Stickman's Weekly Column May 1st, 2022

When 10 Bars Are Closed


Midnite, Sahara, The Peep by Dundee, Cowboy 2, Lighthouse, Déjà Vu, Rio, Shark, Shadow Ladyboy Bar and Spice Girls. What do these 10 bars have in common? That’s right, they’re all gogo bars on Soi Cowboy. That was the easy part. What else do they have in common?

 

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Soi Cowboy this week. At first glance it doesn’t look so bad, does it?

These 10 gogo bars are all closed. They have been closed for ages and no-one has any idea when (some might even say if) they will all reopen.

 

 

 

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Once one of the best bars on the soi, Shark remains in darkness with its future very much up in the air.

About half of the bars on Soi Cowboy – including many of the bigger, better bars – remain closed. And that is the main reason that Soi Cowboy has fallen hopelessly behind Nana Plaza.

Nightlife areas are great fun when they’re busy. They’re not nearly as much fun when only a few places open. Closed bars means fewer customers. Fewer customers means fewer girls. Fewer girls means bars struggle to attract customers. It’s a vicious circle.

 

 

 

Scenes like this at Soi Cowboy hardly make the soi inviting.

Vehicles parked on Soi Cowboy after dark are a bad look, and hardly make the soi inviting.

It’s hard to justify visiting Soi Cowboy when up the road, most of Nana Plaza is open. In Nana Plaza you’ll find one bar with close to 100 girls some nights and other bars with approaching 50 girls. Soi Cowboy just can’t compete.

The antics at Crazy House help, as do the goings on at Baccara. And Country Road does well most every night. But is 3 bars reason enough to visit Soi Cowboy?

 

 

 

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Cowboy 2 looks almost exactly the same as when I was last in Bangkok, 2.5+ years ago.

With great uncertainty surrounding many Soi Cowboy bars, the question has to be asked. Would Soi Cowboy be better off diversifying? Can it really compete with Nana Plaza?

 

 

 

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The entrance to Shadow Ladyboy Bar is blocked with a chain.

The mainstay of Soi Cowboy during Covid has been Country Road. Could Soi Cowboy find greater success forging a new path with more diversity, rather than try and compete with Nana Plaza? Could a soi made up half of gogo bars and the other half a mix of open-fronted bars and restaurants have wider appeal?

 

 

 

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It’s much brighter at the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy but even so, Deja Vu remains closed.

One owner of a bar not named Crazy House or Baccara summed up the situation for the once-Neon Alley this way, “If it wasn’t for Crazy House or Baccara, why would anyone even come to Soi Cowboy?” It remains dire for the outside only bars where you’re basically sitting on the street in April humidity with few girls and no vibe.”

 

 

 

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There are no spicy girls at Spice Girls, in fact there are no girls at all.

There is fun to be had on Soi Cowboy if you know where to go. Inside Crazy House, bosses have given up any pretense of worrying about the cops. On Tuesday night, all the action, which had been tucked away on the second floor, returned to the ground floor and main stage, with topless girls on and off stage. No masks to be seen, except on servers, making it feel like the coronavirus pandemic was a bad dream. Needless to say, there were few seats to be had – not bad for the middle of the week.

 

 

 

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Midnite, one of The Arab’s bars. Will it reopen?

Crazy House’s girls obviously need some time to adjust to dancing on the high main stage again. (Upstairs they danced barefoot on glass floors.) On Wednesday night, one very drunk damsel fell head-first off the stage, landing with a loud, sickening thud on the concrete floor. She was picked up, conscious, but smiling woozily, and helped upstairs to the break room by staff.

 

 

 

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It is understood that since the previous operators walked away, the lease for what was Lighthouse is still available.

Despite 10 bars being closed, maybe there is a ray of light on Soi Cowboy. This past Tuesday the authorities gave the ok for bars in Soi Cowboy to resume dancing, effectively a major upgrade for the soi.

The inside of Dollhouse is open again and there is dancing inside. Suzie Wong now has bikini dancers on stage. There are a couple of lookers amongst them. It’s not all bad news.

The popularity of bar areas tends to be cyclic. Soi Cowboy has fallen a long way behind Nana and has a lot of catching up to do. No doubt things will improve as visitor numbers increase and more girls return to the industry. Soi Cowboy really needs to get those closed bars back open!
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* Special thanks to reader Steve for the photos.

 

 

Mystery Photo

Where is it?

Where is it?

Last week’s photo was taken of the large construction site at the corner of Sukhumvit soi 7. This week’s photo is super easy in response to many readers complaining about too many difficult photos!

 

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

Bangkok breakfast thoughts.

