Stickman's Weekly Column January 27th, 2019

Lighting Up Soi Cowboy


I’ve long been a fan of Lighthouse on Soi Cowboy and in November I spent the early part of the evening in the bar with my camera.

 

 

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Photo shoots don’t always work out as planned and from the outset I know this was going to be one of those nights.

I had hoped to grab a few snaps before the bar opened but a staff meeting was held before the bar opened and it ran over time. As soon as the meeting was over, the music came on and the lights were dimmed. And to make matters worse, only a few ladies were willing to be snapped. You wouldn’t believe how frustrating it can be trying to take photos in a bar.

 

 

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In a few months Lighthouse will celebrate 6 years on Soi Cowboy where it has cemented itself as one of the most popular bars. But it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

There was much apprehension before Lighthouse opened in the spot that was once Sheba’s, the bar known for its classic Egyptian pharaoh frontage.

 

 

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Sheba’s had quite a following and word that it had lost the lease came at a time when The Arab was doing his best to acquire every last lease on Soi Cowboy. Word at the time was that The Arab had secured the lease and what was Sheba’s would become another Arab bar. If true, it would effectively mean there would be one fewer bar to visit on the soi. Needless to say, many weren’t happy!

 

 

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So it was a relief when the truth finally came out that the lease had been secured by those behind popular Shark bar and, most importantly, The Arab was not involved!

 

 

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Lighthouse has been in business for close to 6 years but it feels rather longer. The closure of Sheba’s seems like such a long time ago.

 

 

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In a changing industry with more ladyboy bars and lots of mainstream visitors, Lighthouse is firmly a farang bar. The bulk of the customers are Westerners, which given my closing comments in today’s column will no doubt resonate with many.

 

 

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Lighthouse opens early, usually by 5:30 PM – but that’s just the outside part of the bar. The inside, or the gogo bar proper, doesn’t get going until a little later.

 

 

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Are there any better spots in Bangkok to perch early evening than the outdoor part of one of the Soi Cowboy bars, and watch the soi come to life? And with happy hour prices through to 9:00 PM (both inside and outside Lighthouse) and most drinks just 90 baht, there’s a good reason to get there early.

 

 

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Lighthouse has become well-known for its Wednesday night special where all drinks are just 100 baht, all night long. It’s so popular that it reminds me of The Londoner which used to do 2-for-1 drinks on Wednesday and would be absolutely packed. Bar owners shouldn’t underestimate how price-conscious many customers are in Bangkok.

 

 

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But not all bar owners get that. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, there is not a single rocket scientist in the bar industry. (I probably should have used that as quote of the week.) Lighthouse’s Wednesday 100 baht drink promotion would be easy to copy – but no other bars in Bangkok (to my knowledge), have done so.

 

 

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Lighthouse introduced a Monday night beer bucket where you can choose any 4 beers – yes, you can mix and match – for 490 baht.

 

 

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Lighthouse spans a couple of shophouses in width. On a good night they’ll have 60 dancers plus a few more girls stationed out the front.

 

 

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There are 2 barfine rates at Lighthouse which eschews the confusing, tiered barfines that are creeping in with barfine rates changing depending on the time of night. For dancers and service girls at Lighthouse, the barfine is 700 baht while agency girl barfines run 1,200 baht.

 

 

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The term “agency girl” is synonymous with “coyote” and those are swear words to punters these days, especially so in Soi Cowboy where some bars have become known as places where the girls are not available. In too many bars, coyote dancers sit with you, drink with you and lead you on. Ask her what the barfine costs and she will squawk like a seagull, utter something along the lines of her not being that type of girl and slink away never to be seen again!

 

 

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There is an expectation at Lighthouse that all the girls are available. Probably the best way to put it is that Lighthouse is run as a classic gogo bar and you don’t have to second-guess what is going on.

 

 

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Management keeps a firm eye on the DJs and restricts them from playing what some call “Pattaya gogo music” and what I call “car alarm music”. Lighthouse has a varied playlist with more mainstream music. That’s not to say it’s the sort of music the girls like, though!

 

 

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An ’80s party was held recently which went down well and there are plans to throw more parties on a regular basis. Themes will include ’70s, ’90s, noughties, student, angels, Mardi Gras and anything else they can think of that should be fun.

