The Other Side Of The Bar
Barfines rates are too high. The girls are asking for too much money. Drinks are expensive. Complaints from punters are never-ending. With expenses remaining stubbornly high and revenue at all-time lows, it shouldn’t be forgotten that many bar owners are really hurting.
A small gogo bar in a major bar area hit a new daily turnover record this week. Not a record high, but a record low. The bar sold just 1,000 baht in drinks in the whole night. Some nights so little money comes in that it’s simply not worth opening.
A medium-sized gogo bar which reopened a couple of weeks ago has a grand total of 4 gogo dancers. Pre-Covid it had around 30. If two customers buy lady drinks you could have the worst sight possible in a gogo bar, an empty stage.
When trade is this bad, businesses cut costs. In bars that means cutting staff, cutting salaries or both. Most bars have cut staff and many have cut salaries. The typical salary cut is 50%.
You can only cut salaries so far and there comes a point when it’s not worth the staff’s while any more. They don’t just receive a smaller cheque at the end of the month, fewer customers means less in tips. Some staff may not have enough money to get home at the end of their shift.
One bar group employed over 250 staff pre-Covid-19. Currently they have about 40 staff across the few bars in the group that are open.
Staff without work have dispersed far and wide. Some have returned to the family home up country. Some have managed to secure work in a different industry altogether. Some call the bar regularly, hoping to get their old job back, even if it means they’re on half salary.
Foreign bar staff are the highest paid. What is a bar boss to do with them? Laying them off could be the end for them in Thailand. Many foreign bar managers have little in the way of savings. Losing their job means their visa is cancelled and without it they cannot stay in Thailand.
A couple of bar bosses reveal privately that very few Bangkok gogo bars are making a profit at this time. Very few.
The bars that are doing well are further down Sukhumvit from Nana and Cowboy. Think the likes of Robin Hood and the other British pubs.
The pain will continue until international flights resume. But the resumption of flights doesn’t mean customer numbers will shoot back to where they were. It will take time. How long? 6 months after flights resume, will bar revenue be back to where it was? Or will it take a year?
These are the things playing on bar bosses’ minds.
For those with multiple bars, bars can be dropped one by one. By the time things turn around there might be something left.
The owner of one of the most successful gogo bars in Bangkok told me this week that he is not even thinking about making a profit for the next year. His main concern is the girls. 6 months ago it would have been unthinkable that later in the year he would have to put his hand in to his pocket at the end of each month to pay his staff. He accepts that this is how it will be until borders reopen.
The days of easy money are gone. Few of the ladies working in the bars have a stash of cash set aside for a rainy day. No doubt some spent wildly when times were good – but so did most of us when we were their age.
Some ladies have had something of an epiphany and no longer want to barfine. They’re willing to downgrade their lifestyle and get by on less. They don’t have to pretend they enjoy time with customers any more. Whether they will be able to make enough to get by without being barfined only time will tell.
Some landlords refuse to reduce rents to the bars, while others are more reasonable. One landlord is offering reduced rent to bars opening reduced hours. Open 4 out of 7 days of the week, for example, and you pay 57% of your usual rent. That’s fair.
The longer Covid drags on, the more difficult it gets. Most bar bosses have cash reserves, but these cash reserves are not limitless. There comes a point for everyone when enough is enough and they decide to walk away.
One bar operator told me this week that his monthly losses currently exceed one million baht. How long can he keep that up?
Another bar owner said to me that he won’t feel embarrassed if the business fails. If it fails, it’s not because of anything he did wrong.
September is almost here and with it the rains are heavier and more frequent. Expats will be less inclined to head out. Come early / mid-November when the clouds finally part and the rainy season says goodbye for another year, what’s next? High season? No-one believes there will be one this year.
Spare a thought for the bar owners. For many the bar is their livelihood. Most have family, a local wife and maybe a family to support. If bars fail, what will be left when we finally get back to Thailand?
Last week’s photo was taken on Henri Dunant Road in the heart of Bangkok, between Silom Road and Siam Square. Only two people got it right. The best response was from someone who didn’t get it right, “I’m not sure if it’s the black hole of Bangkok, or the rising sun of Sukhumvit.” Thanks to Kloth for supplying the mystery photo for this week.
Hate the tats!
Pretty girls in Billboard for sure, but it seems that a graffiti artist has run amok. Things may have changed now that tats have become fashionable and mainstream; but in earlier days they were usually a sign of a woman with mental problems and best steered clear of. Personal experience in Pattaya taught me that lesson.
Love the tats!
The Billboard photos are bound to bring in comments from tattoo haters. I like tattoos, big fake boobs etc. If I wanted to see a ‘girl-next-door’ type, I wouldn’t go to a bar. I could go to any shopping mall. And who could disagree that Billboard, with its line-up of tattooed, silicon-chested girls is the most successful, busiest bar in the city?
