A Tribute To The Strip
The Strip in Patpong soi 2 closes tonight. It had been a favourite bar of mine for many years and now feels like as good a time as any to look back and share some memories of The Strip.
In May of 2007 an unnamed bar opened on Soi Patpong 2 with the working name, Steve’s New Bar. No sign went up. The following month, June of 2007, it would be officially named The Strip.
I didn’t discover The Strip until it had been open for about a year. Nana and Cowboy were going gangbusters back then and a new bar opening in Patpong was about as exciting as a visit to the dentist, hence it took me a long time to head over and check it out.
First impressions at The Strip were always positive. A team of welcome girls – known as “PR” or public relations girls – were posted outside to lure punters in. Oftentimes the dancers would perch outside too, keen to see what was going on outside. Hello girls can be a bit of a pain, especially outside bars on Soi Cowboy, but at The Strip they tended to be playful…but then perhaps that was because I was known?
But who cares what a bar is like outside! It’s inside that counts. The Strip wasn’t just “another gogo bar”; it had a set of unique features that set it apart.
The Strip was known for its booths. These were not booths like you get in a diner, but tall, 12-feet or so stainless steel cylinders with a small, round table inside surrounded by a very narrow (and very uncomfortable) bench seat. They sound awful but they were a major draw for those who used them and no other bar before or since has had anything like them.
And then there was the fire show. Along the countertop at the bar was a shallow well in which the bartender could pour flammable liquid which would be lit. Dancers would get up on the countertop and do a slow, sexy dance while flames bounced behind them. With the lights in the bar all turned off and the only light coming from the flames, it was striking. And just like the booths, it was totally unique.
Like a few gogo bars, The Strip had a shower cubicle and from time to time girls performed a shower show. Kind of surprisingly, they didn’t make that much use of it over the years, despite the shower show at The Strip being performed enthusiastically. The girls at The Strip seemed to really get in to it and it was genuinely sensual, whereas in some bars, such shows are contrived and the girls are clearly bored out of their minds as they perform them.
And after the shower show at The Strip, the girl (or occasionally, girls) would do a sexy dance throughout the bar, all lathered up in soap suds.
It seems that few bars try anything new, or make a real effort to set themselves apart from the competition, yet under different sets of managements The Strip did just that. Over time The Strip became known for trying new things and doing things differently. And more often than not what they tried actually worked.
I first visited The Strip in 2008, but didn’t become a regular until 2009. Back then, beach parties were held in the bar frequently (every week? every month?) with the girls resplendent in beach-themed bikinis and the bar filled with sand. It sounds crazy – and the bar was a mess – but it worked. And more than anything, the girls got in to it and it was that which really made the bar something special.
Over the years The Strip hosted more parties than just about all other Bangkok gogo bars added together. Some were a little silly but many were fun. Often these parties would be misunderstood by punters and even other bar bosses. Parties are a chance for the girls to dress up, to get their makeup and hair especially done up – and that really gets them in to the mood. To customers it might appear that the only difference in the bar is that the girls are, for example, all wearing superhero t-shirts – but for the girls it’s a big deal. They get in to it and that makes the bar a fun place to be.
For a few months in 2016, Friday night at The Strip meant the snake show! Soda, one the stars of The Strip, would do a sexy routine with a couple of girls with a huge blonde python draped over them.
Between shows, the star of the snake show, Soda, would often stand outside with the blonde python draped over her shoulders and around her neck causing a traffic jam as Patpong soi 2 was blocked as everyone passing by wanted to snap a photo of Soda and the snake.
Getting back to the booths, they looked great. Tall and stylish with a floor to ceiling curtain that could be pulled across to allow privacy, I always thought they’d look right at home in a fine-dining Italian restaurant in New York. But it was very much form over function. The round table in the booths was made of solid concrete as was the circular seat. While they looked great from the outside, inside they were cramped and horribly awkward to manoevure around in.
You could sit inside the booth and watch what was happening in the bar or you could go in to the booth with a lady and close the curtain – which cost a few hundred baht.
The Strip was never what I would call a high traffic bar and over the years seldom did I see it full – and even when it was full you could guarantee that within an hour or so it would empty out. With that said, some girls made it in and out of the booth a couple of times a night. They were often jokingly referred to as blowjob booths but what went on inside wasn’t limited to oral pleasures.