 

 

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I always think of Lighthouse as one of the go-to bars of Soi Cowboy. It is farang-run, has a good happy hour early evening and is operated as a classic gogo bar – meaning no ladyboys and all the dancers are barfineable. If you find yourself on Soi Cowboy, Lighthouse is worth stopping by

 


Billboard Bangkok

 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken between Sukhumvit Road and Ploenchit Road, about 250 metres west of Soi Nana. Do you remember the ramshackle bar area here under the expressway which was known as Soi Zero and before that Buckskin Joe’s?

 


Lighthouse Soi Cowboy

 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.

Enjoying the company of Indians.

Recently I had the privilege of working with the Indian Army. My boss was an Indian Lt. Col., and was subsequently promoted to full Colonel with battalion command. He and his colleagues, men and women, were wonderfully old school. Tough, intelligent, competent and polite. This is a side of India few people see. On the same note, the utter misery of having to deal with various stripes of scumbag farangs degrades my Thailand experience. From drunks rocking up looking for fights, idiotic hipsters, sore losers and the ubiquitous biker gangs and criminals we now export, there is much to be desired. And again on counterpoint, I have tailored with Indians in Thailand for years and always enjoyed their conversations and quality. The issue is a class issue, with a bit of racism thrown in for good measure. Nobody likes drinking gangs of any sort, but the Indian middle class has quality of a sort that many have forgotten in the West. Try not to forget that is a learned emulation of our own British culture. You will find the pleasure of their company in many cases better than that of our own.

Queuing, Indian-style.

I’m an American without much exposure to Indians other than a few characters on TV and eating at an Indian restaurant once in a while. I have to admit I was turned off by the behavior of Indians in Thailand on my trip last year. Twice I was waiting in line at a 7 Eleven and an Indian guy came up to the counter like there was no line and they were next. Pretty rude!

More Indian visitors = cheaper Indian food.

Yep, I like the Indians. They have a sense of humor I can relate to. I hope that more Indians will lead to cheaper Indian food. There is no reason why Indian food should command premium prices over Thai food, particularly the veggie options which I prefer. Malaysia and even Singapore have great Indian food at normal prices.

Are Indian travellers still on the learning curve?

My two cents are pretty obvious and I am a liberal schmuck. A majority of people who share my views are not racists. It’s the obnoxious behaviour of Indians that pisses me off. I used to stay at the Holiday Inn in Pattaya, but there were many Indians who created a bad environment (during breakfast, by the pool, in the corridors). Why visit bars where Indians ruin the party mood? The trend of fewer bar visitors from the West will accelerate if more low-class Indians show up. But maybe the Indian visitors will learn to behave? Thinking about Indian visitors, let’s look at what Swedish travellers used to be like. During the ’70s, charter trips to the Alps during winter became a big thing among Swedish youth. It was the first time abroad for the majority of them. They didn’t know how to behave and trashed hotel rooms and bars. Some ski resorts even refused to accept bookings from Swedes. It was a learning curve.

Visitors change with the times.

I live in China and travel to Bangkok regularly. The Chinese people where I live are friendly, polite and helpful, especially to anyone who does not speak their language. However the minute they get to the airport everyone turns into the rabid bunch we see so often travelling in South-East Asia. I joke to my Chinese friends that there must be a special training place they go to learn how to be obnoxious. They say that they are told to never trust anyone but a Chinese person, and to avoid local people. That the prices are high and they need to bargain hard for everything. That it is dangerous to wander off on their own. It reminds of when I first went to Thailand about 15 years ago. The advice then was don’t drink the local beer because it is contaminated. Don’t eat fruit or salads because of the water used to wash them. Don’t go with a Thai lady. Wear clothing that covers as much as possible because of malaria. Eat at McDonald’s when you can. Times have changed for me as I am sure they will for the Chinese and Indians as they get a greater understanding of travel.

Pollution problems.

In my opinion the pollution in Bangkok is getting worse. It’s not my field of expertise but the city planners may need to consult airflow characteristics when looking to permit building works to go ahead. I do know that in general, high-rise cities create a different micro-climate from the surrounding lands and cause various health issues if not attended to. Singapore is ahead of the (planning) game in this regard.

 

 


Nana Plaza

 

 

The fellow behind Twister and Enter bars in Nana Plaza has taken over the lease for the space on the ground floor of Nana Hotel that was once Nana Disco and more recently, EQ. To little fanfare, the doors have opened and customers are being welcomed. While we wish him well, this venue has more skeletons than a graveyard and some of the biggest names in the bar business have been unable to make it work. I’ll be accused of forever living in the past when I say that the magic has not been recaptured since the original Nana Disco closed all those years ago.

