In last week’s column I said I would publish my usual predictions for the year ahead column this week. That article is largely written but at the same time I think we could all do with a break from Covid. This is supposed to be a happy time of year so this week’s opener is lighter and a bit more fitting for the time of year. The predictions column will run next week.
Bar owners come in all shapes and sizes. Some are true professionals who would succeed in almost any business. Others were born for an industry where the rules are as loose as the women. Some bar bosses are leches, others are twisted deviants. Some who have made millions and then given it all away to the ugliest girl in the bar who they married then got taken to the cleaners in divorce. Many bar bosses are just plain bonkers. Here are a few of my favourite crazy bar boss stories.
Let’s rewind the clock and go back way before my time to perhaps the craziest bar boss of them all. Crazy Jack ran Shadow Bar in Soi Cowboy. From all accounts he was quite the character, and the nickname was fitting.
Crazy Jack ran a competition called “Match The Snatch”. Photos of dancers’ respective snatches were posted on the wall, along with photos of the dancers’ faces. You had to match the snatch correctly and if you did, you won a prize. Often the prize was a Shadow Bar keychain.
These keychains were special. The key fob contained pubic hair which Jack had personally plucked from the dancers. If you were in the bar at the right – or is that the wrong? – time, you would see Jack go through the bar, scissors in hand, instructing the girls to spread ‘em so he could trim a little moy to insert in the next batch of keychains.
There are all sorts of stories about Crazy Jack – and sometimes merely calling him “crazy” doesn’t seem strong enough. I was once told that he kept a snake in the office upstairs which he would drape around his neck and take in to the bar proper to get rid of customers he didn’t like.
Perhaps the best-known Crazy Jack story concerns the short-time room in the back of the bar. Some expats refused to use it. Very wise! They had probably heard the stories that there was a hidden video camera which recorded everything that went on in there. Legend has it that Jack had a library of VHS tapes spanning shelves across an entire wall in his office. It makes you think twice about using a short-time room when you consider how good the quality is from hidden cameras these days. Is this why some girls turn the lights out in the short-time room?
To add to the legend of Crazy Jack, he died under very suspicious circumstances not long after leaving the industry.
I wrote a column about some of the crazy stuff the late bar boss G got up to. Everything I wrote in that column was factually correct but I later learned there was another side to G. He was extremely generous.
G could get wound up at the slightest perceived insult and bar fights involving G were hardly uncommon. At the same time he would regularly hand out huge bundles of cash for no apparent reason. One friend who worked for G was asked how he was and he replied honestly that he was doing it tough. G put his hand in his pocket and pulled out two bundles of cash, each containing 100,000 baht. This wasn’t salary paid in advance or a loan. It was a handout with no strings attached (but you’d better stay loyal to him or else!).
I too was on the end of G’s impromptu generosity. Out with a group cruising around bars in the plaza, he once asked me how the site was going and I told him that things had been a bit slow. Same story, his hand went in to his pocket and he handed me a bunch of cash (around 40,000 baht or so from memory) and told me to give his bars advertising to that value. One of his lieutenants joked with me shortly afterwards not to worry about the advertising and just keep the money as a gift as the next morning he never remembers the night before and what happened with all the cash he took out. G was crazy generous, but he could also get crazy angry if (he merely perceived) you crossed him.
I would later learn that G often went for a night out with many hundreds of thousands of baht in his pocket. As the night went on, he’d get particularly generous.
Another hot-head crazy bar boss was Rick, who ran Angels Disco in Nana Hotel back in its heyday. Rick took exception to me suggesting the door charge at Nana Disco was steep. He set out to hunt me down and teach me a lesson. Rick was tipped off about my identity and was given a photo of the person he believed was me. He went in to Nana Plaza with a heavy on either shoulder and asked Ricky who was managing Angelwitch at the time, “Is this Stickman?” Ricky looked at the photo and said, yeah that’s him. But actually, it wasn’t and Ricky had no idea who it was. “Good, we know where he is and we’re going to go and fuck him up.” I always wondered who the guy in the photo was, and whether anything ever happened. Or maybe it was part of a game Rick played, knowing that Ricky would tell me and it was all a ploy to scare me? Last I heard was that Rick was in Cambodia. I seem to recall he might have died.