Too many tats.
I totally agree that every successful entertainment venue must cater for the widest possible audience. It also makes it very easy for customers to find “their type” of companion. Each of us have our own preferences, turn-ons and turn-offs. While I do not mind one or more small decorative tattoos, large, in-your-face or near full-body tattoos are a total turn-off. For me it shows an extreme lack of respect, not only for the lady herself but signals to everyone else that she does not care or give a damn about what anyone else thinks. I also feel that it shows a lack of self-worth and a form of self-mutilation.
Absence makes the…..
There’s a freelance lady I always spend a few days with when I’m in town who I have known for a few years, and she has a very small tattoo on her back. She’s not a stunner, and for sure she’s been round the clock a few times, but for me there is chemistry, helped by the fact that we always enjoy a drink together. We stay together around 18 hours every day and I’ve never had any problems with her. She’s going through tough times like so many and for the first time since I have known her, she asked me for help. I sent 5,000 THB and she was so thankful for it. I do miss her and not being able to travel. Absence makes the cock grow fonder.
The bar experience goes digital.
I’ve been checking out a few live-streams on YouTube as a substitute for not being able to travel. Many punters are also gagging for their fix and this is the closest we will get for a while. Last week an American in Pattaya streaming from a bar got so wasted he rang the bell multiple times on the promise of a subscriber that they would cover the checkbin. That did not happen and the American streaming the video was thrown in a police cell for the night to consider his options until the mamasan came to get him out. For some reason he went back to the bar and started streaming again and asked viewers to buy the girls lady drinks. Now he’s live-streaming pool parties with them. According to some he has made over 200,000 baht in a week from this. Who would ever think that the bar experience would go digital? Just another surreal evolution of Pattaya’s nightlife.
Stopped by the police on Rama 4 Road.
This week I was stopped by a policeman on Rama 4 Road while on my way to work. I pulled out my license but he wasn’t interested in it. So I then rummaged in a side saddle for my registration. But he wasn’t bothered by that either. By this time his mate and one other cop had arrived and their interest in me became clear. “New motorcycle, yes?” “Oh, so pretty”. “How fast you can go?” “Can we take picture dai mai?” I have just bought the new Royal Enfield Interceptor, which is a massive hit with Thais (as it is with Indians and Brits). Pics done, I was relieved and started on my way. But it didn’t stop there. I asked my new mate for permission to do a U-turn back on to Rama 4 as he had pulled me in to a soi. But he went one further than that. He walked out in to the middle of Rama 4 Road, raised his hand to stop several dozen cars, and ushered His Most Royal Highness on his way. I suppose I should have waved to the crowd!
Pattaya this week.
It’s hard to put into words just how shocking and depressing Pattaya is. Nothing prepared me for seeing this first-hand. Pattaya feels like it’s in the midst of the Great Depression. Beach Road resembles Skid Row, especially the southernmost end where 2 out of every 3 businesses are closed, either temporarily or forever. You know the economy is hitting rock bottom when 7-Elevens are closed across the city. In just the span of South Road to Royal Garden there are 4 closed 7-Elevens, some taken over by the city’s growing number of homeless. You know the economy is really hitting rock bottom when the two McDonald’s locations in South Pattaya – at Soi 13/1 & at Walking Street – both are closed. Lots of people here have nothing to do. Many just sit on the beach or the sidewalks along Beach Road. Some play guitar, some smoke. Some just stare into space. Walking Street was nearly as dire, although anyone familiar with the state of Soi Cowboy would hardly be surprised. But it was the non-nightlife areas that struck me the most. This city is dead and there’s no good news on the horizon.
Girl Of The Week
Aum, # 931, Butterflies, Nana Plaza
Aum is 24 years old, 160 cm tall and a lean 43.5 kilos. Not 43, not 44, but 43.5!
She likes listening to music, swimming and watching movies.
And her favourite food? Thai, of course!
If you’re missing your favourite dancer from Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy – one of the bigger name bars yet to reopen – take a stroll up the road to Billboard in Nana Plaza where some of the Dollhouse crew can be found.
At the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy, Country Road seems to be doing more trade than most of the other bars on the soi combined. On Friday night it was packed with more than a few Thais from outside the bar industry dancing the night away. Zero speculation from me on why they chose that spot, but the mind does wander.
One thing to note at Country Road for teetotallers on a budget, a bottle of water is a very reasonable 50 baht.
Up the road in Nana Plaza business could hardly be described as brisk but the consensus from those who visit all 3 bar areas is that Nana is faring best.