Shadow Bar on Soi Cowboy changed hands in the second half of last year and there has been little change to the bar. But the new owners have plans and Shadow Bar will close this week and undergo a refit. That sounds good, right? Hmmm, you might want to think again… It will reopen with a new name and a new format – Soi Cowboy’s second ladyboy bar. While, yes, a few weeks ago, I wrote a positive article about ladyboys in general, don’t take that to mean I am in favour of girly bars closing down to reopen as a ladyboy bar. Until Cockatoo opened several years ago, Soi Cowboy was the one major bar area without any dedicated ladyboy bars. Those who preferred to avoid ladyboys could go to Soi Cowboy safe in the knowledge that it wasn’t the minefield that some feel Nana Plaza has become. The closure of Shadow Bar is the end of a bar that had quite a following amongst expats who liked to perch at the tables outside and chew the fat.

Reports out of Patpong recently haven’t been that positive but some bars in Bangkok’s oldest bar area are doing well. This past week Black Pagoda, Pink Panther, Shenanigans and Glamour all had good crowds while my old favourite, The Strip on Patpong soi 2, continues to struggle. It closed early one night at 1:30 AM for reasons no-one can work out. Apparently they had run out of something, although no-one is quite sure what they had run out of. Weird.

From a reader comes an anecdote from Crazy House which provides an insight in to what other customers are up to. First things first, said reader was charged 100 baht to enter Crazy House (and this did not include a drink). But the entrance fee was not the main reason for his email, rather it was observing what a couple of Japanese in the bar were up to. Said fellow witnessed two early 20s Japanese fellows approached by a couple of bar maidens. A number was written on one lady’s hand, 8,000 baht. Some negotiations followed and each of the Japanese fellows went in to their wallet and handed over – get this – 10,000 baht, or in other words, north of $USD300. Each! That was the negotiated fee for each lady to spend the night with them through until 1 PM the next day. I’m all for the ladies earning good money and it’s great for them to get a decent pay-day, but wow, this sort of thing can really distort ladies’ expectations. You just know that within minutes every lady in the bar knew that those two had just successfully negotiated a 10,000 baht pay-day. 10,000 baht is a lot of money for a bit of entertainment and much more than the vast majority are willing to pay. As for paying in advance, what were they thinking? And, knowing Crazy House, what I wonder is how much of the 10K did the girls share with the mamasan(s)? There would be a hefty management fee, no doubt. So next time you offer a lady what you feel is a fair and reasonable amount and she turns you down, or perhaps even laughs at you, now you have some idea why!

Whatever happened to popular bar boss Ricky? He doesn’t get mentioned in this column much these days. The old boy is still about, running his very own bar, Pandora’s – which he both owns and manages – in Soi LK Metro, Pattaya. Ricky has wound back the clock 20 odd years at happy hour, and between 7:30 and 9:00 PM there are ridiculously low prices on some beers. Do stop by and see the old boy.

 

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There must be hundreds of beer bars in Pattaya. Drinks prices is one way to choose which beer bar to stop by, pretty girls is another. If you’re looking for a beer bar with a great host to chat sports with as well as enjoy all that Pattaya is known for, drop by Danny’s Sports Bar in the Made In Thailand bar complex, between Second Road and Soi Buakhao, opposite the back of the View Talay 6 Condo. Danny is an interesting character who used to write for CBS Sport and these days writes for Bleacher Report. Danny’s Sports Bar shows live sports on 4 TV screens, including both the English and American versions of football. Danny will happily tune the TVs in to any live sport matches that customers would like to watch. Have a beer, watch sport, discuss the games with a professional sports journalist and then barfine a lass. All Danny needs to do is stock pizza and there’d be no reason to leave.

