The Damsels of Dollhouse
It’s Friday night in late March in Bangkok and it’s stinking hot outside. I’m upstairs in Dollhouse, enjoying the cool air-conditioning and the view. The manager is working the girls and there’s a stream waiting for me. It’s a rush because it’s Friday, the busiest night of the week and the bar is packed. Customers are waiting to use the table I have girls leaping on to pose and be photographed. I’m hurrying which is far from ideal but it’s fun. The photo shoot is done in record time so I can chill for a while, and reflect on Dollhouse, a bar I have known since the start, and one which has remained popular after all of these years.
Dollhouse hasn’t changed all that much. It’s not just the layout inside that remains largely the same, or the huge iconic sign that extends out over the soi. It’s the vibe. Started by Big Andy and the late Darel, Dollhouse really does retain the vibe of the bar scene of old.
Dollhouse is one of few bars with two floors where the second floor is always open – and it’s been that way since the start.
The interior has been given a minor facelift a couple of times but it’s still largely the same as when it first opened. No way would you think Dollhouse was 17 years old.
Many bars get tatty quickly and most need a major overhaul within a decade. Not Dollhouse.
To quickly recap the history of Dollhouse, the first Dollhouse opened in Clinton Plaza but that ill-fated area didn’t last long. Then came Dollhouse Pattaya, on Walking Street. Then there was the Dollhouse I am in now, in Soi Cowboy, which replaced Clinton Plaza. And then a few years ago a new Dollhouse opened in Pattaya just off Walking Street on what some now refer to as “Soi Sapphire”.
But despite Dollhouse looking good on the inside, some money needs to be spent on the outside. You may remember back in March when I commented on the state of the sign out front of Dollhouse, and how it was dead. The photo above was taken by a pal this week and it still hasn’t been fixed. I know there are things that you can spend money on that will bring you revenue and others that don’t. But surely getting the bar to look its best is the way to go?
The manager tells me that repairing the main sign is a big – and expensive – project. There are electrical issues, and it is not just a case of dead lights. Estimates are currently being sought so hopefully the repair isn’t far away.
And that is about the one and only criticism I have of Dollhouse – and a dead sign is hardly anything for a gogo bar to worry about, is it?
The neon frontage and particularly the large sign which extends out over the soi is iconic. It was this huge sign over the middle of the soi that prompted other bars to build similarly pretty bar frontages, all of which transformed Soi Cowboy from a sleepy soi that was the domain of expats in to an area with much wider appeal.
Another of the icons of the Dollhouse were the signs held up outside the bar by the PR girls. These are no longer. The cops put a stop to them, something I can’t get my head around. Seriously, what’s wrong with the old signs with the “50 hot girls, plus a few fat ones too” message? I don’t get it.
The only thing I can think of is that these signs may have featured on YouTube or social media and perhaps someone high up thought that it showed Thailand in a bad light. Another case of those in uniform throwing their weight around?
And yet another icon of Dollhouse are the funny slogans in the bar. Once up on the mirrors, the coasters feature them too.
I wonder what mainstream visitors make of them? When I was in town a couple of months back I remember 3 Chinese hotties in the bar, clearly not your typical gogo bar visitors. Given how politically correct and overly sensitive Millennials are these days, what do they make of slogans like that?
Drinks prices at Dollhouse are about average by Bangkok gogo bar standards today. A Jack + Coke will set you back 180 baht. Beers run 150 – 195 baht and Dollhouse does have cheaper draft beer options for those watching their pennies with 120 baht draft all night long.
Happy hour at Dollhouse runs through until 10 PM which is late for a big-name bar. At happy hour, drinks are 95 – 110 baht with a limited selection on offer at those prices.
The co-founder and previous owner of Dollhouse, Darel, is sadly no longer with us, but his memory lives on with homage paid to the man behind the bar with a montage of photos of Darel proudly displayed in the bar.
Bar managers come and go but in the current manager Dollhouse is on to a winner. D is very well-regarded in the industry and his stock has been on the rise for some time. D reminds me somewhat of Captain Hornbag in that he is similarly popular with both the staff and the customers.