Speaking of Cambodia, one Bangkok bar boss who left the industry many years ago used to fly a light aircraft across the border to Cambodia where he would look for virgins (to play with, not employ). It’s so many years since I heard this story that I can’t remember if he told me himself, or I heard it from someone else. I seem to recall it was the former.
At one time that same fellow ran many bars and would marshal all of the ladies not of legal age out of the bars and in to the vacant short-time rooms before the constabulary raided the premises. There they would remain until the cops had gone and the coast was clear. These days even the craziest bar bosses don’t push the boundaries when it comes to legal age as the penalties are severe.
The first time I met “L.A. Larry” was in Rock Hard A Gogo in Bangkok. Larry from Los Angeles was the man on Phuket. He made Rock Hard the best gogo bar on Phuket and it stayed that way for many years. So when Larry opened Rock Hard in Clinton Plaza, there was much excitement. Signs on the walls of the bar said that the girls were guaranteed STD-free (which is a particularly dumb claim to make and no doubt some saw it as a green light to party without a party hat). An English friend of mine did just that and ended up with a dose. I was a bit impetuous in those days and was quick to write in the next column that the notice on the walls of Rock Hard about the girls being clean was BS. Larry took it to mean that I had said that Rock Hard was a hive of STDs and apparently the usually mild-mannered Larry hit the roof. When I was next in the bar I was summonsed in to the back room office by the bar’s manager, Ricky. At first I got the feeling Larry wanted to deck me (even though he wasn’t the type) but after a bit of chit chat I left the office and it was drinks on Larry for the rest of the night. It was a weird introduction and we went on to become friends. Incidentally, 2 of the 4 people from that story are no longer with us – Larry died in a motorbike crash a few years back and the fellow who caught a dose died earlier this year in a diving accident.
One of the more peculiar things I remember a crazy bar owner doing was gloating about how he had got a cop. Mike, the friendly Brit who ran Midnite for a short period during the wild days of late 2000 where there was a private upstairs area where anything went – beyond even the shenanigans of Nanapong dance contests – later opened up a small bar around the corner on soi 23, the name of which escapes me. Mike told all and sundry that he had got a cop – and how he was paying him even before the bar had opened. Mike gloated about having a cop in the same way you would if you had secured Pamela Anderson as a dancer in her prime. I seem to recall he was paying said lucky cop a figure of 30,000 baht / month – which had other bar bosses rolling their eyes at. Everyone pays – but you don’t pay until the naughty stuff starts and back then a tiny bar didn’t need to pay anything like that! The bar failed in no time.
There are so many crazy bar boss stories and this is a just a small selection of those I have heard, and a few I have seen with my own eyes. Bangkok’s bar biz is full of crazy characters and many of the crazy stories you have heard really are true!
Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 8 of the spot where Via Vai, the Italian restaurant, was located. This week’s photo is somewhere in downtown Bangkok.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
So long as we can travel next year.
If your prediction is correct that it will be “late Q3 or early Q4 of next year” before we can travel to Thailand quarantine-free, that will be fine with most people since it will be at the beginning of, or during the 2021 high season.
Thailand to become more popular for remote work?
By far the biggest change brought by Covid in the West is the mass shift to remote work. Digital nomads were just the beginning. Once travel restrictions are lifted, many people will realise they can do their job from Thailand. With PC madness sweeping the West, I suspect long-stay Thailand visas will become very popular.
The bifurcation of Bangkok.
Bangkok is becoming quite bifurcated, with some people doing as well as before, and others struggling. Hit Emporium and the shops are crowded with folks carrying bags full of their purchases as if Covid never happened. Obviously the customers are not bargirls or bar staff. On the other hand, walk from the Soi Nana intersection on the north side of Sukhumvit down to The Game, and the picture is infinitely more bleak. Every alcove is packed with folks living rough, possessions scattered everywhere, and few shops are still in business. That stretch is post-Apocalyptic in appearance. It’s as harsh as I’ve ever seen it, though I do see many Thai people dropping coins and notes into cups the less fortunate have in front of them.
Report from Sukhumvit soi 7.
