Suzie Wong: 22 Years & Still Going Strong
This week Bangkok Photographer takes a closer look at long-running Soi Cowboy bar Suzie Wong and includes some cracking images of some of the current crop of ladies.
It’s widely known that the opening of The Dollhouse on Soi Cowboy was the spark that ignited the Bangkok nightlife strip. It was incredibly influential, but what’s often forgotten is that Suzie Wong, which opened directly opposite Dollhouse only weeks later, played just as much of a part into making the Neon Alley what it is today.
Like every long-running club, Suzie Wong has seen its share of ups and downs, popularity and not. But now, under a pair of owners who have some of the most-popular nightlife venues in the capital, including the uber-popular Baccara, Suzie Wong again is making its case as to why it’s one of the best go-go bars in Bangkok.
Suzie was slow to get back in the dancing game as the Covid-19 pandemic wound down. While Baccara and Crazy House were “showing” up the competition, Suzie (and Dollhouse) kept their stages closed. When they did put ladies back on the pole, they were in dresses. Finally, in late May, the Boys in Brown gave the all-clear for more. Suzie Wong jumped back in – as soon as they could find dancers – with normal chrome pole shuffling and shows covering the gamut of tired routines, from lesbians to “stupid P-tricks” shows.
While millions of tourists flock to Bangkok each year for the first time looking for darts and balloons coming out of places darts and balloons have no place being, Suzie Wong management recently put a stop to that tawdry stuff and pivoted the bar in a more upscale direction. Even other bar owners are aware that Suzie brought in more than a dozen new “agency” girls who are nearly all young, slim and attractive. There’s also a crop of girls that have been there since Thailand fully reopened who look sweeter than arm candy.
And although it was started as a pandemic revenue-generator, the live music with fan favorite Lee Shamrock continues in the outside bar every Saturday night. Lee has his own cadre of groupies who follow him wherever he goes, but, as tourism has exploded, all the “regular” Hangover tourists coming to Cowboy are plopping themselves down on Saturdays, making the outside bar busier (early) than inside!
Part of that is that drinking outside is much cheaper than inside. Suzie Wong runs an all-night happy hour outside, with all local beers just 110 baht and spirits 170 baht. Suzi Wong has taken a hit lately for the prices of its drinks, both for customers and lady drinks, which are some of the highest on the Soi of Sin. But there’s another side to the story that people don’t realize by just looking at the menu price. For starters, the current prices were put in when Suzie positioned itself as a “showbar”. The shows are gone, but the prices haven’t been adjusted … yet.
Order a lady drink at Suzie and you’ll be charged 260 baht, which, at first, is eye-popping. But, in fact, the lady gets either two drinks – a shot and a Coke – or a big beer (or tall soft drink). The “two-drink” ladydrink system is increasingly employed at Bangkok bars, but Suzie’s system is much cheaper. At Crazy House, the “Tequila Coke” combo will set you back a heart-stopping 400 baht. At bars like Random, it’s 280 baht.
The other difference is the serving size. A Suzie mamasan said this week that she popped into a couple other go-gos around town and was appalled at the tiny glasses that were used for lady drinks – half shots of Tequila and two sips of Coke, with bars charging 195 – 220 baht for each. At Suzie Wong, the girls drink from the same size glasses as customers.
It’s been 22 years since Suzie Wong first graced Soi Cowboy with her presence and, with some renovations and improvements planned, she looks to stick around for a long time to come.
Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit Road, between sois 11 and 11/1, near Lek’s Last Stand. Surprisingly – it’s a part of the city many readers have walked past thousands of times – only a handful of you got it right. This week’s is nice and easy, in fact this is a spot I have featured a few times in the mystery photo section over the years.
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Bar managers are paid less than they’re worth.
Barfines have gone from 300 baht to 1,000 baht. Short-times have gone from 1,000 baht to 3,000+ baht. But a bar manager’s salary goes from 150,000 baht / month (in the case of Dave The Rave when he managed Hollywood in its heyday) to 40,000 baht / month today. Who is taking the piss? If a girl can make 3,000 baht a night, why shouldn’t a bar manager be paid at least that much?