Dollhouse has a tiered barfine system. Short-time barfine rates run 700 baht and long-time is 1,000 baht. Tiered barfine rates are becoming more common these days – and there’s a bit more about this in the news section below (the bar referred to later in the column is NOT Dollhouse).
Dollhouse is one of few bars selling bar-themed merchandise including t-shirts and the like which is nice and something I have long said more bars should offer. Cool talking points when worn in your own country but personally, I wouldn’t be seen dead in any bar-themed merchandise in Bangkok – or anywhere in the region for that matter.
And wouldn’t a set of Dollhouse coasters make a cool talking point when you host a BBQ?
I think one of the reasons that Dollhouse has done well is that Soi Cowboy doesn’t have that many really good bars. In Nana Plaza, even when you take all of the ladyboy bars out of the equation, there are still a good few bars worth visiting. In Soi Cowboy, there are not so many. The likes of Dollhouse, Shark and Lighthouse are always worth stopping by.
All bars have their ups and downs and no bar stays popular forever, but Dollhouse has managed to retain a keen fan base in a changing – some would say deteriorating – industry. It’s one of few big-name bars where the vibe is not that much different to the old days. That alone makes Dollhouse worth stopping by.
Not a big deal to most, I know, but Dollhouse is one of few bars that accepts credit cards. If you get caught short, you can put it on the plastic at Dollhouse.
Something funny happened when I was shooting in Dollhouse. An old friend happened to stop by. He knows the boss and asks him why he lets me roam with a camera, saying that lots of guys would come by and all the good girls would disappear – inferring they’d be married off. Actually, girls in the industry marrying punters doesn’t happen much at all these days. Quite simply, it is not worth their while, financially – and let’s face it, that’s why they did it in the past. Nowadays these girls can make much more money continuing to work than leaving the industry to live with a customer.
Dollhouse has gogo dancers and coyotes. Gogo dancers wear a bikini. Coyote dancers wear sexy outfits. Some wear less. There is something for everyone. The barfine rates are standard across the board and regardless of their designation, the barfine is the same for gogo dancers and coyote dancers. All girls are available.
If I was going to make a criticism of Dollhouse, it would be that there aren’t enough older ladies. OK, so I am just sitting on the sidelines, a casual and infrequent observer, but a nice-looking lady in her mid 30s is someone you can talk to. The vast majority of the ladies in Dollhouse are much younger. In that regard, Dollhouse is supplying what the market wants. But if you want to talk to them, forget it. OK, so that’s proof that I have lost the plot, right – who wants to talk with these ladies?!
The 2019 version of Dollhouse isn’t all that different from the Dollhouse of old – and that is one of the most praiseworthy things you can say about a gogo bar. Sure, it has changed a little over the years but the changes to the physical bar have been minor tweaks and nothing major.
The vibe in Dollhouse really isn’t all that different from the past. Sure, not every night will be great but Fridays are almost always a riot.
When Darel and Andy created Dollhouse they created something special. Darel may no longer be with us and Andy might be running his own little empire elsewhere, but those guys did things right from the start and their creation doesn’t just live on, it continues to thrive.
Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 33 in the spot that was once Livingstone’s Lodge and later Ocean. A grand total of 3 people got it right.
The culture of the uniform.
In response to the Buddhist holiday dry days, in all my 25 years here I don’t remember ever hearing or reading of anyone being arrested for having a drink on a Buddhist holiday. The authorities just like to threaten people as is their right (in their mind) because they wear a uniform and you don’t. They might close a bar or two down for the night if they catch anyone serving, but they sometimes do that anyway for no reason at all other than to demonstrate that they can. It’s all about control and nothing at all to do with the law. How far do you think you would get if you questioned them about whether the law actually exists? Uniforms, any uniforms, can do whatever they like in Thailand. And the locals will still wai them as they are being insulted. I’ve even seen my wife do it when a local official was taking the piss and refusing to sign a form saying the person on it was me. These people have to grovel to those ‘above’ them so they, in turn, make those ‘below’ them grovel in turn. It’s Asian culture, not just Thai. And it’s pathetic.