At the “no name” plaza next to the Biergarten, the Nana 2 sign has gone. I asked one of the girls what the place was called. She gave me a confused look and said “Soi 7”. After further asking, there doesn’t seem to be a name. A neon sign over the entrance on Sukhumvit says “Manana”, but it was not obvious whether that is the restaurant located there or the whole area. When the area first opened I didn’t think it would be successful. Now I think it could be a winner. It’s the only place with a cluster of original-style beer bars, with cheeky girls, pool tables and a loud cacophony of music. Punters receive a lot of attention from girls as they walk through. One bar had 59 baht beers, and persuaded me to buy a large beer for the girls who were bored and thirsty. That was 100 baht. 220 baht for two beers and a lady drink for four girls. Times are hard. The Biergarten next door was completely devoid of customers. Not a single customer was there unless they had all gone to the toilet simultaneously. I looked in at around 7 PM and then again around 11 PM.
Soi Nana construction zone.
The tubes (and also very large rectangular pits as shown in your photo) being laid in Soi Nana are for drainage to relieve with the flooding. A losing battle against a rising ocean and a sinking Bangkok.
Like a guinea pig being guided through a maze by scientists
I arrived in Bangkok a couple of days ago and am currently going through the ASQ process. I know that some of your readers might be skeptical about the whole visa program, but it is possible to get here. It’s a huge hassle though, and you really have to mind your paperwork. While most people on my flight made it through ok, I saw a couple of people get denied entry (after landing at Bangkok) over some technicality or other. Yikes! Nothing about the transit experience is the same as before, and from departure from Vancouver through to my arrival in Bangkok (with a transfer in Taiwan) I felt like a guinea pig being guided through a maze by scientists. Absolutely no freedom to move through the airport on my own at all. The immediate-post-arrival setup after landing in Bangkok was especially surreal.
The preference for newer places explained?
I had a discussion with an old Thai woman a few years ago regarding the constant building projects and the destruction of old buildings and Bangkok history. I complained that real estate development was motivated by greed. She thought that in part it had to do with something else. She said Thais and other South-East Asians are afraid of ghosts, and that new buildings don’t feel so haunted. She said that Thais will not admit this, but this is the reason they tend to gravitate to new places.
Girl Of The Week
Ploy, Spanky’s, Nana Plaza
21 years old, from Korat.
Sexy Ploy loves to be photographed, and loves to model.
A major outbreak of Covid in Thailand this week which was centred in Samut Sakhon (a province just to the west of Bangkok which you pass through when leaving the city and heading for Hua Hin) has been the hot topic this week. Naturally, there is real concern nationwide, and particularly amongst bar owners and bar staff – about both their own health and also the health of the business. If the virus spreads there is a worry that some businesses might be forced closed again. Infections have spread to more than 30 provinces but for the time being the number of cases is relatively low. It is being taken very seriously – by the authorities and the general populace – so hopefully it will be contained and there will be minimal disruption to business.
One sexy dancer in Dollhouse who a mate has been seeing on the side for years had a few things to say about the latest Covid outbreak and was just pipped for quote of the week, “Me not working, me scary Covid!”
Speaking of Dollhouse, the 90 baht drinks all night, every night special was being advertised with the classy sign below posted out front of the bar until finally the signage department got their act together and produced a proper sign. The 90 baht drinks deal was initially planned for the first month after Dollhouse reopened, December. Will it continue in January? With great drinks deals at the likes of Lighthouse, Shark and Suzy Wong, one imagines these prices will be offered for some time to come.
The dirty doctor stuck his head in every bar which was open on Soi Cowboy one night this week and did a head count. Some bars had around 5 customers, some had fewer. The busiest bar of the lot? Country Road, with a grand total of 15 customers.