Still in Pattaya – or at least the cyber version of Pattaya – the founder and co-owner of Secrets Bar posted on the Secrets forum this week about the difficulties of running a forum and how what was created in the hope of providing positive spinoffs for the bar / hotel / restaurant now feels like those spinoffs are anything but positive. The Secrets forum has been part of Pattaya’s Internet landscape for close to 13 years. For a long time it was the most popular forum of its type and was a lot of fun. The Secrets forum – these days known as SecretsAsia – is relatively quiet and lacks many of the characters of old. Neither is there much insight in to what is going on in town. The damage was done when it became a hive of badgering, bickering, bullying and general negativity with too many members given leeway to post negative and nasty comments. This is no reflection on those who run it who have done a marvellous job. My personal feeling is that the forum is a reflection of the Pattaya of today. An announcement this week stated that the forum would be scaled down – but just what that means isn’t clear. It takes a lot of time and effort to run a website and if you’re not getting anything out of it, you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Like the other Pattaya forums and indeed Pattaya itself, does anyone believe the future will be as good as the past?

Back in Bangkok, a reminder for those driving / taking taxis very late at night that out front of Emporium on (both sides of) Sukhumvit Road is the current hot spot for the boys in brown. Cars are stopped, passengers told to get out and forced to submit to a search. Particular interest is shown to foreigners. Expect your wallet to be rifled through and any possessions / bags to be opened and examined. Civil liberties doesn’t translate very well from English to Thai.

It’s hard to imagine a better place in Bangkok to watch Super Bowl LIII than Margarita Storm where the game will be shown live on all 17 screens. The Patriots will battle with the Rams on Monday, February 4th at 6:30 AM, Bangkok time. Margarita Storm is open 24/7 so you can go early and enjoy Super Bowl Pancakes. Original classic buttermilk pancakes are just 100 baht ++. You can also enjoy Storm’s famous breakfast burrito – winner of the best breakfast in Bangkok and only 239 baht with coffee or juice. For those who think beer and the Super Bowl are like peanut butter & jelly, they will have beer on tap for 99 baht a pint and all the usual Super Bowl snacks will be available – nachos, wings, burgers etc. Margarita Storm is on Sukhumvit Road at the corner of soi 13.

 

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Pancakes, at Margarita Storm.

 

When the original Thermae was gutted, the granddaddy of Bangkok fiction, Christopher G. Moore, managed to get his hands on some of the old seats. When he later published a special edition of “A Killing Smile” (still one of the very best novels of the Bangkok nightlife genre), they were bound in leather from the booths at the Thermae making them a very special collector’s edition indeed. In a similar manner, a reader has contacted me and expressed an interest in buying old wood from the recently gutted Old Dutch on Soi Cowboy. He’s interested in the flooring, wall panels, ceiling panels, tables, basically anything at all. Does anyone have any idea of who to contact or where it might be stored / if it has been kept / if it is available for sale?

If you didn’t catch the news out of Thailand this week, it was announced that a general election will be held on Sunday, March 24. No, don’t worry, I am not going to get all political on you but for bargoers, this date is relevant. During previous general elections, there was usually a ban on the sale of alcohol on the day (and night) of the election – meaning you won’t be able to drink that day / night. In fact, the ban started from 6 PM the night before. If things are the same this time around, it means the sale of alcohol would be forbidden from 6:00 PM on Saturday, March 23rd until 12:01 AM Monday, March 25th, some 30 hours later. And to make matters worse, in the past this applied to the weekend before as well when polling booths were open for advance voting. Again, if that’s the case this time, it would mean there would be no alcohol sales at all on Sunday, March 17th nor from 6 PM onwards on Saturday, March 16th. I am not sure what the situation will be this year but if the past is anything to go by (remember, there has not been a general election in Thailand since February, 2014), there could be a number of dry days in March. Of course, Patpong always seemed to get a bit of leeway but with that said, the current government seems to be serious about the election so who knows what the situation will be this year. More info on what is going on nearer the time.

The branch of Asia Books in the Landmark Hotel is the latest branch in the chain to close. It’s not a great loss insomuch that there are plenty of other Asia Books branches within walking distance (the closest would be on the other side of Sukhumvit Road, down towards Terminal 21). The branch of Asia Books in Times Square – just a few minutes walk down the road – also closed a few years back.

A sign has gone up where the American Bar & Grill used to be opposite Lolita’s in the small sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 8 for a new eatery called Argo Bar & Grill, offering Georgian & Greek food.

 

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In Kiwiland it’s generally better to make Thai food yourself.

 

As part of a trade agreement with Thailand, New Zealand has a specific visa for Thai chefs who would like to work here. I mention this in case you know any proper trained Thai chefs who’d like to try their hand at working in a developed country and making real money. Thai chefs in the better Thai restaurants make about $25 / hour here.

