Stickman's Weekly Column May 8th, 2022

Patpong, This Week

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Reader Steve went for a wander through Patpong this week and took a series of great shots which are presented today as a walk through of the area. The sequence of these photos starts at the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 1 as Reader Steve walks along the soi to the end, turns right at Suriwong Road, walks past Shenanigans and then turns right and walks back along Patpong soi 2. What follows are Reader Steve’s photos and my words.

 

 

Patpong soi 1. It was never supposed to look like this.

Patpong soi 1. It was never supposed to look like this.

Patpong is clinging to life. Bangkok’s oldest bar area looks like it’s closed. But it’s not. Closer inspection reveals that some bars are open. Some.

 

 

 

So many good memories in Safari. Will it open again?

So many good memories in Safari. Will it open again?

You know things are grim when long-time expat favourite Safari is closed. If ever there was a Patpong bar that could survive – even thrive – with just locals making up the customer base, it is Safari. But it would seem that currently it is just not worth the owner’s while to open.

 

 

 

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Tip Top, an icon of Patpong soi 1, has been there for more than half a century.

It’s a nice idea to put tables outside bars and restaurants in Bangkok entertainment areas so customers can enjoy the view….but the reality is, the view on Patpong soi 1 isn’t all that great at the moment!

 

 

 

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King’s Castle 1 is one of very few businesses open on Patpong soi 1.

But some bars are trying and full marks go to the King’s Group for opening their flagship bar, King’s Castle 1, and doing their bit to keep Patpong soi 1 alive.

A dark lane with just a single bar open, staff milling around outside and few passers-by reminds me very much of Phnom Penh after dark.

 

 

 

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At a casual glance it could be any old soi…..but this is the world-famous Patpong Road.

One of my pet peeves is cars parked in the bar areas. I don’t know what it is about it, but it annoys the hell out of me. Whether it’s delivery vehicles parked across the entrance to Nana Plaza, along Patpong soi 1 or in front of bars in Soi Cowboy, it really annoys me!

 

 

 

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Shenanigans, Suriwong Road end of Patpong soi 1.

One venue at Patpong which has done more than ok through Covid is Shenanigans which reader Steve described as heaving. You just knew Shenanigans would be a winner from the day it opened – great location and the large outdoor deck to watch the world go by was pure genius.

 

 

 

Looking back down Patpong soi 1 towards the Silom Road end.

Looking back down Patpong soi 1 towards the Silom Road end.

When visitors do return to Bangkok in decent numbers – my guess is that is still several months away; figure the start of the high season before any sort of real visitor numbers return – will the Patpong Night Market return? As reader Steve wrote in an email, “The vendors won’t come back until the tourists are there, and the tourists won’t go until the vendors are there. Catch-22.”

 

 

 

Looking down Patpong soi 2 from the Suriwong Road end

Looking down Patpong soi 2 from the Suriwong Road end

Is this the closest to “normal” Patpong looks in this series of photos? A lot of the neon is turned on along the section of Patpong soi 2 which is now dominated by gay bars.

 

 

 

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The Pink Panther.

A little further along and a few ladies mill around, waiting in hope for some high-spending customers to stop by. Make that any customers. One would be better than none.

 

 

 

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Outside some of the gay bars on Patpong soi 2.

The neon is on along Patpong soi 2 and it’s nothing like dark and drab Patpong soi 1. But look closely and there’s almost no foot traffic and hardly any punters about.

 

 

 

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What was once Le Bouchon.

Le Bouchon was loved by foodies and Patpong afficionados alike. Great food and great atmosphere. In terms of Expat Bangkok, there are only so many historic venues remaining so when the likes of Le Bouchon close their doors it really feels like another small piece of the Bangkok we knew and loved has gone forever.

It’s not quite that bad, at least not in this case. Le Bouchon has relocated to Sathorn soi 1, and can be found about 300 metres in to the soi on the right-hand side.

When a bar area loses the likes of Madrid and Le Bouchon as Patpong has, it’s not just losing 2 long-running establishments, it has lost two of the reasons that drew some of us to Patpong. Where Nana and Cowboy tend to be pure bar areas, Patpong has long been a bar area where you could enjoy a decent meal. You still can, of course, just not at Le Bouchon or Madrid.

