buses can barely get down the soi without clipping taxis and at the corner it’s surprising they can turn. It’s often a 10-minute job to get around with the traffic backing up accordingly. It really is easier and faster to skytrain and lug your baggage to your hotel. Mind you, the skytrain is not what it was. The new computer ticketing is confusing the hell out of people and resulting in big lines at the ticketing office. On Thursday I went to Asiatique and had to wait for no less than 4 trains to get on at Siam. Even then it felt dangerously overcrowded (and don’t even get me started on how many people they crammed on the boats). It will end in tears.

Chinese and suitcases.

Don’t talk about mainland Chinese and their wheelie suitcases. I live in Hong Kong and we are flooded with them. However there is more chance of seeing them checking in to a pharmacy than a hotel. They use the cases for shopping and fill them with stuff like tins of baby formula and other health products that may, shall we say, exceed the safety standards of similar items offered at home. Only a few years ago there were fatalities on the mainland resulting from poisoned baby milk. Needless to say, with these visitors skidding around everywhere and emptying popular outlets, they are not too welcome with the locals.

Keep your boarding pass handy, business and first-class passengers.

I flew in to Suwannaphum Airport this morning and having been in business class went through the premium lane. All fine but I was asked for my boarding card to corroborate. It was then I saw the sign requesting first and business passengers to show their boarding pass. First time I’ve seen that and who knows how long it will continue but one to note to have it handy for your readers who use that lane.

Farang double standards.

I’ve noticed that an awful lot of farangs are highly supportive and even positively gleeful when the police racially profile Africans in the Sukhumvit area because many are dealing drugs. There’s no doubt about this and I welcome it too. However, when the police racially profile white farangs, they seem to take great umbrage. They’re incensed at being stopped and searched for narcotics and piss-tested at the roadside or the station even though the police KNOW that they’re the ones buying coke and ice off the Africans. Sorry, but if it’s ok to profile blacks, why isn’t it ok to profile whites? I mean, let’s cut the bullshit – Thais don’t make a pilgrimage to lower Sukhumvit to buy ice or yaba off African drug dealers on the most CCTV-saturated street in the city, do they? Thais buy off other Thais – period. It’s white people buying the drugs so they’re a fair target. The way I see it, if the police want to approach the drug problem by tackling those selling and those buying, why shouldn’t they? Welcome to the non-PC world, fellas.

 

 

 

Nana Plaza

 

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Mr. Farang sleeping underneath the steps leading up to the Nana skytrain station.

 

A tall, balding, perhaps 60-odd-year-old Farang was sleeping under the steps leading up to the Nana skytrain station near The Game and Sukhumvit soi 11 for much of last week. He didn’t look to be in bad shape and wasn’t anywhere near as rough as some of the other foreigners who have spent time on the streets of Bangkok over the years. There was none of the usual tell-tale evidence of empty Chang bottles nearby. Who knows what his story is, and how long he has been there – or even if he is still there now. Hopefully by the time this column is published someone has come to his aid.

It’s not just Bangkok where the high season came early this year. In Phuket, a good mate tells me the masses have arrived early. Facing hordes of Russians and Chinese descending on the island, he did what I did in Bangkok and got out of Dodge. High season crowds are what bar owners wait for but that doesn’t mean they are to everyone’s liking.

The Pickled Liver – the British pub at the end of Sukhumvit soi 7/1 – has been sold. Founder Nick is sorry to have let his pub go but at the same time he is also relieved to have sold it. Who is the new owner?, the peeps are asking. The group once known as Eclipse? No. The Nana Group? No! The Stumble Inn Group? No! Who knows?!

From last night’s Nanapong contest which featured girls from Dollhouse Bangkok and Angelwitch, dancers from Dollhouse placed 1st and 3rd and a lady from Angelwitch was 2nd. For the dancers from Angelwitch it was their first ever Nanapong event and they had no clue what was expected and ended up doing modified versions of the Angelwitch shows, with ping-pong balls and ice projectiles added. One dancer from Angelwitch was having so much fun she was dancing throughout the bar, including climbing and sliding down the long pole on the back stage, hanging from the rafters and even dancing while the Dollhouse team was on stage. Some females in the audience (not bargirls) really got in to it and had their tits out including one white bird, and one female in the audience even climbed on stage to join the orgy action. Come the final round and the Angelwitch girls proved to be fast learners and were full on with Team Dollhouse. It was so good that the final round that was to be a 3-song set went on for 5 songs. Sounds like a lot of fun was had by all!