The local constabulary must have known what was going on inside the booths because a few years ago the owners were told that it was not ok to close the curtains on the booths. Suddenly, one of the unique features of The Strip was no longer available. Voyeurism on the premises was off the menu, right? Wrong!
The then manager understood well that regulars would not be pleased that the booths could not be used so he responded in his own amusing way. He converted one of the toilets in to a short time space and instead of leading randy customers in to a booth, girls led their customer in to the toilet space where a carpet was laid out on the floor, along with a bunch of cushions. A curtain was pulled to close the area off and the private party could begin.
Parts of The Strip were grim. Just off to the side of the toilets was the entrance to what I called the dungeon, or the girls’ changing room. This tends to be grim in many bars, but in The Strip it was particularly so. Dark, smelly, grimy and with the most putrid smell, I don’t know how the girls could stay in there for very long.
Another problem at The Strip was the rats. It was infested and this was an ongoing problem for many years. One manager once joked to me that he thought the rats were coming down from the fetish house, Bar Bar, upstairs. Various points between the two bars were blocked, but the problem didn’t go away. Most likely the rats were coming in from outside – food vendors in Bangkok throw left-over food and scraps down open drains, resulting in a city infested with rodents. The rat problem would be inherited by each new owner and was never resolved.
One of the best nights I had at The Strip was one rainy season night in 2012. I was out with a Belgian photographer mate and we’d been messing around taking shots in The Strip when the heavens opened, the started falling…and it didn’t stop. It was one of those long, rainy monsoon Bangkok nights. We were stuck in The Strip until the early hours, just us and the girls. It was one of my best nights ever in a Bangkok gogo bar.
The Strip would become a refuge for me when I had an issue with the authorities and the stress of it all was doing my head in. I’d retreat to The Strip, night after night, and leave my troubles behind.
Despite frequent turnover of management and ownership changes, The Strip just rocked on and seldom missed a beat. There were a few hiccups and some owners did their best to ruin it, but fortunately those guys never lasted long.
In recent years a most unlikely American fellow had charge at The Strip. I say most unlikely because he was nothing like your average bar boss. He’s in to healthy living and prefers green tea to beer. He’s no drunkard, is honest but most of all, he treated the girls with respect. They responded in a way I have seldom seen. Perhaps only the boss of Spanky’s and bar manager Captain Hornbag have a similar rapport with their team. Said American did a fantastic job, both when he was running the bar alone and later when he had a partner.
Girls come and go in the bar biz but staff turnover at The Strip wasn’t as bad as elsewhere. Many girls came and went from the industry – but several months or even a year later they would be back at The Strip. Upcountry gets boring after the excitement of the capital. And over the years there were some real characters at The Strip, both the foreign managers and the girls – many of whom featured in this column.
There was this Gothic Aussie weirdo managing the bar for a while who claimed to be a world-famous photographer, painted his fingernails black and had some totally bizarre ideas not just about running bars, but on life in general. It was no surprise when he appeared in the Thai news some time later – most of us had him pegged from the start as no good.
Long-term readers may remember the one known as Arsenal Alex, the rogue who came to town with talk of riches and the desire to buy a bar or three, but who would eventually make a desperate escape from Bangkok just before an arrest warrant was issued in his name. Alex was a likeable rogue and harmless enough and fun nights were spent with Alex in The Strip in early 2013 during what I often think back on as the Arsenal Alex period.
Plenty of ladies in The Strip developed a following. One of the long-timers was Cat who went through a lengthy stretching routine before getting up on stage and warming in to her dance routine. Cat was there from the early days, and almost until the bitter end.
Soda was the short-haired Molly Cyrus fan with a look very fashioned on her idol. Soda danced in The Strip from 2015 until 2018 and featured in a column titled Sensational Soda in 2016.
Nina was the super sexy dancer with the amazing body who later become mamasan. Nina used to do some incredibly sexy dancing on stage with her pal, Noi.
But none were as infamous as First, the tall, buxom beauty who looked completely out-of-place in a farang-oriented gogo bar. Fair-skinned, tall and with looks and a body shape that Thai men lust after, when I featured First as Girl Of The Week back in 2013 no-one could have predicted what would happen next.