 

 

 

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Star Of Light.

I wonder how many of the closed bars still have a leaseholder. In how many cases has the bar operator walked away? I guess we’ll learn more over the rest of the year.

 

 

 

On Patpong soi 2, by the alley near Foodland that runs through to Patpong soi 1.

On Patpong soi 2, by the alley near Foodland that runs through to Patpong soi 1.

The effects of the pandemic have been with us for so long that in some cases it’s hard to remember what the last business was in some shuttered spots.

 

 

 

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The lights are on at the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2.

The bar bosses in Patpong tend to be very upbeat, which is absolutely to be admired. They are never shy to remind me how their area is supported by a much more diverse customer base, and not just how they expect it will come out the other end stronger and more resilient but that when the nightlife does one day die, that the last remaining bar will be in the Patpong area. I really hope they’re right but at the same time I do wonder…

 

 

 

Patpong bar bosses are still making an effort - and that has to be admired.

Patpong bar bosses are still making an effort – and that has to be admired.

I know this is not the most uplifting column opener so let’s interject for a moment with something positive from Patpong. This coming Friday – that would be Friday the 13th – The Museum of Patpong – a most brilliant attraction that anyone who enjoys the theme and the topics covered in this column really should visit – will host a horror movie music night. It will feature scary movies, bloody cocktails, and all local beers are just 90 baht from 9 PM until midnight. The Museum of Patpong can be found on Patpong soi 2.

 

 

 

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The show goes on at The Strip and Bar Bar.

While there is overlap with all of the bar areas, Patpong can boast customers who have zero interest in Nana, Cowboy or pretty much anywhere on Sukhumvit. Some of these customers are Thais. Some are old-timers. And some are a curious mix who live in the Silom area and seldom venture further afield than Lumpini Park.

The bars that were open when Reader Steve wandered through had few customers (admittedly, it was mid-week) and generally unhappy looking girls. It must be hard to smile when you’re keen to make money but there’s hardly anyone around.

The operators of the popular bars at the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2 like Black Pagoda, The Strip, XXX Lounge and Bar Bar remain optimistic. That’s to be admired and perhaps that optimism will rub off on staff and punters. Patpong has a rich history. And it has a landlord who from all accounts is very reasonable. Just how Patpong will look post-Covid is anybody’s guess. You could make as decent an argument for it to fall off the map as you could for it re-emerge and thrive. Here’s hoping it’s the latter.
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* Special thanks to Reader Steve for the photos.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Photo

Looking sharp in downtown Bangkok.

Looking sharp in downtown Bangkok.

Last week’s photo was super easy, taken outside Shark Bar on Soi Cowboy. This week’s isn’t all that much more difficult. Smart-looking venue, eh?

 

 

Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week

Thais don’t share the spirit of optimism.

I have one comment on the overall tenor of what your columns appears to suggest you’re hearing from your sources here in Thailand. I don’t think that, on the whole, Thais share the spirit of optimism that the foreigners you talk to apparently feel. Things are really pretty grim here. There’s no ‘back to normal’ anywhere in sight. A massive number of businesses have shut down, both restaurants and shops, and many (most?) that remain open are struggling. For example, I’ve never seen empty shop space in the Emporium before, but now I’d say about 20% of the space there is walled up and abandoned. Businesses that have been there since it opened are gone: the photography shop on the 3rd floor has disappeared, the travel agency that has been next door to it for years has closed, even Asia Books is out of business. As always, however, Thais are mostly absorbing all the pain being visited on them with Buddhist resignation. Thais go about their business, dutiful and obedient. They seldom complain since they view suffering as a natural part of this life. Some days it rains, some days it doesn’t is the inevitable view here. Thais wear their masks everywhere and scrub their hands with disinfectant because that’s what they’ve been told to do. But with a spirit of optimism that things are almost back to normal? Nope, nothing even close.

Not back to normal.

Guys saying things are back to normal, I don’t know about that. At first glance on some nights things might to be somewhat normal. My personal observation? Hardly! These past few weeks I have been getting deluged with texts and messages from gogo girls, some of whom I’ve not seen for years. They want to meet me or come over, even at the end of their shift. They are hotties at many of the Rainbow bars who complain that guys are not barfining them or have no money. They say punters have become cheap Charlies. It’s very annoying being constantly hounded. Have guys tired of being constantly hounded for lady drinks, high barfine prices and shorter short-times, high long-time prices and closed clubs? Perhaps guys are just wiser having had nothing to do for the past 2 years but watch YouTube.