Sexy Night is the latest bar in Nana Plaza to increase the price of a barfine. There seemed to be a lot of this going on when I was in town and I’d speculate that some bar owners have been buoyed by high season starting early and have thrown caution to the wind and increased barfine rates. What’s another 100 baht to someone whose total holiday spend might be a few thousand dollars, right? The barfine in Sexy Night has gone up from 800 to 900 baht.

Shark in Soi Cowboy has reverted to a what I will term a Farang-oriented gogo bar. Today, Shark has fewer girls with a look the Asian guys like (softer features, fairer skin, bleached hair) and as such Shark is attracting fewer Asian dudes. It has changed the feel of Shark bar markedly and it should appeal more to Westerners now. Whether this change in personnel is by design or by accident, I don’t know but I suspect the latter. As a side note, #363 in Shark caught my eye.

Crazy House is doing what I think more bars will do going forward – charging an entry fee. To enter Crazy House the cost is 340 baht – for which you receive two coupons, each redeemable for a drink. How long has this policy been in place? A while now, it seems, perhaps as long as a few months (which is one downside of writing this column from outside the country; I find out about stuff like this late). But the entry fee is not universal and regulars / big spenders known to the bar don’t have to pay. And as has been printed in this column in recent weeks, some ethnicities like Indians may be asked to pay more.

And speaking of Crazy House which some of our Indian friends have reported insists they pay an even higher entry fee, I am hearing other bars are insisting on a similar entry fee when Indians show up. My advice to the many Indian readers: let me know which bars do this and which say they are a private members club and I’ll publish it so you guys know.

It is almost 10 years since I stuck my neck out and said Tilac was the best Bangkok gogo bar by a fair margin. Today it probably would not make the top 10 gogo bars in Bangkok – but there’s nothing unusual in that as bars don’t stay top of the pops forever. I stopped by Tilac for old time’s sake last week but one drink was enough and I disappeared quickly before positive memories of what Tilac once was are marred by what it has become. One nice surprise at Tilac is the service staff – who seem to be almost exactly the same crew as 10+ years ago. There were very few new faces amongst the service staff, amazing given the turnover in the industry.

Something special could be building at Dollhouse. It’s as if the stars are all lining up at once and the bar has a really good lineup at present. I just wish that decent drinks in Dollhouse weren’t so pricey. 190 baht for a Jack + soda in a small tumbler ain’t a good deal.

Speaking of drinks prices, what are the typical prices for drinks in Bangkok gogo bars these days? Spanky’s in Nana Plaza has posted a full drinks price list outside the bar and these prices are typical of the prices in many gogo bars in Bangkok these days.

 

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Bacarra in Soi Cowboy is popular with the Japanese, is the only Bangkok gogo bar with 3 levels and is known for putting smaller-framed dancers on the top floor and dressing them in schoolgirl uniforms. But the fantasy that these girls could really be schoolgirls is lost by the fact that many of the girls dressed in school uniform are covered in tramp stamps. I mean, seriously, how many Thai schoolgirls have a tattoo, let alone are covered in them as many of the girls dancing on the top floor of Bacarra are?!

On the subject of tramp stamps AKA tattoos – one of my pet hates – it seems to me that the percentage of ladies in the gogo bars with tattoos has not changed much. Probably around half or so of the ladies have a tattoo, but the trend I note these days is that many ladies with tattoos – especially younger ladies – don’t just have one but have many. And these tattoos are often on body parts that would make it very hard for the tattoo to be concealed. That might not sound like such a big deal in 2018 but Thailand remains very class and image-conscious so getting tattoos on parts of your body where they cannot be easily covered draws attention and invites speculation.