Night after night there was a queue in The Strip as Stickman readers stopped by specifically to meet First. One reader flew up from Singapore based solely on her appearance in the column. And when he did meet her he showered her with money.
A week after First had starred in the column I returned to The Strip and I had just walked inside when First runs across the bar and throws her arms around me, amazed and delighted at how popular she had become – and how much money she had made from Stickman readers. Every night for that past week a Stickman reader had paid her barfine – and most nights there were 2 or 3 others who were lining up to meet her. She was probably the most popular gogo dancer in Bangkok at that time.
But featuring First in the column would be the beginning of the end for her at The Strip. Other girls became jealous and First became less like a member of the team, more like a superstar and the bar’s main attraction – and she knew it. Other girls felt like they were being ignored and couldn’t deal with customers stopping by to see First while they felt like they were invisible. It all blew up one night and a fight broke out outside the bar between First and a bunch of girls. From all accounts First – who was much taller and bigger than the average gogo girl – got the better of the group before the farang manager, a former Marine, had to step in and break it up. But the damage was done and that would be it for First.
The last I heard about First was that she had settled down with an Aussie and was living with him in Australia.
The bar may have lost its biggest star….but its popularity endured.
That said, part of the appeal of The Strip was that it was very seldom full. Show time aside, you could almost always get a seat and more often than not I don’t remember it being more than about half full. You’d often get bar bosses from Patpong in there and others who chronicled the nightlife would frequently stop by. I guess it was a little like the Thermae in its heyday – if you stopped by someone you knew would be there or would drop by before long. It was a great place to catch up with others in the industry.
But the bar life is not an easy one for the girls and shit happens. One of the most popular columns of 2016 was the story of the knife attack suffered by Mauy. That photo essay resulted in a backlash by some readers who felt that the photos included were too graphic. Hence a warning, do not click on the link to the original story if you’re squeamish.
That was not the only dramatic event I witnessed in The Strip. On another occasion a lady had a medical episode which I thought might be an epileptic fit. Fortunately Nina was on hand to help.
One of the reasons I attribute to The Strip’s success during the 2013 to 2017 period was the American manager who was in no way typical of a bar manager. Straight as a die, he treated the girls well, was honest and eschewed much of the nonsense that goes on in the bar industry. He had other bar bosses scratching their heads with some of what he got up to – going in to the bar early to blow up balloons, decorate it and prepare it for the night ahead. He’d buy the girls a round of shots before he went home early and he’d pay bonuses out of the blue when he saw staff working hard. He didn’t stay until all hours, drink like a fish and hold court with drunk mates while pawing girls and giving a nod to the mamasan signalling he wanted a lady who was working for the first time to lose her bar cherry with him. In other words, he treated the girls with respect and ran the business like a business. He was a big part of making The Strip special.
For a brief period The Strip was taken over by the owner of Spanky’s, a fellow who I sometimes refer to as Boy Wonder. A party guy and a great bar operator, I expected that Spanky’s 3 – as The Strip was known for a period – would become an even greater success under his stewardship.
The Strip became Spanky’s 3 in April of 2010. It reverted back to The Strip in January of 2011. Incidentally, at that time he moved the name ‘Spanky’s 3’ over to the DC-10 at NEP, which at least for a while kept both names, DC-10 and Spanky’s 3. There’s a bit of Bangkok bar trivia for you!
The short period in which Boy Wonder was in charge was one of the worst in The Strip’s history. He just couldn’t make it work in Patpong.
I stopped by The Strip a few times earlier this month, but I didn’t stay long. It was absolutely dire. And in all truth and honesty, it had been that way for the past several months.
On my previous trip to town late last year I also stopped by, and bumped in to one of the old managers from Club Electric Blue who said something along the lines of, “I popped in for old times’ sake but I think this is going to ruin those good memories!” No argument from me on that.
I made my last visit to The Strip on Tuesday, March 19th, with one of the former owners. It was dire. Not a single customer and the two welcome girls not included, a grand total of three girls were in the bar. It had been just as bad on my previous visit. It was time for me to say goodbye to The Strip for the last time.