Regarding the breakfast photos, I was surprised there were no photos of Chequers or Black Swan, for me, now Crossbar has gone, the two best breakfasts in Bangkok. Also the beans being separated from the eggs is something I cannot understand. And finally, why give only one small tub of butter and jam, or marmalade, with more than one piece of toast?

Soi Cowboy playing catch-up, while Nana Plaza is humming.

Soi Cowboy isn’t close to what it was. Save for a few second floor venues, Nana Plaza, however, is almost indistinguishable from 2019. When Angelwitch and Butterflies can staff up and re-open, Nana will be at 100% again. The other venues in Nana might sometimes be starved for customers, but Billboard has been packed every night I have visited. The darkest days of Covid – and in Bangkok it was quite bad – seem to be over, or at least there is growing acceptance that some sort of Covid will be with us forever, and we’ll just have to deal with it.

Not back to normal, yet.

Someone said that things are getting back to normal. I am sorry but I don’t agree. Going out in Bangkok is quite boring at the moment. The problem for me is that everywhere you go on lower Sukhumvit, girls ask for drinks NON-STOP. It is very annoying, especially in the gogo bars. They sit down and right away they ask you, “You give me drink?” Of course it is still your decision but if you answer them with “no”, there are no dancers to look at so you just sit in an empty gogo bar all alone. I was at Tilac last weekend and there was not one dancer on stage and the girls just kept asking me for drinks. I am not a cheap Charlie so I bought a couple of drinks but then they go wild for your wallet.

Flight Centre’s Thai Airways stance.

Flight Centre is an Australian Stock Exchange listed company and in their most recent FY22 financial presentation stated they own BYO Jet & Student Universe businesses. Both these entities offer Thai Airways tickets to Bangkok – online. Notably, Flight Centre’s own online website is not offering tickets on Thai Airways. In their recent FY22 presentation there was a comment about airlines negotiating commissions. I did not bother to read the details but a cynic may suggest that perhaps there are other reasons than Thai Airways’ financial health as to why the airline is not being offered by Flight Centre stores. I have tickets with Thai for a trip to Bangkok in December, and I also own Flight Centre shares. But I would only buy airline tickets direct from the airlines – that is my lesson from Covid.

Covid, recruitment and focusing on what’s important.

Here in the UK it is highly apparent that the Covid lockdowns have given people a focus on their lives and how they choose to live. Hence, many in hospitality are finding it difficult to recruit staff like chefs, baristas, bar workers etc. In fact, any work with unsociable hours now seems to find recruitment an uphill struggle. And the good ones are now also being offered decent pay-rises to jump ship. It is not just hospitality. In my social circle, the vast majority have quit their positions and moved to seek new horizons. So as Thailand is still behind the curve on opening up completely, I wonder if staffing at the bars etc. will pick up or if 2 years of Covid will have affected the mentality of former bar staff?

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Fats And Angry thumbs up.

Since you mentioned Fats And Angry, I can confirm that it’s pretty good, having had delivery from two of their locations (Ari and Ekkamai), and visited their Ekkamai location as well. There are a number of interesting burger options in Bangkok, some new, like Bun Meat and Cheese, which has done an amusing take of InNOut Burger and Shake Shack. Last year, InNOut (a California-based chain famous for all fresh ingredients), did a week-long popup in Bangkok of all places – that’s quite a supply chain challenge. Perhaps when you’re through with the English breakfast photos, you’ll explore burgers?

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To donate, or not to donate, and to whom?

I don’t know who to send my spare cash to anymore. On one side there’s an unknown number of Thai ladies, born into poverty, raised in a shed, nothing to eat but rice and whatever available greens and insects could be found within walking distance of their makeshift home. On the other side, there are balding, middle-aged men, born and raised in a first world country but now living in Pattaya who advise anyone that will listen to their YouTube channels ‘not to send money to Thai ladies’ as it’s a foolish thing to do. But within their videos they have added a link to their PayPal account, suggesting we send money to them for the advice they give out about not sending money to Thai ladies! And then there are the live streams saying, ”Don’t send money to Thai ladies.” They pronounce with authority (but I have opened up the “superchats” for you to donate should you feel the urge to send money to me instead). My opinion is that I might be an idiot for sending some random lady $20 for chatting with me on Facetime for an hour or two, but I would be an even bigger idiot to send a balding, middle-aged man in Thailand $20 after he advised me not to send money to Thailand.

 

Nana Plaza, early Friday night.

Nana Plaza, early Friday night. Most of the neon is on because most bars are now open.