The good old days weren’t always that.

Memories of the old days flooded back as we got in a taxi last night outside Cowboy and were told 200 baht to get to Nana. It’s been a great 2 years for transport in Bangkok. I had totally forgot what a-holes some drivers used to be.

Filling positions in the bars.

In America, the Baby Boomers have nearly all retired now after the pandemic. There are so many jobs open and people without the skill-set to fill them. In my organization about 15 years ago, I used to take tests and do interviews and ace both, yet I would never get the position. Today, junior and entry-level staff are getting mid-level and senior level positions with little effort. The Millennials today have it easy, much like the Boomers did during their time. So what does this have to do with the Thai bar industry? It could be that many of these girls that worked in the entertainment business found other ways to generate income, got used to their new lifestyle, found husbands, or realized that they will be 3 years older come the next high season and are no longer the beauties they once were. This would create a gap of new workers entering the industry and it will take time to fill the gap. I believe that many Thai girls that suffer from destitution would be more than willing to grab the pole again as long as it pays more than their current situation.

 

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go, Nana Plaza.

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go, Nana Plaza.

 

This Week’s News & Views

The Sukhumvit soi 7 beer bar complex did not reopen this week as had been hoped. There were some reports that following a 45-day closure period the bars could reopen. That 45-day closure period was never official as best as anyone can ascertain so it was little surprise that the bars did not reopen. Some bar operators in the complex have indicated they are now more focused on getting their deposits back, even though technically they haven’t fulfilled the length of the contract. There has been talk of the possibility of taking a class action suit against the landlord. That could be both challenging and expensive with word that the landlord is actually a lawyer himself. The latest is that staff from a district office have been at soi 7 “measuring up” with bar operators told to expect an update next week. The whole situation is as clear as mud. The bottom line for punters is that the soi 7 beer bar complex remains closed.

There is an alternative for those who enjoyed the soi 7 bars and / or those who generally prefer beer bars to chrome poles. There is a small number of beer bars a couple of sois over on Sukhumvit soi 11 that do consistently well and are said to be fun. Just watch out for the pool sharks.

The Lumpini police station, which covers Sukhumvit west of Asoke amongst other neighbourhoods, has a new superintendent and he’s started his tenure by showing bar bosses who the real boss is. This past Wednesday, police hit Nana Plaza where the music was stopped and the house lights turned on in every bar. The boys in brown then studiously went about that most important police duty of checking the ID card of every single member of staff. This was the fourth time in a week such a stunt had been pulled, with similar checks taking place in various bars just days before. May 1, April 29 and April 27 all saw police visit the plaza. Some bars were visited three times. One popular bar, which was nearly full when police stopped the party at 9:30 PM, lost almost a quarter of its customers, who checked bin and left before the music came back on after about 15 minutes. Nana Plaza management scratched their heads over the checks, pointing out that Plaza security already strictly checks the IDs of every Thai woman and man entering to work, looking for the same thing the cops were: teens not of legal age. Bar bosses again blamed the soi 7 bar complex (where a bar was busted for underage girls back in March) for the spill-over effect.

Concern about underage employees is running high in both Lumpini and Thonglor police districts, the latter which covers Soi Cowboy. So high, in fact, that ridiculous distortions of existing laws are taking place. Lumpini and Thonglor police this week held meetings with Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza bar owners and told them that women (and presumably ladyboys) aged 18 and 19 are no longer allowed to work in the bars. This, of course, runs completely contrary to the law, which allows Thais to work in bars at age 18. That fact was pointed out strongly to Thonglor police by Sam, the owner of Tilac on Soi Cowboy, who led a chorus of disapproving voices. The police commander leading the meeting finally backed down, saying teens could work in the bar, but only as bartenders, service staff and outside hostesses. No dancing. With the latest development, Bangkok’s bar industry really has been turned on its head. Prostitution, and, currently, dancing, is illegal in Cowboy and Nana bars. But, of course, both are currently taking place i.e. “legal”. Women aged 18 and 19 legally can work in bars but, now, , they’re “illegal”. Welcome to Thailand.