My old partner in crime the Dirty Doctor has long been a fan of Cowboy and no fan of Nana Plaza. He commented this week that Nana Plaza still has a vibe whereas Cowboy, he felt, does not. Going to Cowboy at the moment is a bit like entering a black hole, he feels. His analogy was that Nana Plaza is a bit like a bar – all the best stuff is on the top level.
Soi Cowboy seems to have given up on any temperature checks whereas at Nana Plaza, temperature checks are still a thing at the entrance. No temperature check and you ain’t getting in.
In Patpong, popular (before Covid-19) gogo bars Bada Bing and Glamour are closed on Sundays and Mondays for the time being. There just aren’t enough customers around to make it worth the effort to open every night. It would be no surprise to see this happen in more bars and to be frank, I’m surprised it’s not more widespread. I wonder if it might not be such a bad idea for bars in the respective bar areas to stagger which bars open and which close, Friday and Saturday excluded. Perhaps arrangements could be made to consolidate girls from multiple bars in to one bar. The bars that have done that seem to be doing ok.
On Sukhumvit soi 11, renovations have started downstairs from Sugar to build an old-school hip hop club. It should be ready to open in November.
Hemingway on Sukhumvit soi 11 is now fully open and is said to be doing very well.
The rooftop bar Marketplace opened Saturday night last week and was busy, despite heavy rain. The owners have built a roof over half the space so bad weather isn’t a deal breaker. Marketplace has some interesting deals. Monday is Industry Night, meaning bar managers, restaurateurs, DJs, club owners etc. Tuesday is half price for steak and oysters all night. Thursday is Ladies Night.
Old soi 11 favourite Oskar is also doing well – not as well as Hemingway, but at certain times of the night it’s fairly full and has a good atmosphere.
Bangkok-based expats will soon have another choice for fish and chips with Smith’s, another new fish and chip shop soon to open, on Sukhumvit soi 13. I just hope they get their pricing right because if feedback from a couple of readers about a certain other fish and chip shop which opened recently is anything to go by, there is a limit to what some will pay for fish and chips.
Speaking of Western food, the Western-style Chinese Wok Star Express in Silom near the jewellery quarter is proving popular, especially for delivery. A friend has ordered 3 times and commented that the portions, prices, and flavours are all decent.
Some readers asked why I published so many photos of ladies in last week’s column who are so heavily tattooed when I have said multiple times that I don’t care for tattoos at all! I thought the photos were fantastic and some of the ladies were sexy. That alone is reason enough to run a collection of photos like that. But as much as anything, these photos are quite simply representative of how the bar industry is today. I get the feeling that some who complained might have been looking for a wife, not someone to have a bit of fun with for an hour. Rewind the clock back 20 years and, yes, there were far fewer ladies with tattoos and very few – quite probably none – were as heavily tattooed as a couple of the ladies featured in that collection. Heavily tattooed ladies? That’s the way it is these days.
As per the final email in the emails to Stick section, business remains in the doldrums in Pattaya. The photo above was taken this week in the Made in Thailand bar complex at 9 PM. The bars were empty for the most part with very few customers about.
For the most part Walking Street is as dead as the dodo. Dollhouse and Pin Up are the two gogo bars that seem to be doing ok.
For those in to clubbing freelancers, iBar / Insomnia is packed nightly, as is 808.
Soi LK Metro is doing ok. Not great, but it is ticking over. It’s the same old problem – there are no visitors and the only trade is local expats and a few stragglers who come down from Bangkok at the weekend. At the end of the day, most expats can’t go out every night – some have to work the next day and many have limited funds.
Trade is said to be slipping on Pattaya’s soi 6. It’s never been a beauty pageant on soi 6 but some tell me it might be getting worse. Such comments are entirely subjective, but what isn’t subjective is that in some bars trade is lousy – and when you consider plenty of venues have not opened, that makes it seem even worse.
Once popular sois 7 and 8 are dead. Will they come back from this? Too hard to say but unless flights resume soon which looks increasingly unlikely, it’s hard to see many bars in sois which have been in terminal decline surviving.
The Tree Town area seems to have been forgotten about. For a short time it was the place to go while the bars were closed.
Still in Pattaya, some of the kebab stands which operate after dark have lots of meat left over at 2 AM. In the past they usually sold out well before the end of the night.
There is major disgruntlement from some bar operators in Pattaya who have been told to turn the lights and music off at midnight while they see competitors still going until 2 AM. No explanation is needed.
A Pattaya bar boss who emailed me this week feels September will be the month many fold. It will be the third month bars have been open and for some it will be the third month of running at a loss. With no sign of the border reopening, some bar operators simply cannot sustain further losses with no end in sight.