Everyone is welcome at The Mothership.
On the skytrain travelling past the Nana Hotel, imagine my surprise seeing middle-aged Western women around the swimming pool. Soi 4 has changed!
Masks not going anywhere.
Here in Bangkok, on the skytrain, in shopping malls and more or less anywhere inside or outside, I would say a maximum of five out of a hundred Thais are not wearing a mask. One of your readers said he thought Thais put their masks on when they left home and only took them off when they got back home. I think he is wrong. I don’t think they take them off when they get home!
With time comes clarity.
Your closing comments got me thinking about modern Thailand. I was a frequent visitor between 2007 – 2018 and like so many had the Thailand bug, often visiting twice a year. Covid put a stop to that and made me reassess my life and reasons for travel in general. Recently I’ve considered returning but watching the many vlogs on YouTube fill me with dread. The quality of the tourists in Pattaya is really poor. It’s the way they dress, sitting in bars with their beer bellies hanging out, loud tattooed Thai girls shouting as you pass by etc. I just don’t think it’s for me any more. Maybe it’s always been like this, but like when you are in love with a beautiful woman, you never see her faults. Only time and perspective changes your views. I can still see the appeal of Thailand to many people. It’s like an alternative reality which gives many people a much-needed release. I think for the old-hands who visited Thailand during the golden years, it just doesn’t have the same appeal any more. Age definitely distorts one’s views too. Whilst not old (I’m 44), if I was to visit Thailand again it would be to one of the islands to train at a Muay Thai camp. I still love and yearn for the tranquility and miss the Thai way of life that the main tourist areas don’t offer any more.
More Emails From The Past Week
Time changes everything.
An opinion was offered that Bangkok nightlife, and the women working it, are probably just as good now as 20 years ago, based on one bar doing good business. The writer of that email suggests the now 65-year-old retirees have warped memories from being new to the scene at the time. He has good experience in the time he has been in Thailand, but he has only seen post-Taksin Thailand, not pre-Taksin Thailand with his morality minister like I have. A big change was requiring massage girls to undergo expensive schooling and licensing. Yes, happy endings are still out there but mostly done by less than ideal females who plan on massaging for life. Massage shops 20 years ago had so many cute farm girls, college girls, and even a few stunners, the kind that you had to lead your buddies to enjoy, and watch them stagger out afterwards with silly grins on their faces. It was the same in the bars where the girls were shy. Not speaking good English was probably part of it. The girlfriend experience may not have been real, but it was there and appreciated, just like that fawning attention you pay so much for at Disneyland or an upscale hotel / restaurant. As for retirees being shy, I’d say it’s more shy of funds. 20 years ago those recent retirees were aged 45 or so and making 40K – 80K per year. Now they are retired and pulling down 15K – 25K. So prices have tripled while their income has fallen by 66%. House? Savings? The ex-wife took that years ago and you sure can’t save much when you are paying alimony and legal fees. That’s why they are in Thailand. Perhaps Stickman can pull out some pictures from the pre-Taksin era and compare with current line-ups <I don’t have many photos of ladies from the pre-Taksin era but what I do have suggests that there has actually been very little change in their looks, although their “presentation” is different i.e. there are more tattoos on ladies working in the bars these days and many favour other cosmetic changes and heavy makeup, jewellery, dyed hair etc. to stand out from the crowd. See this week’s closing comments for more – Stick>. I find it much better now to make friends with the Thai girls you meet casually. The girlfriend experience is still there. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss going into a Nana bar with 20 – 100 totally nude females who were happy to sit with you that way.
Why the Russians are coming.
A few weeks ago someone mentioned the surprisingly large number of Russians now vacationing in Thailand. In international news I read that it is currently hard for Russians to get in to Finland, Poland, and other vacation spots around the world. Maybe Russians are increasingly visiting Thailand because they are not welcome in many places.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
Traditionally, the week before Christmas in Bangkok can see a slight dip in tourist numbers before things really take off from Christmas through to the end of January. A good friend who has been in business in Thailand for 20 years who has often featured in this column tells me that Bangkok is absolutely booming. In his words, “Town is booming. Never seen it so busy. Printing money. It’s like Vegas here.”