I heard more stories when I was in town about crazy prices being quoted in the gogo bars by dancers who are pressured in to splitting their fee with mamabitches. You read that right: there is the odd bar where the girls don’t merely pay a commission to the mamasan but split (as in give half of) their fee to the mamabitch. Some of these mamasans control some girls and exert extreme pressure on them to hand over a percentage of the agreed fee from a customer. It is not usually less than 500 baht and can be up to half the fee the girl gets from the punter. Is it any wonder these girls are quoting such crazy numbers these days when they have mamadragons putting their hand out for their cut?

Many of the massage shops in soi 23 – plenty of which are really just knocking shops – have raised the price of a massage from 400 to 500 baht. Go over to soi 18 where plenty of massage shops still charge 300 baht – and not only are the prices lower, the odds of getting a decent massage are much better than on soi 23. And like I said in another column recently, many of the shops on soi 23 will drop the price by 100 baht if you ask / if they think you will go elsewhere. And if you are looking for a naughty massage, you’re probably better off on one of the side sois of soi 22 where there is little pretense – and you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for.

 

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A sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 22 with massage parlours with little “pretense”.

 

The Asoke skytrain station was a nightmare when I was in town with a mass of people queuing to buy tickets. The new ticket machines are confusing to visitors and locals alike. For starters, the touchscreen system is super slow. Next, what should be the simple process of buying a ticket becomes a headache trying to find your destination station on the map. As the network has expanded with more lines and new stations, you cannot see all of the stations on the screen and may have to scroll to find your destination station – but it is not immediately obvious that you can scroll. If you only take one thing from this column this year, take the advice to buy a stored value card for each of the train systems – and dump enough credit on it that you don’t need to add to it for at least a month.

The food in the Thai Airways lounge at Suwannaphum is pretty good these days. In the past I always thought it was a bit average but over the past year it’s actually got quite good. I much prefer to eat there and avoid what is served on the plane. And frankly, the food in the lounge should be good given that Suwannaphum is Thai’s hub and they really should be putting their best foot forward – and these days it seems they are.

Something I forgot to mention in last week’s column is the jump in the number of Americans in Bangkok. For years the number of Americans in the 25 – 50 age group was well down but now it feels like the Americans are back with heaps of American tourists of all ages. My casual observations made it seem like American visitors in the Sukhumvit area appeared to make up a larger percentage of visitors than in recent years.

Long-running, popular and successful Pattaya gogo bar Babydolls is up for sale. Details are on the poster below. The one point I would comment about on this sale is that with the unpredictable nature of the bar business and the uncertainty going forward, I personally would want to see a return on my investment within 1 year.

 

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Quote of the week comes from a friend and is short & simple but man, do I agree, “As we get older it seems jet lag increases!

Reader’s story of the week comes from Mega and is the latest in his excellent South-East Asia travel series, “Around the Traps in South East Asia – Part 13”.

A Thai billionaire appears in court at the start of his trial for poaching in a wildlife sanctuary.

Popular currency exchange outlet Super Rich has started a new digital cash passport service.

Immigration is to roll out a system sending a reminder by text message to foreigners that their visa will soon expire.

Taco Bell will soon open its first store in Thailand.

The cave where the 12 Thai boys were trapped for 17 days is now a tourist attraction.

 

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Miss Milk at Billboard was a delight to photograph. If only other ladies were so easy to work with.

This week’s photo essay featuring Billboard is one of 4 I shot in Bangkok last month. It had been close to two years since I’d done a bar photo shoot and I thought that was all behind me. Photo shoots in the bars used to be a lot of fun, but they became more and more difficult as girls (quite reasonably) became less willing to be photographed for fear that guys sending them money in the belief that they had stopped working and were no longer going with customers would learn otherwise. And some bars were so horribly disorganised that I reached the point that I had had enough of shooting in the bars. On previous trips some bars asked me to shoot and I turned them down, something that would have been unthinkable just a few years previous. Anyway, it was nice to be back behind the lens and I hope you enjoyed this week’s opener. I’ll run a few more bar photo essays over the next month or two.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]