Stickman's Weekly Column January 24th, 2021

The Bangkok Bar Graveyard



More hospitality businesses are throwing in the towel, saying enough is enough and closing. Some are closing temporarily, others for good. Each week brings news of more bars going to the Bangkok bar graveyard.

As sad as it is that so many bars are going out of business and never to be enjoyed again, great bars closing is nothing new. Many once popular bars have gone by the wayside….and the world didn’t come to an end. There will still be a bar industry at the end of this, but for sure it will look different.

Now feels like an opportune time to look back at some of the bars that we have known and loved over the years that are no longer with us.

I went in to the archives and grabbed a few shots of some old favourites that left for the Bangkok bar graveyard. This isn’t a top 10 list or anything like that, more a gentle stroll down memory lane to remember some of the bars we used to love.

 

 

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Nana Plaza, 2011, a mess. That’s kind of symbolic of how the bar industry feels today.

Let’s set the scene with a photo from Nana Plaza taken back around 2010. Signs can be seen for Fantasia, Carnival, G Spot, Pretty Lady, all of which were at one time great bars and all which are long gone.

A new bar followed in each of these spots and in some cases the bar that followed was better than the bar it replaced. Bars going out of business isn’t always a bad thing….what followed may be better, even if sentimentality gets in the way of us believing it.

 

 

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Casanova, Nana Plaza, one of the first victims of Covid.

Casanova was the original Nana Plaza ladyboy bar and one of the first bars to announce it was closing due to Covid. Probably it won’t be missed by most Stickman readers – and it’s a great example of how a bar that closes is replaced by something (most people find to be) better.

 

 

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Eden Club, Soi 7/1, which became known as Soi Eden.

Eden Club is another venue killed by Covid. It was only a month or so ago announced that Eden Club had closed. The plan is for it to reopen in a new location when the pandemic is over – but the question that has to be asked: Will it still be Eden Club?

Eden Club was never the same when it changed hands and Marc was no longer involved. Once one of the biggest nightlife brands on Sukhumvit, today you could sell a map showing all of the nightlife spots along Sukhumvit and no-one would notice Eden Club wasn’t there any more. The truth is that for most people, Eden Club fell off the map a long time ago.

 

 

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The Golden Bar, out the front of The Nana Hotel.

It’s a good few years since one of the most popular beer bars in all of Bangkok closed. The Golden Bar on Soi Nana was a favourite of many and a great spot to kick back and watch the comings and goings on the soi. It was replaced by Hooters which is technically better in every way. At the same time I think most people wish Golden Bar was still there.

Hooters is arguably better (bigger, flasher, more girls and in some cases farang-managed) than Golden Bar by almost any measure, but the original Golden Bar had a certain je ne sais quoi that sterile Hooters which feels more like it should be in Singapore than Bangkok can’t hope to compete with.

 

 

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G Spot, Nana Plaza, the shower shows were great!

G Spot was best known for its genuinely sexy shower shows where it felt like the girls in the shower (there were half a dozen or so) were putting on a show for you. Unlike show bars today, the girls in G Spot engaged with the audience despite being metres away and behind a glass screen.

These warm fuzzy memories of G Spot make it easy to forget that like many bars in the years before it closed, it had been on a long, downward slope.

Not long before it closed, G Spot was one bar and the only bar I know of in the history of the bar industry which actively sought to fill the stage with fat girls. Not mildly overweight ladies, but genuinely big to the point of being obese. Some dancers must have been close to 100 kg. It was the weirdest thing to see on stage in a Bangkok gogo bar. It didn’t last…

 

 

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Shebas, Soi Cowboy, great frontage!

Shebas was to Soi Cowboy what พัดกระเพา (pat krapow) is to Thai food. If you don’t know what to order you go for พัดกระเพา, and in Soi Cowboy if you couldn’t make up your mind where to go you headed for Shebas. It was one of those go-to bars where you’d almost always have a good time.

Despite its relative success, the premises were neglected, the interior had become run down and there was a dreadful smell throughout the bar in the months before it closed. You really felt sorry for the girls who lived upstairs if the smell upstairs was anything like it was downstairs.

As good a bar as Shebas was, it will probably be most remembered for its impressive frontage. Shebas was replaced by Lighthouse which is remarkably similar – a decent bar to head to if you can’t make your mind up.

 

 

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Tom’s Quik, a 24-hour diner in Soi Nana would be great.

I can only ever remember eating in Tom’s Quik once, back in the late ’90s. I dined with an American fellow called Jim who turned out to be a scammer with victims all over town, bargirls amongst them. He never managed to scam me – but he did ask me for a loan.