 

 

This Week’s News & Views

From today, bars across Thailand can legally sell alcohol and remain open until midnight. Bar owners have said that, as the hours they’re allowed to open get later, early evenings in Nana Plaza and elsewhere will go back to their traditionally somnolent state. That appeared to be the case on Friday, with few people in the Plaza before 8 PM. Things picked up very quickly though and by 9 PM it was a very different picture.

The big news at Nana Plaza this week is that birthday suits are back. Every bar in the Plaza now has girls on stage dancing in bikinis. Some bars feature ladies with less. Which bars have it all in display? The fun is in the discovery…

This past Friday was payday in Thailand and Nana Plaza was pumping. Billboard was standing room only before 9:30 PM. Spanky’s had punters lining up outside and even typically slow bars like Erotica were full – inside – before 10 PM. Expectations were that trade would be good over the whole weekend.

The plaza is looking great with only Butterflies & Angelwitch remaining dark among girlie bars – and they won’t be dark for much longer, although no dates have been set for their respective reopenings.

For fans of ladyboys, things aren’t looking quite so good. Not only are there far fewer ladyboy bars in Nana Plaza now, 3 of Nana’s 4 remaining ladyboy bars, save for Straps, remain closed.

Police were in Nana Plaza Friday night, checking the ID cards of dancers and taking photos of a handful of girls in each bar. It’s unclear why. It was just one more annoyance for bar owners who have long felt that padded brown envelopes mean they shouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense.

 

Mandarin reopened in Nana Plaza the week before last.

Mandarin reopened in Nana Plaza the week before last.

 

Feedback from punters who have visited Bangkok’s newest gogo bar, Rainbow 69, is very positive. The bar has been described as small and intimate, with some dancers said to be very attractive. And with beers priced at a very reasonable 120 baht, you can’t complain about prices. A lady drink will set you back 195 baht. That makes the prices the same as all the Rainbow bars – no surprise given it’s the same owner.

Geisha has something you don’t see a lot of these days – recruits brand-new to the industry. Beer prices are a bit steeper at 170 baht for a standard beer while lady drinks are priced at an even 200 baht. These prices have not gone unnoticed by some locals who feel they are on the high side. Established bars like Spankys and Billboard can charge those sorts of prices as they offer a great experience, but there is a feeling amongst some locals that bars need to offer something more if customers are paying those prices. For tourists, price differences of 10 baht, 20 baht, or even 50 baht are largely irrelevant.

Nowhere is doing as well as Billboard where the formula is simple. Fill the bar with attractive women and play good music. Billboard features more than 80 women on Friday and Saturday nights, at a time when some bars are struggling to get a dirty dozen. The girls know that Billboard is where the punters gravitate to – and the girls follow the money. Even other bar bosses who make it up to the top floor are astounded at how many beauties can be found in Billboard.

Billboard rolled out its all-new drink menu online on Friday. It’s available on the bar’s website at billboardbangkok.com/menu/ – and it’s impressive. The top-floor gogo bar has a wider selection of premium spirits in stock than probably any other Bangkok gogo bar, counting among its offerings Bulleit Frontier bourbon, Mount Gay Eclipse rum, Glenlivet 12-year-old Scotch, and Hennessy XO by the glass. It’s notable that Billboard has resisted the push to raise prices on beers and common spirits, even as wholesale prices for the likes of Heineken and Tiger have gone up significantly this year. Prices at Billboard remain the same as they were in 2018.

 

Killer Pool @ The Game, below the Nana BTS station.

Killer Pool @ The Game, below the Nana BTS station.

 

The next bar to open in Nana Plaza might be the bar that is in the former Rainbow 1 space, next to Erotica. The lease on this space was taken over by Spanky’s’ owner. Word is that a fantastic job has been done with fit-out of the interior. A competing bar owner said it not only, by far, is the best looking bar on the ground floor, but rivals the best looking bar in the Plaza. No date has been announced for the opening of Spanky’s II.

Black Pagoda in Patpong soi 2 will host a May The 4th Be With You Star Wars-themed party this coming Wednesday. There will also be Star Wars themed music. As great a score as it might be, I am not sure the likes of The Imperial March is the sort of thing that should be played in a gogo bar – it seems more fitting for a funeral. All beers are just 70 baht all night and there will be free Yoda shots, whatever that means. Short and green, perhaps?

There really doesn’t seem to be all that much going on at Patpong. Is the most welcome casualty of the Covid era the Patpong Night Market?