Be careful where you invest.
I have always made it a rule to never do business with anyone who cold calls me. There are just to many reputable firms I can give my business to. If one wishes to invest in Thailand from abroad, one of the best ways is to use ETF symbol THD.
Hurro, welcome please!
This afternoon I had a look at YouTube and a couple of Pattaya vloggers. They were reviewing some 2-star and 3-star hotels. So disappointing to see the level of English from receptionists and staff. “What’s the room price please?” Blank look followed. “Have safety box?” Blank look x 3. This is the level of English when I first visited Thailand 31 years ago. Hoots of laughter when I saw the lady who showed the rooms admiring herself close up in the hotel room mirror!
The harsh reality of life for some Brit retirees in Pattaya.
There are many British retirees who just stay here in Pattaya at a big risk and are on overstay, some having overstayed 3 or 4 years. They have little income but are prepared to risk walking around and drinking in the cheap Charlie bars. I suppose it’s not a risk so long as they keep paying the rent in the Thai-style rooms of ฿4,500 a month, keep their head down and avoid any kind of trouble. They don’t need to show their passport as they never leave the kingdom. There was another flyer last week, a 50-year-old Brit, at Central shopping mall. That’s life here when your money runs dry. Jump.
Drink desperation a sign of the times?
The amount of begging that goes on here gets to me. I guess if you don’t ask you don’t receive, but I am not talking about beggars on the street. I am talking about the aggressive girls in the bars. I was sitting with two girls. One asked for a beer and I say rock paper scissors. I win but I still get the whining. I say no and she sits quietly. Eventually I say ok. Meanwhile a girl who works / hangs there has been sitting and drinking on another guy’s dime since I first arrived and returned. She starts begging for a drink. I tell her next time but it went on for a while. Last night I got it in Patpong in Black Pagoda. A buddy and I were talking about the same thing. He is on a good expat package and will drop 10K baht in a night, but was in Shark of all places, and said he was in there having a good time, buys plenty of girls drinks, hangs there most of the night and at the end when he paid, the fat mamasan / wait staff who didn’t get a drink slams the bin tray down when bringing back his change, angry that she didn’t get a drink. Says it was a spoiler to the evening and he won’t go back. I know making drinks is making money, but the desperation I felt the last few nights, is that an indicator of the real economic situation?
The tale of two freelancer bars.
There are 150 to 200 hungry girls in Thermae. Why are people afraid of the Japanese? The girls only see the color of money. Plenty of smiles and I could have had my pick. Refreshing to be outta the gogo bars. The downside? A shitload of nose-job chicks. Hung with the bathroom attendant lady who has been there for 23 years The Chinese have discovered Thermae too. Moved to Biergarten. 23 girls and 10 white guys, mostly around the main bar. No Japanese in Biergarten.
Hua Hin bargains.
Just a quick naughty boy update from Hua Hin. It is extremely quiet. I’m quite impressed with what’s available. 400 baht barfine. 1,000 short-time. 1,500 long time. These are the quoted rates. I didn’t bother negotiating at those prices. Lady drinks 120 baht. Beers at happy hour are 60 baht, 80 baht after. I’m having fun!
On Patpong soi 1, what was once Radio City was being developed in to a new gogo bar by some Frenchmen. In the last week of March I stuck my head inside with a friend and we chatted with the builders. It looked like what would be Bangkok’s newest gogo bar was close to completion and I suggested an early April opening seemed likely. But now it looks like this bar is not to be. It is all undergoing disassembly and the stairwell going up to the 2nd floor has been gutted. Who knows what has happened – but for sure, there won’t be anything opening there any time soon.
Over in Patpong soi 2, The Strip – being referred to as The Strip 2.0 by some – is making an effort to get customer numbers up after a slowish resumption. All customer drinks are only 90 baht, every day of the week, all night long until the end of May – that is this coming Friday.