Trade in Pandora on Soi LK Metro isn’t what it was but Ricky is doing his best to lure punters inside with some great promotions including 55 baht bottles of Leo, Singha and Chang before 8 PM every night, 85 baht draft beer (in a 500 ml glass) all night long. Ricky is always a good host and fun to have a yarn with.
Whatever happened to the once popular Classroom A Gogo on Pattaya soi 13/4, once known as Soi Pattayaland 2? The first gogo bar on the soi that was for a time the most popular strip in Pattaya ran for 24 long years before closing in 2017. More recently, the premises became a hotel called The Classroom. Business was good before Covid-19 came along but has come to a grinding halt. Rather than batten down the hatches, the owner has employed 20 new staff (18 dancers and 2 hostesses) and will reopen on September 1st as a gogo bar. A party will be held on September 4th. Drop by if you’re in Sin City.
If you’re in to dodgy movie downloading from the torrent sites, One Night In Bangkok was released this week. The plot is kind of familiar and involves a rich kid paying off the cops following a fatal car crash.
I wouldn’t describe myself as an “anti-vaxxer” insomuch that it’s one of those topics I just don’t bring up. At the same time I am very, very strongly opposed to putting any chemicals in to my body unless it is absolutely necessary. I’d rather let my body’s natural defence system deal with things unless it is immediately life-threatening. Even something as mild as Paracetamol I am very reluctant to take. I know from correspondence with readers that a small number of you feel the same way, but I also know we’re very much in the minority. So what do readers make of the idea that Thailand (and perhaps many (most?) countries) might insist on travellers being vaccinated for Covid-19 as a requirement for entry? This has been mooted. Could Covid-19 become the new Yellow Fever?
Men in tight-fitting brown uniforms with a flashlight hide behind the postbox on Sukhumvit soi 39 pictured below as they lie in wait for a certain type of creature. Just what is it they are looking for? Their prey has fair skin and a long nose. This spot on Sukhumvit 39 is a favourite for the boys in brown who wait for Western and Japanese expats. It has got so bad that some expats who live in the area make a point of avoiding this spot at night.
As September 26 approaches, some foreigners in Thailand are sweating. What’s relevant about that date? Thailand announced some weeks ago that September 26 is the date foreigners who have been given free visa extension after free visa extension must leave the country by. Getting out of Thailand is no great problem – many flights are operating. If you were organised you would have no problem departing. Of course, the flight will cost more than usual. The problem is that once you have left Thailand it may be a long time before you can return. Most foreigners cannot enter Thailand at this time, unless they are work permit holders, permanent residents, diplomats and one or two others. Some have a girlfriend they don’t wish to say goodbye to. Some don’t want to return to their home country because of worries about the virus. The attitude of the authorities seems to be that ample notice was given. There are going to be some very sad people forced to leave, some of whom might not get back for a long time, if ever. There are some foreigners in denial about this but my advice is simple: get organised fast! Do NOT leave it to the last minute. If you remain in Thailand beyond September 26, not only will you be looking at an overstay penalty, blacklisting is a possibility too.
For Thais in New Zealand who wish to go home, the next embassy-organised repatriation flight is on September 13th. The non-stop Auckland to Bangkok flight costs $NZ 1,800 one way. You can register between September 1st and 4th and there is space for up to 230 people. Thais in Kiwiland are not happy at the price which is considerably higher than embassy-organised flights to Bangkok from other parts of the world – in some cases twice the price for a flight of a similar distance.
This Week’s News-Feed / Thailand-Related News Articles
Quote of the week comes from a friend, “Many Thai men spend more time in front of the mirror than Western women do.”
Reader’s story of the week, “Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) in Bangkok“.
Students protest against the draconian trend of some teachers shearing students’ hair.
There are very serious concerns about how the Thai economy is going to be rooted.
A food delivery company is chasing a person who made large bogus food orders.
Bali has announced it will be closed to foreign tourists for the rest of 2020.
Can farangs be deported for taking up political issues in Thailand? <Note: I do NOT agree with what this article says. You don’t have to rock the boat all that much to find yourself shown the door. It is best to stay out of this stuff – Stick>
Emirates will resume flights to Bangkok from September 1st.
An Aussie who was seriously assaulted by his Aussie bro in Pattaya is facing charges over the incident back home in Australia.
As promised last week, the Girl Of The Week section is back. Obviously I am not on the ground there in Bangkok so the photos featured are not taken by me. I’ll be working with bar owners to provide photos of girls who are willing to be featured. If you are a bar owner and would like a lady from your bar featured, drop me an email. Preference will be given to those who can provide high quality photographs as opposed to a quick snap taken by iPhone. This week’s Girl Of The Week feature was just one shot, but I hope to run 2 or 3 photos of a lady in the weeks to come.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com