Anyway, Tom’s Quik was a small eatery on Soi Nana between Sukhumvit Road and the entrance to Nana Plaza. I can’t remember quite which space it took up; perhaps it was where Stumble Inn is today. If ever there was a soi which could benefit from a decent 24-hour diner, it’s Soi Nana.

 

 

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The early years at Stumble Inn.

Speaking of Stumble Inn, in the early days it was just another cheap, unremarkable beer bar. Stumble Inn has managed to avoid the graveyard so far despite being firmly up against it. They increased the size of the bar from one shophouse to three when the plaza changed hands and with it came massive rent increases that saw the rent go up, I am told, by 1000. The location is great in good times, but good times these are not. Will Stumble Inn survive Covid? Let’s check back in 18 months’ time and see if it’s still around then.

 

 

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Country Road, Sukhumvit soi 19, where Terminal 21 is today.

Country Road II on soi 19 was a fun spot in its day. It is long gone. Country Road survives on Soi Cowboy which is an even better location.

 

 

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The Old Dutch peaked long before I made it to Thailand. As a newbie in Bangkok, many people recommended The Old Dutch. Truth be told, I found the food very average. Still, it was a great place to start the night and the concept of a restaurant with outdoor seating on Soi Cowboy to sit and watch the world go by will always be popular. That said, if you did a survey of punters asking whether they prefer The Old Dutch or Kazy Kozy (which replaced The Old Dutch), I suspect Kazy Kozy would prove more popular.

 

 

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Apache, Soi Cowboy, 2001.

Was Apache with its cool Indians on top of the signage out front ever all that popular? Small bars typically aren’t as popular as bigger bars and I don’t remember Apache ever being talked about all that much. That said, it was my favourite bar back around 2006 and 2007, a real fun spot. When it changed hands, underwent renovations and was renamed it was never the same.

 

 

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Pharaohs, the first bar you saw in Nana Plaza.

Pharaohs was the first of a few beer bars on the ground floor in the middle of Nana Plaza. Those few bars gave the plaza a very different atmosphere to the moveable bars that followed and the beer garden that is in that space today.

No doubt many have some great memories of Pharaohs back in the day but if ever there was a bar that has gone to the Bangkok bar graveyard and the replacement was a huge improvement, it’s the beer garden on the ground floor bar of Nana Plaza. Now that the plaza has a roof to keep the rain out, an open-air beer garden works so much better.

 

 

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Pretty Lady, consistently good over a long period of time.

Didn’t you love the Spanish-style archway entrance to Pretty Lady, back in the day? Too many bars these days go for a modern look with signs that are bright, vivid and can be seen from 100 metres, but lack any sort of style. The old Pretty Lady entranceway and the other sign that said “Never A Cover Charge” had some style about them. Pretty Lady was always a good bar. In the late ’90s and again around 2013, I thought it was probably the most fun bar in all of Bangkok.

 

 

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Monet, Sukhumvit soi 33, 20 odd years ago.

Soi 33 had been in the death throes for a full two decades and it took Covid to kill it once and for all. The concept of ladies with a bit more about them decked out in evening dresses with prices to match was great when there were lots of moneyed expats around, but it didn’t work when the wealthy expats lost interest and so did the attractive ladies – but the high prices remained. The original concept for soi 33 is history. This is one bar soi which will not make a comeback.

 

 

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Peppermint always had an incredible line-up of ladies. (Note: this is not the original Peppermint.)

It’s not just Bangkok which has a bar graveyard. Plenty of once great bars in Pattaya have gone to the Pattaya bar graveyard. Peppermint was unreal in the day, right up there with some of the very best gogo bars in Bangkok.

Obviously I am showing my Bangkok bias here but I have always thought that the best bars in Bangkok had it all over their Pattaya counterparts. Pattaya is a funny place to do business and even successful Bangkok bar bosses have tried and failed in Pattaya.

 

 

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Heaven Above, Soi Diamond, Pattaya.

The eventual closure of Heaven Above was like putting a beast that had been in pain for much of its life out of its misery. Heaven Above had been in decline for a very long time which is a shame because once upon a time it was a real favourite – but we’re winding back the clock about 15 years!

 

 

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Soi Cowboy in better days.

In recent years, the best nights out I have had in Bangkok have been on Soi Cowboy. Venture out early, grab a bite and watch the soi come alight, and alive.

At dusk most bars would turn on the lights, the illuminated soi welcomed the first wave of customers. The after-work crowd, the cheap Charlies taking advantage of the happy hours, and the handful who grabbed their evening meal in the likes of Sam’s 2000 and The Old Dutch.