Following on from last week’s report that something was happening at CheckInn99, no-one is quite sure just what that something is. A cryptic message was posted on CheckInn99’s Facebook page suggesting things would return to normal, while at the same time the CheckInn99 sign was removed from the premises on Tuesday, and signage for Christies and Napoleon is back. Whatever is going on, it’s as clear as mud. You get the feeling that even if Billboard, Bacarra and Crazy House opened on soi 33 they’d die a painful death – it seems that nothing can survive that soi.
From a very popular Bangkok gogo bar comes a twist on the barfine system. The barfine of 700 baht allows the lady to leave the premises. Fine, in this day and age 700 baht isn’t too bad. However, the lady is then on the clock and has 3 hours from leaving the bar until she must return to the bar. And if she doesn’t? The bar hits her with a 300 baht fine. Is this fair? Consider that this particular bar doing this is doing exceptionally well and has absolutely no shortage of girls. There is, however an unexpected upside. Apparently if the girl returns to the bar and another customer wishes to take her out of the bar, he does not have to pay a barfine. Now that part is a real surprise. All this said, I don’t suppose many ladies will say, “I just serviced Horst / Pierre / Chuck across the road at the Nana and he already paid my barfine for the night so there’s no need for you to pay the barfine too.” I can imagine ladies and especially some unscrupulous mamasans taking the barfine from the guy and pocketing it themselves.
On the subject of barfines, the white board in Sexy Night in Nana Plaza states that the barfine for weekdays is 1,000 baht while Friday & Saturdays it is 1,500 baht. What do you put those high prices down to? Small bar = few ladies = make it expensive so the bar still has ladies later in the night perhaps? Or could it simply be down to inflation? Whatever the case, 1,000 baht barfines is steep and 1,500 baht is just silly in a bar which is known for good music and a good vibe but not necessarily the best lookers.
Ladyboys aren’t allowed inside the Thermae – and it has been that way as long as anyone can remember. But that doesn’t stop them from lingering around right outside. There are so many of them on the street outside that it’s almost like there’s an outdoor ladyboy bar operating right outside the Thermae. Plenty of younger Japanese guys have a thing for ladyboys and with so many young Japanese inside Thermae, I guess those ladyboys hanging about think they will get some business. And I am sure they wouldn’t be there in such numbers if they weren’t finding customers.
More proof that business is bad in Sin City with news that well-known Soi Buakhao British pub, The Butcher’s Arms, has been put on the market. A challenging business environment is a phrase I imagine will be heard more and more over the coming months in Pattaya.
And one indicator of how busy – or in this case, how quiet – it is in Pattaya comes from a friend who visited Pattaya Immigration (technically, it’s in Jomtien) this past week. It was absolutely empty at 1:30 PM, a good indicator that the tourist season is well and truly over.
Soi Cowboy was closed early last night with lights out at 1:00 AM. It happens often enough to piss off punters and bar owners, especially when it happens at the weekend.
The cricket world cup in England gets going this coming week. The Kiwi in Sukhumvit Soi 8 and The Aussie Bar on Sukhumvit Soi 11 are a couple of bars that will be showing the games. Cricket is a funny old game and unlike say, rugby, when the best team usually wins, cricket tends to throw up more surprise results. That said, it’s hard to look past England as favourites.
The irony of Bangkok could be seen on Soi Nana this past Thursday night where Hooters hosted a bikini contest. The distinct Filipino accent of the manager boomed out across the soi on the microphone. All the while, directly across the road is Nana Plaza, where several hundred ladies dance in bikinis, or less.
Why do so many foreigners in Thailand overstay? They obviously quite like Thailand and are willing to take the risk of getting caught which these days means being barred from returning for a potentially very long time. From the file of bar figures who have overstayed their visa – there are HEAPS of bar industry figures who have had long overstays – comes word that a certain bar boss was given his marching orders this week having remained in the country for 11 years beyond the expiry date of his visa. The upshot of it is deportation and a ban from returning to Thailand for 10 years. Who was it? Let’s just say that he didn’t get a kiss on the cheek nor a pat on the thigh when he was shown the exit. Au revoir!