For decades, Annie’s Massage on Soi Nana was a favourite spot for those looking for an all in experience. Feedback was almost universal – the service provided was top notch. Annie’s closed its doors back in 2014 and until this week, I had all but forgotten about it. So I was surprised when Annie’s Massage dropped me an email to say that the establishment is back. Annie’s was one of the big names of Bangkok nightlight, having been in business for 42 years. It opened way back in 1972 when GIs were flocking to Bangkok on R&R during the Vietnam War. In what is an interesting approach, management have said that they are deliberately covering all bases in regards to the ladies working there – young, old, big, small, etc. Annie’s website has detailed profiles of some of the ladies who currently work there. The website indicates that inflation has not caught up with pricing – a page on pricing simply says 2,000 baht. The new Annie’s Massage is no longer on Soi Nana and has moved to Sukhumvit soi 7/1, the soi some refer to as “Soi Eden”. Do note that Annie’s has retained the original email address so you can still get in touch with them at : email@example.com.
As a side note to today’s lead piece about Suzie Wong, changes are coming to long-popular Soi Cowboy bar Dollhouse. Gregarious new American manager Dennis has a Santa’s list of new ideas and improvements he is keen to implement, including a new sign. The old Dollhouse sign was a fixture on Soi Cowboy and the new one is said to be similar, with improvements to bring it into the 2020s. Dennis is bringing real energy to his new job, far more than you’d expect from a guy his age. He looks a lot younger than he really is.
One thing that won’t be back at Dollhouse – at least not this year – is the Christmas (fake) snow. It had long been a tradition at Dollhouse. Blame the tragic, deadly fire at the Mountain B nightclub in Sattahip earlier this year. The same type of foam was used there for sound insulation as companies use for fake snow. That airborne insulation is surprisingly flammable. Dennis is said to be toying with the idea of REAL snow, however. Just how that would work in Bangkok, don’t ask me!
Still in Soi Cowboy, I mentioned last week that Shark has restarted its happy hour, with all drinks at just 95 baht from 5:00 – 8:30 PM. But the Soi Cowboy bar this week added a menu item less commonly seen in Bangkok gogo bars: Draught beer. Draught may be the big seller in Pattaya, but it has showed up only sporadically over the last decade in Bangkok. Jungle Jim’s, Bangkok Bunnies and Erotica are a few bars that come to mind that had it, but none of them do now. (Bunnies, of course, is long gone.) But this isn’t your average Pattaya draught, with the tiny half-pint glasses so commonly used in Sin City. Shark is selling big pint mugs of cold Tiger for just 95 baht during happy hour and only 130 baht the rest of the night.
As if it needed more, Soi Cowboy has another new weed shop. Seattle’s famous coffee joint, however, won’t appreciate the name of the new street cart at the Asoke end of Cowboy: Star Buds!
There are many obvious tell-tale signs that those on Soi Cowboy these nights are largely tourists. A western female visitor to Suzie Wong made herself obvious when she tried to walk in the bar Thursday night with a three-quarters-full beer. Stopped at the door by security, she refused to give up the beer and chugged it down in one go before handing him the bottle.
Up the road in Nana Plaza, the annual Playmates double party at Billboard and Butterflies was as epic as ever, worthy of a lead photo article here, but as this column covered both bars’ anniversary parties, we’re spreading the love around and giving other bars their share of exposure. The Playmates party, which dresses up the girls as a mix of Playboy Bunny and Penthouse Pets, is thrown each year to celebrate the owner’s birthday. The staff surprised him before the party with a big cake and service-staff Playmates shirts with a happy birthday wish.
Unlike the anniversary parties, the girls this time were dressed largely in the same bunny costumes, with some personal modifications. Maybe cottontails were in short supply, however, as most of the Butterflies girls didn’t have theirs. The night saw plenty of the party favours that Billboard and Butterflies are famous for, including tens of thousands of baht in flying tips, high energy and lots of ladies wanting, for once, to get their photos taken. Both bars will have festive nights on Christmas weekend and a huge party for New Year’s Eve. Details in next week’s column.