Call me a sentimental old fool for looking back at some of the many bars which gave us some great memories. How many more bars will go under before we get back to Bangkok? How many more bars will Covid send to the Bangkok bar graveyard?


 

 

Girl Of The Week

Amm, #3, Erotica Playskool, Nana Plaza
22 years old, 165 cm tall
Unlike most in the industry, she is Bangkok-born and bred

 

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Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken of the restroom in Nana Plaza which can be used by customers of the Stumble Inn Group’s bars. It was originally supposed to be a public toilet for the whole plaza, but got taken over by Stumble Inn Group and now only their customers from the Beer Garden, Lucky Luke’s and Big Dogs can use it.


 

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

Good service.

You say in your interview with David Bell that Thais don’t “get” the service side of hospitality. Au contraire! Thais have learned to be lazy. When I was a kid, we went to a restaurant in Pattaya and I was stunned by the level of service. My mom pulled out a cigarette and there was flame before I could blink an eye. A fork was dropped to the floor and instantly another was presented. I have watched the downward trend ever since. In the early years, taking a girl you would get a “Thank you, sir” and a wai in the morning. Staying at the Dusit Thani in 2017 before it closed was like stepping back in time to experience service that was once commonplace everywhere in Thailand. Whitey changed that. Step into Bumrungrad and you will be graciously greeted Thai-style.

Staff feel safer away from the (closed) bars.

I have chatted with various staff in F & B service positions who are out-of-work. Most accept it and feel safer being away from their job where many customers chose to not wear a mask or follow common-sense hygiene rules. So for those who are griping about the poor staff who are out-of-work and bars / lounges / pubs which have been ordered closed, many will find difficulty finding staff willing to return ~ particularly when there are few customers and many of those who do go out do not wear masks!

A trickling faucet fills a glass.

One thing the TAT fails to recognize is how much travel to Thailand came from around the region. To leave here in Cambodia, go to Thailand and then come back here again I would lose a whole month in quarantine, not to mention the cost. Since 2015, I made anywhere 4 – 6 hops across to Thailand each year and imagine that multiplied by weekend warriors from Singapore and Hong Kong, visa runs out of Myanmar etc. as well as all the plane-loads of Khmers who were going over for medical procedures. A trickling faucet fills a glass in no time.

RIP, TQ.

I was saddened to hear that the Tahitian Queen on Beach Road was closing. I always stayed just around the corner of Soi 13 at the A+A Hotel so it was only a hundred feet or less door to door. TQ had been losing the sharp edge they had 20+ years ago. Pride of ownership was non-existent and gone was the vibe that made it a great place to go. One night I was there and one of the least attractive dancers I had ever seen was on the stage yelling at her friends for the entire set of 4 or 5 songs. When she waddled off the stage she joined the crowd she was yelling at and continued to yell. I left the bar and she was still yelling! In earlier years, Tom (one of the managers) would have yanked her fat ass off the stage and she would have been gone. Tom acted as if he didn’t hear her. The quality of the ladies deteriorated horribly. I’m sure the pandemic has been blamed but the writing was on the wall. At one time the sound system was one of the best in Thailand. The music was quite loud but you could converse in your normal voice.

2% or 33%?

I read with interest where you stated that 2% of your readers have experienced ladyboy delights. I have no idea how you arrived at that number. I definitely think the number is much higher amongst guys who either have made many trips to Thailand and by guys who live there full time, myself included. I have no idea what the numbers are but I wouldn’t be shocked if it were 1 in 3 who have at least had a taste so to speak. There are guys who would show outward disgust and really have no curiosity whatsoever. But there are many long-term, experienced mongers who have at least tried it once or twice. Many guys would be quite shy to share their more “quirky “ tastes with others. Just my two cents.

Pattaya today.

Pattaya is a ghost town with all entertainment businesses ordered closed. What is more worrying are the extreme levels of dirty smog which has blanketed the city for weeks. People are coughing, eyes are itchy. During this past weekend the levels of harmful particles in the air reached 160 – 170 AQI. The sky is filthy and the sun can’t be seen. Due to the new wave of Covid-19 restrictions many enterprises have closed, many most likely forever. Side sois in Central Pattaya and parts of Second Road and Beach Road are totally abandoned and it all looks ramshackle. Stray dogs are the new owners of the city and some don’t like humans. I know people who are afraid of going out after dark because of them! Many ladies have left the city. Some went to their home province, others to Phuket. I know guys who spent a lot of money and went through quarantine, came out of the 14 days just before Christmas, only to find themselves in another lockdown. Needless to say they are not very happy right now! With all the entertainment venues closed, swimming pools and gyms closed, dangerous air pollution, no sun and few women, there is only one thing left to do: stay inside and watch movies!