Today, some of the dancers from The Strip circa 2016 – 2018 can be found at Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy. A few more are scattered around Patpong. Many have left the industry and hopefully they’re in a better situation than before they started.
When I wrote two weeks ago that The Strip was special, this was not hyperbole based on some sort of silly sentimentality. It’s a bar I have been banging on and on about for a long, long time….and I spent a lot of time in there over the years.
To many of us, there was something about those hundred odd square metres at the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2 where the warmth of the orange hue lured you inside, and the friendly staff and fun vibe convinced you to stay. The Strip was not a huge money-maker, but it was a favourite hangout for many of us. Through good times and bad, The Strip was a refuge for those of us who had long burned out on the bar industry, a bar where we could still feel the magic of the Bangkok of old.
If you didn’t take my advice to visit The Strip, you missed out. The Strip really was special and its closure feels like the loss of an old friend.
Last week’s photo was taken of the bridge at the end of Sukhumvit soi 10 which leads in to the back of Benjakit Park. This week’s snap shouldn’t be too hard…
The secret is out.
I’m not thrilled about you saying how good Dollhouse is at the moment and putting up a photo shoot in the near future. It’s one of my favourite bars in Soi Cowboy and always has been. It was hard enough to get a seat there last November and I’m flying from Heathrow to Bangkok again next Saturday. Even harder to get a decent seat and a bit of attention next week by the looks of things.
The sad state of the industry.
It’s been interesting observing girls and customers in the nightlife and bar areas. It’s very, very hardcore now from both sides. Short time is very much the pre-requisite, but guys openly talk about how they treat the girls as “a piece of meat”. I heard several refer to them as “meat packers” on a production line. Sadly, the potential is there for more and more abusive guys, especially if they feel they’re not getting value for money. Long term, will there be more psychological effects for those who stay in the business for any length of time? Who knows? I know you’ve often said that the girls come with problems and leave scarred.
The effect of photography and video in the bar areas.
I’m certain that cellphone cameras have a much big effect on the naughty boy scene. The idea of getting photographed or videotaped while messing around and then seeing that published online must scare away many. I am sure that if the authorities adopted the same or similar (recently adopted) policy of no photos and no gawker tours in the red-light district of Amsterdam, it would have a positive effect on the naughty boy business. Needless to say, I doubt this will happen because the authorities don’t really like the naughty boy business scene. It might happen if the girls starting making a bigger fuss about it.
A better name for the plaza.
I wanted to comment on Nana Plaza. With the new roof, maybe it should be renamed ‘The Pleasure Dome’.
Western women are hassled too.
I know a few Western women who have been stopped by cops. They have to open their handbags and remove items for inspection. There’s no physical frisking of the body – I think that would bring the wrath down. However, one girl, a single mother – was stopped and found to be carrying an e-cigarette. The cops shouted at her and bullied her, eventually taking 10K baht off her and confiscating the e-cigarette. I know she started vaping to give up smoking and was doing very well. 10K for her was a large sum as she has to pay for her kid’s school fees.
Changing bar scene – changing Sukhumvit.
Regarding your latest weekly, you have basically encapsulated my feelings from my last trip in December / January. There was way more aggro then I have every seen before and the bar industry is facing massive change. I’m really not sure which way it will all go but I suspect it will continue to worsen. I just don’t see the single western male traveler en mass like I used to and I suspect that currency rates, stagnant wages, increase in PC culture, and a whole array of other issues has dealt a death knell to the western monger. I guess time will tell which way the whole thing goes but I’m definitely missing the Bangkok of old just solely for the fun vibe that used to exist.
Postcard from Bangkok.
I’m in Bangkok for 3 nights and boy, things change! Spent one night in Soi Cowboy and it was absolutely dead. We decided to have a look at Midnite but the music was so deafening we couldn’t stay. We explained that to the mamasan and got a big up to you. Cowboy itself was absolutely dead. Nana Plaza while doing better was pretty slow as well with the exception of Billboard where we could not get a seat and Spanky’s where the only seats we could get we’re by the door at the very end of the bar.
Would you use a credit card in a brothel?