On Soi Cowboy there is a group of bars that have been closed since April when all of the bars were first ordered shut. Not a single bar in the group has reopened, even though they could have done so months ago. Which group am I talking about? The Arab’s bars, of course! That’s 7 full-size (double shophouse, or larger) bars on Soi Cowboy which have remained closed since the start of the lockdown, or in other words, it’s 9 months since any of his bars were open. Can they keep the leases for this long without trading? One imagines the various landlords would still expect to be paid, even if a reduced rent is negotiated. When I asked a Cowboy bar manager who wishes to remain anonymous about this, his response was that it’s no bad thing – fewer bars open means less competition on the soi. The soi isn’t nearly as bright and beautiful as it could be – but less competition is helpful for other bars. It makes me wonder whether his bars will ever reopen. Could he stay closed until tourists return in decent numbers – which looks like it’s still at least several months away? Could he lose the lease on some of his bars and they be taken over by others? I don’t think too many people would cry if that were to happen…
I heard from 3 different people this week, none of whom know one another, that the bars in Sukhumvit soi 7 had a decent vibe and were worth stopping by. Some of us felt this bar area would struggle but in recent weeks it may have gained a little traction. Stop by and let me know how you find it.
On Soi Nana, popular British-owned & managed beer bar Stumble Inn is normally jumping at this time of the year. But nothing is normal in the year of Covid. It was dead as a doornail between 9 PM and 11 PM on Christmas Day. The girls were looking fabulous decked out in Christmas gear and in the Christmas spirit. There was live music, but there were hardly any customers. Full marks to the bar and the girls for making an effort. I cannot imagine how dis-spiriting it must be for bar owners and staff at this time.
Just around the corner from Soi Cowboy, Thai-owned Crazy House has not joined the many farang-owned bars on Soi Cowboy proper in discounting drink prices. A friend got sticker shock this week when he ordered a bottle of water at Crazy House and was charged 170 baht.
Why Not, the ladyboy bar that was previously located on the L-shaped sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 20 with half a dozen or so other bars, has moved to Soi Nana, just past the intersection where soi 4 meets soi 6.
What was Why Not Bar has been renamed How Come By Why Not, and is now an all-girl bar.
The gogo bar in Nana Plaza previously known as Diamonds has been renamed Random 2. It looks like little more than a name change – the owners of Diamonds are the current owners of Random. What’s a mere name change all about? Is it a branding thing? Diamonds suffered from the stigma of mixing ladyboys and girls in the same bar, even when they had a sign saying there were no ladyboys! Maybe the only way to turn things around was just to dump the damaged brand name.
Drinks prices in many chrome pole bars have gone back to levels last seen almost 20 years ago. Way back in 2001, most of the Nana Plaza bar owners (none of whom are still involved in the business today) got together and agreed that they would simultaneously increase the price of standard drinks from 90 baht to 110 baht. There was much grumbling at the time from expats but visitors didn’t blink. Why complain at 110 baht drinks when you were getting 40 baht to the dollar? In their eyes, prices moved from being ‘very cheap’ to just plain ‘cheap’. With trade terrible due to Covid, many bar owners have lowered prices to get punters in the door, while also tried to lower expenses. Many have successfully managed to negotiate a discount with the landlord and the figure I frequently hear is 50%. The other big expense bar owners have sought to reduce is wages. In one major gogo bar, dancers are paid 400 baht or 600 baht, depending on whether they wear a top or not. Failure to get at least one lady drink sees 100 baht docked from their day rate. Times are tough and many ladies are unable to get even one lady drink a night.
Down in Pattaya, word is that Soi LK Metro did ok in the second half of this week. One correspondent had the following to say about Soi LK Metro and Tree Town, two bar areas in the general Soi Buakhao area: “I headed up to Tree Town and LK Metro area. Live bands, relaxed atmosphere, loads of friendly girls, gogo beers at 60 – 70 baht, awesome. There is none of the usual high season hustling, it’s relaxed and welcoming. For the first time ever the manager / owner of a gogo came over and welcomed me, we had a friendly short chat in spite of the usual loud music. Great public relations move, makes me feel I want to go back. There were about ten or so punters keeping the girls in a fun mood. Good atmosphere!” But perhaps the most telling words from said correspondent was his summary – and consider that this fellow who is a long-time Stickman reader with a history of many years sending coherent emails and astute observations lives in neither Bangkok or Pattaya, and has no reason to favour one over the other, “Pattaya is still, by a long way, the place to be for night life, even if many of the bar areas are empty. Just stick around Buakao, lk metro, Tree Town and Soi 6.”