We had Covid. Next was the war in Ukraine. Then came the supply chain crisis. And now we have the Girl Crisis! Bars are really struggling to find ladies and some bar owners are getting very frustrated. Bar bosses have commented that customers go in to their bar, see just a few dancers on stage, and walk back out.  “I would do the same thing,” said the owner of one newly reopened bar. “If I walked in and saw this, I’d leave too. I’m getting sick of it.” Another bar owner contacted three coyote agents supplying girls to Nana Plaza bars and was told by each that they didn’t have any more. Mid-week, one owner of the aforementioned two bars had eight girls and the other had 12. Friday was better, however, with both managing to bring in about 20. Some bars are putting up big banners advertising for girls, but, given the situation, it’s unclear how effective those will be. A third bar owner, who is doing better than most in securing talent, predicted a large influx of girls from Isaan in May. Why? “They’re waiting for bigger salaries.” Gogo bars across Bangkok reopened in January and, for two months, didn’t pay girls any salary, only giving them commissions on drinks and barfines. Some discovered that doing so cost them more than paying flat salaries. But, even then, monthly pay has been lower than before the pandemic. With the cancellation of the Test & Go tourist entry scheme, the marked increase in tourists in April (up 50% from March, according to the Tourism and Sports Ministry) and an anticipated further rise in arrivals, girls have gotten it into their heads that salaries will go up as the Girl Crisis worsens.

 

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go.

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go, Nana Plaza.

 

With more tourists in town, The Game, below the Nana BTS station, this week brought back its popular Killer Pool contest. It’s Eight Ball, but each player gets just five misses. The last player standing collects the prize pot. Killer Pool begins at 7 PM on Thursdays.

Away from the naughty bars, The Old English Pub this weekend introduced new menu items, including four weekend roasts. Roast beef, lamb, pork or chicken, served with garden vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and gravy, are offered, all at the same price of 325 baht – a very good deal for beef and lamb indeed. AND you can add a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a soft drink for just “1 British Pound”, or 45 baht, following on the Old English’s popular Pint for a Pound afternoon promotion. The roasts are available on Saturdays and Sundays only from 11 AM to 7 PM. The other new items (see the graphic below) are available every day.

It sounds like things are picking up in Pattaya with Walking Street closed to vehicles after dark and the street reverting back to what it has long been known as, a walking street.

The price of drinks can be polarising for expats based in Thailand, especially those retired and living on a fixed income. I have to admit that when I lived in Thailand I was at times a little price-sensitive. For visitors to Thailand – and that is what I am these days – it’s a different story. You have limited time and you want to have a good time so 10 baht here, 20 baht here, or even 50 baht or 80 baht difference in drinks prices really doesn’t make much difference. If you’re shelling out several thousand dollars in total for your holiday, a dollar or so difference per drink makes little difference.

 

New menu items at The Old English.

New menu items at The Old English.

 

Those keen to scoff some junk food late at night after stumbling out of Nana Plaza may be in for a disappointment. After continuing to pay rent through much of the pandemic, McDonald’s on the corner of Soi Nana and Sukhumvit Road finally gave up the ghost and removed all signage and fixtures. That leaves Burger King, which currently closes at midnight. It will go back to 24-hour service with the reopening of nightlife in the city.

There have been more reports of the African drug dealers loitering in their favourite dark corners of Sukhumvit. A couple of readers have mentioned that they are back out in force at their old stomping ground around sois 11 and 13.

Word from Hua Hin is that there are for rent and for sale signs all over the place as readers who have been away for a couple of years finally make it back, only to find that many of their favourite bars and eateries have long since closed.

 

Party time at Patpong.

Party time at Patpong.

Thailand-Related News Articles

Police crack down on happy water in Pattaya.

The current entry rules to Thailand have been clarified.

The former Dutch diplomat who helped bring down serial killer Charles Sobhraj, aka The Serpent, has been honoured by the Dutch King.

Pattaya closed Walking Street to traffic again after allowing Death Race 2000 on the nightlife strip for 21 months.
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Thai men come up short in world penis-size rankings.
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The Sun looked at the real life fight club taking place on the streets of Bangkok.
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Eva Air will resume its Bangkok – London Heathrow flights from July.
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A Thai wife, and her friend are arrested for plotting to kill the woman’s Danish husband.

 

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go.

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go, Nana Plaza.

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I had hoped to get back to Bangkok in June but now July is looking more likely. I have to remind myself that July is the wettest and coldest month of the year in New Zealand so waiting another month is no hardship. Why push it back to July? A few reasons. I think the longer I wait, the more vibrant things will be on the ground. While I’d like to get back while it’s still relatively quiet, I have had more than enough of quiet being stuck in NZ for so long. The other reason for delaying things is the hope that New Zealand removes the requirement to test for Covid prior to departing Thailand. I don’t want to find myself stuck because I tested positive. So July looks most likely for me to get back to Bangkok. When are you planning to return to Thailand?

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : stickmanbangkok@gmail.com