 

Twister BKK, ground floor of Nana Plaza, has been getting rave reviews.

Twister BKK, ground floor of Nana Plaza, has been getting rave reviews.

 

Twister BKK has come a long way from the first days under Tee’s management. Major renovations during the past year have seen the interior transformed into what looks more like a nightclub than a gogo bar, complete with deafening volume levels. Bizarrely, the entire main stage now is shaped like a Thai-style dragon boat. How that fits with the “Twister” theme is beyond everyone except Tee. The very attractive ladies at Twister are (were?) at the young end of the legal scale. And, unlike other bars, Tee has not struggled to find girls. But it’s widely said that girls who work for Tee would never work for a farang bar owner, as Twister and the Rainbows operate in a Thai style that some women prefer.

With the heavy police presence in the Plaza over the past week, birthday suits have disappeared, at least for now.

Butterflies, Billboard’s sister bar and pre-Covid arguably the second best bar in Nana Plaza, will re-open on June 1st.

Angelwitch, on the middle floor, hopes to reopen in the next week or so, although an exact opening date has not been set. Once Butterflies and Angelwitch have reopened, essentially all of Nana Plaza is open, except for those spaces currently under renovation – which were previously London Calling, Mercury and Taxi.

More bars came out of hibernation in Nana Plaza last week as ladyboy lovers rejoiced with both Obsession and DC-10 reopening. Despite zero promotion, both bars were said to be packed all night on their first night. And, unlike girlie bars, staffing was not a problem. Obsession had about 35 dancers and tiny DC-10 about a dozen. With all but one ladyboy bar closed until this week, there was a pent-up, hungry supply of talent.

 

Popular entertainer Lee Shamrock performs at Suzie Wong.

Popular entertainer Lee Shamrock performs at Suzie Wong.

 

Down at Soi Cowboy, Lee Shamrock is still doing his thing on the patio outside Suzie Wong on Saturday nights. As things slowly pick up, how long can it last – at least on Saturday which is typically one of the two busiest days of the week. Lee has a great following and he’s heaps of fun to sing along with. If by any chance you have not seen Lee Shamrock perform, he’s a Bangkok institution and worth going out of your way to see. You’ve got to see him perform at least once.

Long-running Soi Cowboy gogo bar Long Gun reopened on Friday. The mamasan optimistically claims the bar will have 50 girls within a month, which is a lot given that most gogo bars have barely a dozen or so. Full marks to the mamasan for being positive.

A few doors along, Cowboy 2 reopened this week, joining a dance party on Soi Cowboy that now includes Suzie Wong and Dollhouse. Previously outside only bars such as Jungle Jim’s now allow customers inside to enjoy the air-con. It seems that Soi Cowboy is finally coming back to life after the local plod gave their paid blessing to dancing last week.

Still on Soi Cowboy, in Tilac dancing starts at 7:00 PM and in Dollhouse girls are on stage from 7:30 PM. Things are still building up so don’t expect a huge troop of dancers as pre-Covid. Still, it’s all a step in the right direction.

Champs and Kicking Donkey on Sukhumvit soi 6 are doing their very first Steak Night tonight – so if you’re in Bangkok you’d better be quick. 699 baht gets you steak and 3 bottles of beer. 799 baht gets you steak and a bottle of wine. More on the poster at the very end of the column.

Down in Pattaya, the darkside will have a new Irish bar with St. Paddy’s Irish Pub & Grill to open its doors with a soft opening this coming Thursday, May 12th. Paddy’s Irish Pub & Grill will be open from 9 AM to 11 PM daily. For more details, www.paddyspubpattaya.com

 

Pattaya's newest Irish bar opens this week.

Pattaya’s newest Irish bar opens this week.