The newly renovated Monsoon on Sukhumvit soi 8 is proof that well-run restaurants with good pricing can do well even when there are hardly any visitors in town. Monsoon reopened last weekend and drew the crowds on opening night. Word is that it has been crowded most nights since.
There used to be an unpretentious Thai restaurant on Sukhumvit soi 23 around the corner from Soi Cowboy and just a few paces along from Crazy House with an odd name that sounded more fitting for a gogo bar than an eatery – Love Scene. It was popular with staff from Soi Cowboy bars as well as some long-term expats. Staff at Love Scene told customers that the restaurant would be closing ‘temporarily’ at the end of last month. Since closing, the signage for Love Scene has gone. Has temporary become forever? Love Scene was in that spot for many years. It would be missed by many if it doesn’t reopen.
I don’t like to report third-hand news but I’ll make an exception this time. Apparently the two large Egyptian restaurants (decorated in a distinctive style where most of the interior was chrome) on Sukhumvit soi 3/1, AKA Soi Arab, are amongst a number of eateries in that little neighbourhood which are dust. The tourists have long gone and I hear that two of my favourite eateries have gone too. I’m a big fan of Indian food but I also really enjoy food from the Middle East. One of my very favourite things to do in Bangkok is perch in Soi Arab, order a heap of different dishes and chew the fat with a friend and watch the world go by. I’ll miss these two restaurants more than I would any bar.
The Serpent starts next week on BBC One. It’s a new TV series about Charles Sobhraj and the murders that took place on the hippy trail in the late ’70’s, including Thailand. Part of the series has been filmed in Thailand. If you don’t get BBC One in your part of the world, your favourite torrent site will no doubt have episodes available.
This week’s outbreak of Covid in Thailand has seen events cancelled, some schools closed and many people told to work from home, in some cases until the end of January. This outbreak is being taken seriously so here’s hoping the authorities get on top of it quickly.
Spare a thought for those who chose to escape the ravages of Covid in their corner of Farangland by flying to Bangkok. Imagine being in quarantine as news broke of a major outbreak of Covid in Thailand – as happened last weekend. You’d flown all that way, gone through all the hassle and expense of getting all the required paperwork, including a Fit To Fly certificate, getting tested for Covid less than 72 hours before your flight, and of course paid way over the usual price for an air ticket. Imagine spending two weeks in quarantine, only to finally get out and find that due to an outbreak of Covid in the country, Thailand may go in to lockdown! All of those things you had hoped to do wouldn’t be possible and all of the places you hoped to visit would be closed. OK, so that has not happened – and with a bit of luck it won’t – but imagine how anyone sitting in quarantine in Bangkok right now must feel! Bangkok would be a whole lot better place to be right now than Europe or North America, and I absolutely do not wish to appear alarmist – but do keep it in the back of your mind that outbreaks are possible anywhere!
There was talk previously of a Covid passport which would allow those who have been vaccinated against Covid to travel without the need to quarantine. Vaccinations have started in some countries but there has been little word about Covid passport since. The only article I have seen on the topic is from Singapore Airlines. Can we expect Covid passports any time soon?
This Week’s News-Feed / Thailand-Related News Articles
Quote of the week comes from a reader, “I did catch a glimpse of a couple of punters in one bar.”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Tourist, “The Ghost Of Pattaya“.
A Thai man uses CPR to revive a baby elephant.
Covid19 concerns have seen the New Year’s countdown in Pattaya cancelled.
Hundreds of undocumented Thais have died in South Korea in recent years.
The virus has robbed some expats in Thailand of some favourite Christmas traditions.
An American sports writer writes about his latest adventure, running a bar in Pattaya.
A video taken by a Burmese fellow employed at an international company and his Thai girlfriend from a prestigious university in Bangkok shows how they were told to get off a bus to Ko Chang because…..he is Burmese.
Next week I’ll run my predictions for the year column. Last week I said I was optimistic about travel in 2021 but I have to confess that optimism is fading after some of what has happened around the world this week. It is probably for the best that I didn’t publish that column this week. It would be good to look at it again with fresh eyes and reconsider some things. Once again, thanks again for all your support this year, and for taking time out of your Sunday to stop by. All the best to you and yours for a much better 2021!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]