Taco Bell opened its first branch in Bangkok this week, on the first floor of Mercury Ville Mall. If that shopping centre doesn’t ring a bell, it’s a small mall opposite Central Chidlom. The easiest way to get there is by the skytrain – the mall is right beside the Chidlom BTS station. Taco Bell in Thailand would appear to have deviated from the American operation and is doing things its own way which has caused mixed feedback. The biggest concern seems to be that beef is not on the menu at all, and neither is beans. Weird.

A condo I used to stay at in Sukhumvit soi 16 was sold and word is that it will be converted in to a 4-star hotel. I have good memories from my time there. Soi 16 is really convenient in terms of transport connections and access to the busy part of Sukhumvit Road, while the soi itself is not too busy. And the view looking west across Benjakit Park from the condo at the sunset was beautiful at this time of year. As the number of visitors to Bangkok soars and the demand for accommodation downtown increases, I guess more buildings will be converted in to hotels / short-stay accommodation. And I wonder if hotel rooms in downtown Bangkok will get smaller. Property prices in central Bangkok are going up as fast as new skyscrapers are being constructed. Could the days of inexpensive, spacious hotel rooms in downtown Bangkok become a thing of the past? It’s not that long ago that you had what felt like almost unlimited options for a decent-sized, fully equipped hotel room downtown for around 1,000 baht a night. That’s not so easy to find now in the middle of the city. And that’s a shame because one of the many great things about Bangkok was that accommodation was traditionally very good value for money.

 

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The streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

 

I’ve been contacted by a Brit behind Saigon Expat Services which he describes as a platform to help expats going to Vietnam find reputable businesses and get accurate and up-to-date information. Saigon Expat Services was set up as the founders felt there was so much mis-information being posted on the Ho Chi Minh expat Facebook forums. 3 friends who have lived and done business in Saigon for 10+ years built the platform. They provide information about living in Ho Chi Minh City, community news, events, services and more. They also offer free support on all the important stuff like housing, visas & work permits, setting up a business, driving licenses etc. They can be contacted at: [email protected] or through Facebook.

I like to book my next trip to Thailand a few months before I travel. I was going to book my next trip this past week, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Why not? It’s the pollution in Smog City Bangkok and the air quality which at times this past month has been horrible according to both news reports and expat friends. Everyone seems to be talking about the pollution and a couple of friends in Bangkok tell me how they have been sick and think it may be due to the pollution. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way and may have delayed visiting until the period of the worst of the pollution passes?

Speaking of the pollution in Bangkok, the photo below was provided by reader Windy who witnessed the debacle of water cannons being used at the Asoke intersection to, ummm, errrr, disperse the pollution. The deluge lasted only a minute or two and appeared to make no discernible difference to the air quality. It did, however, test the drainage system and for the next half an hour or so the area was flooded. And all of those passing by on motorcycles got an early shower!

 

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Fighting pollution, Thai-style.

 

Quote of the week comes from the movie Bohemian Rhapsody where the Brian May character describing Americans says, “They are puritans in public, and perverts in the bedroom.” I have no idea how valid that comment may be, but I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate if you replaced Americans with Thais.

There are obvious parallels with Bangkok and Pattaya in an article about how the red-light district in Amsterdam has become a mainstream tourist attraction.

A review of the book Bangkok to Ben Nevis backward makes you want to read it!

Will Thailand copy what Bali is doing and introduce a tourist tax?

Thai police have arrested two suspects for stealing baggage at the carousel at Swampy in two unrelated incidents – and in each case, the perp was a foreigner.

Drivers in Bangkok have to push their cars out of what has been called the world’s busiest car park.

A Chinese woman has been duped by an apartment broker in an “immigration scam” to the tune of 110,000 baht.

Asia Times looks at the interest in Bangkok properties shown by the Chinese.

 

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Soi Cowboy attracts an increasingly diverse crowd these days.

If email feedback to last week’s column, The Indians Are Coming, is anything to go by, tribalism is rampant amongst fans of the Bangkok / Pattaya nightlife. In retrospect I admit that I rather underestimated this and given the response from many readers which could be summarised as, “I much prefer to go where my own kind are”, bar owners have a lot to think about. I guess if I was relaying to bar owners what readers have said, the consensus is be careful who you market to – and do not underestimate tribalism. Trying to cater to everyone could cause a business to lose its regulars. Who’d want to be a bar owner?!

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]