 

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What’s cooking at Lolita’s?

 

Is BBQ+BJ the newest only-in-Bangkok special promotion? Some naughty bars are getting creative in their efforts to remain open and have placed a small BBQ outside the front of the bar. They argue that this meets the criteria to open – the venue is selling food. I am not sure the authorities would agree, but let’s see. Do drop by Lolita’s in the second sub-soi on the right off Sukhumvit soi 8 where you can enjoy BBQ with your BJ!

Presently, venues which serve food can open but they cannot sell alcohol. This order is in place in Bangkok until next weekend / the end of this month. Whether it will continue or not, no-one knows. Rules did relax this week with a number of types of venues allowed to reopen including gyms, tattoo parlours, beauty shops and others. As per the reopening after the widespread closure of most businesses last year, I’d expect the same thing to happen and bars and entertainment outlets to be the last allowed to reopen.

The manager at a very popular Sukhumvit restaurant & bar which I won’t name says total turnover is down 65% from what it was before Christmas / when the current restrictions started. This particular venue is operating according to the letter of the law. Most customers have a bottle of water with their meal, or maybe a soft drink – when usually they would have an alcoholic drink or two.

The Biergarten remains the place to go on Sukhumvit at this point in time. There is no pretence with coffee mugs or anything like that and it’s very much business as usual until around 9 PM. The word is well and truly out and the Biergarten is enjoying a mini renaissance.

Just around the corner on the main Sukhumvit Road, the lights went out at The Game a week or so ago. The overwhelming majority of its income is from alcohol, not food and as such it’s not worth their while to open at this time.

Bully’s is another popular venue which is temporarily closed at this time.

Venues serving alcohol surreptitiously in coffee mugs all do things differently. Some  establishments serve beer only, and no hard stuff. Others will make you a mixed drink like a Margarita, but won’t serve beer. Some places usher anyone drinking towards the rear of the venue, out of sight. Expect the unexpected.

Normally you wouldn’t give the idea of drinking a beer out of a coffee mug a second thought in Bangkok. These cat and mouse games are common in some bars on public holidays. But is there reason for concern after the authorities raided the Taj Cafe on Sukhumvit soi 3 last week? 65 people were found on the premises – a mix of foreigners and Thais. Everyone was arrested – staff and customers – and the justice system kicked in to gear. All of the Thais received fines and a suspended prison sentence of one month. The foreigners present were sentenced to between 4 and 12 months in prison, and as I understand it the sentence was not suspended. The sentences varied as some of the foreigners were on overstay, and some had entered the county illegally etc. The police do know what is going on out there and I guess they were making a statement. The foreign nationals were not Caucasians but from the likes of Africa and the Middle East and while it’s not the done thing to say, I imagine that was part of it. If it had been a bar full of white guys, I imagine the outcome would have been different. In other words, I wouldn’t be concerned about enjoying a drink late at night in a bar which technically should not be serving alcohol.

 

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The cops round up everyone in a Sukhumvit soi 3 bar & restaurant that should not have been open.

 

On the other side of the Asoke intersection – the boundary between police districts – the cops are lurking around sois 20 and 22, hassling foreigners who are out and about late at night without reason. A regular contributor was three sheets to the wind late last night when the devil stopped his motorbike and insisted on putting his grubby paws in to my correspondent’s pockets. Said correspondent spoke some Thai and was mildly aggressive which is not an approach I personally would use nor recommend, but it seemed to work and the devil went off hunting for the next victim. To make matters worse, said correspondent’s friend who he had been out with was stopped TWICE on his way home!

The bottom line is that cocaine is widely available in the area and is used by plenty in the bar industry – from owners and managers to many punters. OK, so it’s probably more widespread in the clubbing scene but I could rattle off half a dozen names in the farang bar industry who could reasonably be described as crackheads. Cops stopping foreigners and fishing for drugs is understandable – if they find a small bag of white powder it’s one heck of a pay day!

On Tuesday afternoon, the English language version of the Khao Sod website reported that from this coming week, all foreigners would be required to provide a negative Covid test when extending their visa. It had been predicted this would happen. An hour or so later the message changed and it was announced that no such test was required after all! That there will be no requirement for a negative Covid test is a relief – not just because of the hassle and the expense (it ranges from 3,000 – 8,000 baht to get a Covid test done privately) – but the very real concern should you test positive you would be carted off to hospital for treatment that – as I understand it, you cannot refuse. And, of course, you’d be presented with a sizeable bill. All’s well that ends well, for now…

On a popular Thailand dating site / app, some money girls have taken the bull by the horns and are being totally clear about why they are on the site – to make money. To really reinforce this message, their respective profiles state that they are the employee of, in one case, a very big-name Bangkok gogo bar, and in the other case, an employee of a well-known naughty massage shop. Seems like a good way to market themselves – all power to them.