In Sweden it is reckoned cash transactions account for less than 15% of buying goods and here in the UK we are following that trend quickly with our “tap and go” cards. Interestingly, Spurs’ new football stadium is entirely cashless and is seen as the shape of things to come. But ask yourself this: would you want a digital trace left behind in Nana Plaza, Patpong or Soi Cowboy where people who have access to that data may know exactly what you are paying for? Even if, as in some shops here in the UK, some goods have rather mystifying terms for what you have bought on the receipt, it doesn’t take a genius to work out the facts of the matter (condoms, I seem to remember, are listed as men’s goods).
Where there’s no competition.
I just checked the currency exchange booths on the ground floor beside the train station here at Suvarnabhumi Airport and there is not one satang difference in the rates between all 6 exchanges booths!
After closing a couple of weeks ago, Bada Bing in Patpong soi 2 was open again on Tuesday night, under a new management & ownership structure. Bada Bing has lots of girls who have been lured from other bars around Patpong. The new Bada Bing is paying girls 1,000 baht a day and 70 baht per drink as part of their recruitment drive. None of the original Bada Bing crew is dancing there, yet.
And just a little further along Patpong soi 2, the mooted gallery above Bar Bar opened on schedule this past Friday. It is called The Candle Light Studio and the owners – the same people behind Bar Bar – says calling it a studio rather than a gallery will ensure it doesn’t conflict with the upcoming Patpong museum project which they’re also behind. There is no formal signage outside, only a few small posters taped to the wall at the spooky entrance to Bar Bar. There was a good turn-out of visitors on opening night.
Some Soi Cowboy bars have extended their happy hours, making the soi even more friendly for those looking for a bargain. Shark’s happy hour now runs until 9:00 PM (was previously 8:00 PM) with all drinks 90 baht. A few doors along in Dollhouse, the happy hour runs all the way through to 10:00 PM. It was previously 9:00 PM but in February they extended it all the way through to 10:00 PM which is relatively late – and makes it an especially good deal. At Dollhouse, it’s not the full menu offered at happy hour prices, but there are still plenty of good deals like San Miguel Light at 110 baht. With standard drinks now around the 180 baht mark in many Bangkok gogo bars, happy hours are very welcome.
Which raises the question of just how attractive the ladies in the industry really are. To put the bar industry in to perspective, I was in Dollhouse on my second to last night in town – and I thought it was one of the best bars I visited this past trip with a good lineup of ladies and a fun vibe. Three Chinese girls came in, took a seat and soon found themselves getting looks from hungry punters. They were hardly the best-looking Chinese ladies you’ll see, but they were quite possibly the best-looking girls in Dollhouse that night.
Long-running Patpong soi 1 bar and eatery, Madrid, is already advertising its 50th anniversary which will take place on November 1st. While it’s much too early to give details now, what the hell – all local beers and spirits will be 50 baht until 5:50 PM and then it’s free tapas from 6:00 PM onwards. Madrid is a small bar with a big history and I expect it will be rammed that night. Madrid is older than me and opened well before I was born.
In last week’s column I asked what the last brand new bar to open on Patpong soi 1 was. I have been racking my brains trying to work it out but have not been able to come up with anything – and neither could any of you, with not one response to that question. I’m still wondering and can’t get the darned question out of my mind so if anyone has any idea, do let me know.
There’s not been a lot of coverage from freelancer venues recently so here’s a quick update from my number one man in Pattaya who spent a few days in Bangkok this week. The Biergarten in Sukhumvit soi 7 has been described as a shadow of its former self. Late on Thursday afternoon there was a grand total of 9 ladies present. Once upon a time it would have been well over a hundred. Given that some ladies from the Biergarten do the circuit, you’d expect the Thermae to be quiet too, right? Wrong! It is packed night after night with hundreds of pretty girls, many of whom are as attractive as their sisters dancing in chrome pole bars. And Soi Nana currently has plenty of streetwalkers too, if that is your thing.
If you had a pussy and worked as a lady of the night, would you tattoo the word welcome just above it? A dancer in Dollhouse did just that.
I don’t read Thailand expat fiction any more but for those of you who do, “Bangkok Delusions” is the first novel by Zach Brodsky and may appeal. “Bangkok Delusions” features a number of colourful characters whose lives overlap. There’s Pinky, a fiercely independent and intelligent woman trying to eke out a better life for herself and her friend Ting. Scotty is the classic lost American, hopelessly falling for someone who is at best indifferent to him. Bob is a 40-something English teacher who drinks more than he teaches. And there’s the vile, arrogant Alf Hayes, a small-time criminal with aspirations of hitting the big time. You can find out more about Bangkok Delusions here.