Will AirBnB ever be legal in Thailand, or is it going to permanently exist in a grey area? On Thai language forums, Thais are ranting about units in their respective condo buildings being rented out short-term on AirBnB. So in essence they are complaining about white guys coming in late at night with hookers in tow and making a racket, right? Actually, no. The main complaint as far as the nationality of visitors goes is about noisy Chinese visitors with some saying there are so many short-stay Chinese in their building they feel like they are in downtown Peking. These posts get a lot of comments – and when Thais with money complain, things tend to happen. Will AirBnB in Thailand ever be 100% legal?
I note some clever young Thais in New Zealand are essentially travelling free between Kiwiland and their homeland by carrying products from one country and selling them in the other. I’ve previously written about how Thais carry items for other Thais and charge $NZ15 / kg for the service. What some are now doing is buying items in one country and selling them in the other. In New Zealand they buy Manuka honey and various creams and beauty products and sell them to friends in Bangkok. In Thailand they buy mainly Thai food products that aren’t available in New Zealand and sell them to Thais in NZ. It is, apparently, very profitable – more so than just carrying things for others. The profit can exceed the cost of the air ticket meaning they essentially fly between Thailand and New Zealand for free. Most are university students and proving themselves to be budding entrepreneurs.
Speaking of entrepreneurial Thais, I am amused by young Thais selling products on Facebook live. The format is much the same with many of these sellers standing in front of a camera and broadcasting live on Facebook, talking about different items of clothing they have for sale. They’ll introduce the item, model it, describe it, say what colours are available and the price. While they are presenting these products, often their husband / boyfriend / partner is just off camera, monitoring the Facebook account and confirming orders as they come in, as well as relaying messages and questions from those watching, which are answered right there live. For the most part these are everyday Thais trying their hand at selling stuff online. Apparently some have built up these online Facebook live businesses into a profitable enterprise. These young Thai businesswomen are not just entertaining, it’s great to seem them use technology and create a business with it.
I find myself more and more impressed with young Thais. If I had to use just one word to describe young Thais, it would be polite. Engage with young Thais and they are almost always polite – and this politeness usually extends through until their early 20s. From then until, say, their late 30s, they still tend to be polite but not quite as polite as when they were younger. Once in their 40s, rather a lot of Thais take on a more, for want of a better word, aggressive personality. It’s often way beyond being merely assertive. OK, so it’s not really “aggressive” per se. Once in their 40s, I find that increasingly the politeness feels forced, almost robotic. Once they reach their 50s and 60s, especially in the case of urbanites, the politeness often falls away completely when dealing with younger people, particularly strangers, and they can become quite bossy and in some cases, rather unpleasant. Compare this with the west where it’s very different, in fact it’s almost the complete opposite. Teenagers in the West can be foul-mouthed, especially if they have not had a good upbringing…but once people are settled in to a career, most tend to be polite. And as they age, Westerners seem to get more and more polite – at least that’s how I see it here in my corner of the West. Very different from Thailand, I find.
Quote of the week comes from a forum, “Looking at the decline in beer bars as a barometer of tourism overall is misleading.”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Codefreeze, “The Thai Visa System – Fit For Purpose?”
A Kiwi hung himself in his hotel room in Phuket this week.
Down in Phuket, two hoons are charged with attacking an ambulance with an axe after taking offence because it beeped at them!
Thailand is looking at imposing yet another tax on tourists, as if there aren’t enough already.
A Malaysian man allegedly travelling on a false passport finds out that the biometric measures at passport control in Bangkok really do work.
Over the years I have had more than a few emails asking me to write something about retiring in Thailand. I have always replied that I am a long way off retirement and as such I didn’t think it was a topic I could do justice to. Retirement is still a very long way away for me and not something on my mind. But I do have a few thoughts on retiring in Thailand and next week’s opening piece is about that. With that said, I am not sure if those who asked me to put something together on retirement will like what I have to say…
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org