 

To those of you who are in Bangkok, what do you make of still being forced to wear masks? I scratch my head at these rules, especially the requirement to wear it outside. I know this comment won’t go down well with some of you – I have had some hate mail about my choice to only have two vaccine shots and refuse a 3rd – and you can count me amongst those who are no fans of wearing masks in places where it seems so unnecessary such as outside. While I wrote last week that I am keen to get back to Bangkok in July, this mask-wearing nonsense is lingering in the back of my mind – and not in a good way. A good friend who has been in Bangkok throughout the pandemic mentioned that to most Thais, a foreigner who walks around town (or worse, inside a supermarket or other crowded indoor venue) maskless is like someone walking around Bangkok without a shirt, and it’s profoundly offensive to locals. I really hope they do away with the mask rules….because having to wear a mask outside might just be a deal-breaker.

If you’re transferring money to Thailand, you might want to consider using Wise – that is if you’re not already using them. Previously known as TransferWise, Wise allows you to transfer money internationally faster, at a better exchange rate and with lower fees than your standard bank to bank telegraphic transfer. It’s worth noting that while you can send money from a bank account in most developed countries to a bank account in Thailand, currently you cannot send money from a bank account in Thailand to a bank account in the West.

Took Lae Dee, which has a number of branches around town attached to Foodland supermarkets, has updated its menu. But the diner which has a loyal following amongst many expats, has cut a number of old favourites from the menu. Glancing over the new menu, the first thing I noticed was Pad Thai was missing – and Foodland did a great Pad Thai. Other dishes cut from the menu include spaghetti meat sauce, tom yum, and their very tasty and inexpensive yellow curry. Interesting that they’d choose to remove some of the classic dishes they were known for. I guess there must be a reason for it – I’d love to know what that is.

 

The new menu at popular diner, Took Lae Dee.

The new menu at popular diner, Took Lae Dee.

 

Popular Bangkok-based thriller writer Jake Needham published his latest novel, The Nineteen, this past week. Both the paperback and the e-book are only available now at Amazon. Set in Bangkok 20 odd years ago, it sounds like it will be a cracking read. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

There were nineteen hijackers you know about. And one you don’t.

In January 2000, nearly a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted lieutenants gathered secretly in Malaysia at, of all places, a luxurious condominium overlooking a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. The purpose of this summit meeting of terrorists was to plan an attack on America, an attack the world would one day simply call 9/11.

When the meeting ended, some of the Al-Qaeda commanders returned to Afghanistan, but the rest went to Bangkok. Why did they go to Bangkok as soon as they set the plan for 9/11 into motion? No one knew. The CIA lost track of them.

THE NINETEEN is a novel about four Americans in Bangkok ⏤ Jack Shepherd, two local DEA men, and an FBI special agent at the American Embassy ⏤ who banded together in January 2000 to try to do what the CIA couldn’t. Find the Al-Qaeda commanders who were in the city and discover what they were planning.

They got close. Tantalizingly close. They just didn’t get quite close enough. After the World Trade Center vanished in a cloud of fire and dust, they could only look at photographs of the smoldering ruins and realize that they might have stopped it all. They thought nothing could be worse than knowing they had failed.

And then they found out there was something worse.

There was something much worse.

 

Jake Needham returns!

Is that a selfie of Jake on the cover?

 

Thailand-Related Articles

A Canadian wanted for murder in Thailand dies in a plane crash.

A Frenchman and a Thai woman are shot dead outside a food factory in Bangkok.

Thailand hopes to get 20 million visitors next year, about half the number who visited in 2019.

The Thailand Pass looks likely to end completely for Thai nationals this month.

A very nice blog article written by a young Thai with an engaging writing style asks whether Pat Krapao could be Thailand’s real national dish.

Businesses on Khao San Road are roaring back to life.

 

Steak night in Bangkok tonight, be quick!

Steak night in Bangkok tonight, be quick!

May is typically one of, if not the quietest month of the year for businesses in the tourism sector. One friend who used to be in the business brokerage trade always said to me that one indicator of whether a business’s books were real or not was to look at the numbers for May. If trade in May was much the same as other months then perhaps some numbers had been fudged. You could also say that May is – at least prior to Covid, it was – the first full month of the low season. This year should be different and May should be better than April, which in turn was better than March. Every indicator is that visitor numbers are rising month after month. That’s good because more people visiting means more going on and more for me to write about. And it’s all good news in terms of this site where month after month visitor numbers are going up. They’re nothing like they once were, but they’re moving in the right direction which is nice. I’ve not run out of things to say so it looks like you’re stuck with me for a while yet!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : stickmanbangkok@gmail.com