 

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Khao San Road is a ghost town.

 

The backpacker area of Khao San Road has been described as a ghost town, with almost everything along the 400-metre strip closed by day. Only a small number of eateries are open during daylight hours – and they have precious few customers. More venues open up after dark when there is an influx of young Thais, but it’s nothing like it was pre-Covid. The Banglamphu area (the area around Khao San Road) is generally not that popular an area for expats to live so there isn’t anything like the number of foreigners living there as you get along Sukhumvit.

As bars close, bar staff are forced look for income elsewhere. And it’s not just the staff but the foreign bar owners and managers too. One popular Pattaya bar operator recently said in a video that if it was not for the small amount of money he makes from doing videos on YouTube he might have handed back the keys to his bar. Good on him for being able to monetise his YouTube channel. Writing e-books, online teaching, copy-writing and vlogging are just some of the ways bar managers and those employed in the industry are trying to make ends meet. I don’t like to say it, but given that Thailand will almost certainly be without visitors for the rest of this year, you might want to consider moving back home for a year or two where government assistance might be available.

On the subject of bar managers, a Bangkok bar manager had an issue away from the bars that reminded him that after all these years working in Thailand, he remains an outsider. Keen to move in to a new condo, he was asked to show a negative Covid test just to view the place. If he was Thai? A temperature check would suffice.

What is it with Thais and car sickness? The other half and I took a day trip to another province this past week and part of the journey was on very hilly and windy roads. We had to stop twice for her to bring her stomach up. Many Thais aren’t great passengers and the hillier and windier the road, they worse they seem to suffer. If they are the driver, they are generally ok. In the passenger seat it’s not so bad. Sitting in the back is the worst. I suggested she drive but she doesn’t like to drive on these sorts of roads. Does your Thai other half suffer like this?

 

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Mos Eisley Spaceport (Nana) at dusk, from Hooters. Even the wretched hive of scum and villainy is gone.

 

The pollution in Bangkok this past week gives a whole new meaning to the phrase living in the big smoke.

With Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out around the world, a reader in the UK mentioned that he has not been given any accompanying documentation whatsoever, so he would not be able to prove that he has been vaccinated (not that such documentation is required for anything, yet). Given all the predictions about how proof of vaccination may become a requirement for international travel, what does this mean for those who have been vaccinated already but there is not yet any standardised Covid-19 vaccine documentation yet in place? Will there be a market for dodgy vaccine certificates? Will fake Covid-19 vaccination certificates be sold alongside knock-off drivers licences and degrees on Khao San Road?

A note about the Girl Of The Week section. A few of you complained about there being no girl for two weeks in a row. A couple of you suggested that I just lift photos from elsewhere and feature them. I won’t do that for many reasons. Besides the obvious copyright issue, it would not be fair to the girls. Girls need to be told how their photos will be used. When I was taking the photos myself, I told each girl where the shots would appear and explained how they could get them removed. Over time, plenty of girls’ photos have been removed at their request. Anyway, the Girl Of The Week section is back this week and I thought the photos were fantastic.


 

Quote of the week, In Thailand, you get the ghetto without the violence.”

Private hospitals in Thailand have ordered millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

An Aussie flees kiddy fiddling charges in Northern Thailand.

An Aussie stuck in Thailand claims his government has abandoned him.

Some hospitals in Bangkok operate a dual-pricing schedule on Covid tests whereby foreigners pay more than Thais.

Bangkok’s largest soapy massage parlour has thrown in the towel and will become a hotel.

A Dane is caught selling drugs at a coffee shop in Pattaya.

Work finally gets underway on a 31-storey office block at Sukhumvit soi 7.

Bangkok’s Londoner pub is amongst the many bars taking a temporary time out.

Everyone in Sin City is saying the same, Pattaya’s a ghost town!

A hospital restaurant serves up cannabis cuisine.

 

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Kangaroo Club, Patpong soi 1, a bar that felt like it has been around forever.

This week’s opener was a bit of a walk down memory lane. I like putting that type of column together, taking a bunch of photos or selecting a bunch of photos from the archives and working a column around them. Looking back at bars that are now in the Bangkok bar graveyard seems fitting given what’s happening these days. I wish I had more positive things to write about. Good news in Bangkok these days is hard to come by.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]