The top of Sukhumvit soi 11 has seen much development in the last few months with a lot of interesting looking eateries and bars opening up. There are heaps of spots where you can sit outside, eat, drink and watch the world go by in a similar vein to many of the establishments on soi 8. I ran out of time and didn’t get to try any, unfortunately.
And still on Sukhumvit soi 11, Hemingway opened up in its new location on soi 11 this past week. It’s done out in a similar style to the original Hemingway’s in soi 14. It should be noted that while the original was called Hemingway’s, the new one is called Hemingway i.e. there is no “s” in the name of the new one.
And formerly of Sukhumvit soi 11, Charley Brown’s, now located on the soi connecting sois 17 and 19, is going from strength to strength and has such a following that Mexican chefs from other Mexican eateries around town often meet up there for a bite and a drink. That’s testimony to just how good the food at Charley Brown’s is under its new chef.
I don’t tend to say a lot about Chiang Mai in this column. I’ve only been there a few times and my last visit was several years ago. I like Chiang Mai but I never felt the same pull there that I did in Bangkok. Yesterday I received messages from two sets of friends in Chiang Mai screaming at how bad the pollution is. One said that yesterday was without a doubt the worst pollution he has experienced in 10 years. The forums exploded with complaints and outrage at the air quality in Chiang Mai yesterday – and both Thais and foreigners seemed equally angry. I mention this partly as a public service message – if you have plans of visiting Chiang Mai at this time, it may be an idea to rethink them. The pollution in Chiang Mai (and the general area, extending to Chiang Rai) is so bad that it has been described as extremely hazardous to health – and some of the photos coming out of Chiang Mai are shocking. It almost looks other-worldly and I wonder which word is more appropriate for those who find themselves in Chiang Mai, escape or perhaps evacuate? I can’t imagine quite how bad it is because it was bad enough when I was in Bangkok and the pollution levels in the capital were only a quarter of what Chiang Mai is currently experiencing.
One of the big stories in the mainstream press in Thailand this week was about the 1,542 votes from Thai citizens in New Zealand which arrived too late to Thailand to be counted. The number was not great enough have an effect on the result but at the same time many Thais in Kiwiland who made the effort to vote were furious that their votes weren’t counted. Some are positively seething and the local Thai Facebook group almost went in to meltdown over this. There will no doubt be an inquiry as to why the diplomatic pouch arrived late but let me save the Thais the hassle, it was almost certainly a cock-up by Kiwis at the New Zealand end. Pretty much everything works well in New Zealand with one glaring exception: postal and courier deliveries. They are total crap! Not only are items sent by courier frequently lost – and frequently is the right word here – they are often never found (which says to me there’s probably some sort of systemic thieving going on somewhere within the system). The courier companies and the postal service are not great to deal with when there’s a service failure which makes them stand out because in general, most Kiwi companies are pretty good at dealing with problems. To give you a couple of examples, a letter sent as a reminder that my car’s service was due soon took 24 days to reach me – crazy given it was sent from the car dealership which is just 30 minutes walk from home. One friend has had 3 courier packages sent to his home in the last 6 months go missing. OK, I know you don’t tune in to read about my life in NZ so that’s all from New Zealand for this week.
Quote of the week comes from a thread on ThaiVisa, “Farangs are no longer God’s gift to the Thai economy or to Thai women.”
Here’s what’s happening at the old Cheap Charlie soi off Sukhumvit soi 11.
Air Asia has apologised for its advertising campaign which caused outrage in politically correct Australia when it used the phrase, get off in Thailand.
A male Aussie passenger on a Thai Airways flight was assaulted by a female, yet months after reporting the incident there has been zero follow-up.
A German has 4 beers at a karaoke bar in Chiang Mai, gets a 10,000 baht bill, refuses to pay it and suffers a beating as a result.
Will visitor numbers to Thailand pass the 40 million mark this year?
6 baby elephants trapped in a pit are saved by Thai park rangers.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org