A reminder that this year, Christmas parties will be held largely on Christmas Eve, as it’s a Saturday night. There will be a BBQ pig at Shark on Soi Cowboy, a holiday spread (no pig) at Mandarin and Red Dragon at Nana Plaza and plenty of sexy Santa’s helpers across the nightlife areas.
Plenty of bars and pubs will have their own New Year’s parties, but one of the first out of the gate with announcements is Buddy’s Bar & Grill. New Year’s is the occasion for big “staff parties” where all customers, new and old, are invited. Parties will be held at all five Buddy’s locations (Sukhumvit 8, 20, 22 & 89 and Silom) with free Thai food and bar snacks all night plus free Champagne at midnight.
Requests for a lady drink almost immediately after sitting down don’t endear customers. Most girls just don’t seem to get it – or perhaps they don’t care? – that this aggressiveness ruins the illusion that she could be a very temporary girlfriend, and not a sex worker. Everyone knows the deal – if you want to spend time chatting with a lady in a bar, you buy her a drink. I’ve talked about some of the reasons why girls are so aggressively chasing lady drinks these days so there’s no need to go over that again. But things could be even worse than I have commented on in one Walking Street gogo bar where it has been mooted that failure to buy a lady drink could see you asked to leave! Merely buying a drink for yourself might not be enough to stay in the bar. This is rumoured to be the case in one popular Walking Street gogo bar with no-one willing to come out and name the bar. (I would happily name the bar, if I saw it with my own eyes….but for now, it is third-hand gossip so I will refrain from naming it). If what is being said is true, it would be a big deal. Some see this as a move in the wrong direction and feel like the sky is falling.
The utter ridiculousness that bar operators have to face was experienced by The Game this week which had to play the game with the boys in brown so customers could enjoy the World Cup semi-finals. The Game remained open for the World Cup semi-finals which kicked off at 2:00 AM, the very hour bars are supposed to turn the lights out. Prior to the semi-finals, management at The Game had told punters that they had made prior arrangements, the football would be shown live and there would be no hassles. It wasn’t to be. Punters in The Game let out a collective groan when the boys in brown entered the bar at half-time during the Argentina vs. Croatia match, an hour after the bar should have closed. Bar staff were told to turn the commentary volume down and to stop serving alcohol. They didn’t close the bar and punters could enjoy the second half of the Lionel Messi show. The match finished a bit before 4:00 AM and punters drifted away. But a group returned to the bar – the boys in brown! A handful of bar staff were taken away to the local cop shop. The owners were called and one of the American owners traipsed to the cop shop where he was berated for opening after 2:00 AM, told off for selling alcohol at an hour it is not allowed and fined. The staff were free and no charges were laid. The words shake and down come to mind. The following night saw France and Morocco play in the other semi-final. That match also kicked off at 2:00 AM. The police did not visit. The bar stayed open late. The sound was turned up. Alcohol was available for the duration of the match. Punters enjoyed the match and drinks – which hardly seems like a crime, even to a non-drinker like me – and everyone was happy. Who’d want to be a bar operator?
I’ve never really understood the interest of Japanese in the bar areas dominated by Caucasian men. The simple explanation is that men are men, Japan is expensive and Thailand is cheap so why wouldn’t our Japanese friends venture to Bangkok for the same reasons white men do. I’m not sure the explanation is that simple. The Japanese can be very particular. As I understand it, Japanese consumers are fussy and expect certain standards. Witness the attention to detail with food in Japanese restaurants. This extends even to second-hand goods where items are expected to be of a certain standard and accurately graded as A, B, C etc. The foreigner nightlife industry is a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates thing – it might look fantastic but you really don’t know what you’re going to get. As I understand it, that’s not the way the Japanese like things. Perhaps readers who have experience with our Japanese friends might have some thoughts on why the Japanese have long flocked to the likes of Nana and Patpong?
The Patpong Night Market resumed last week after almost 3 years absence. It is estimated about one-third of vendors are back compared to pre-Covid. It’s early days and expectations are that the number of vendors will increase.
When I’m in Bangkok, I try and catch up with lots of people but inevitably there are just too many people to catch up with and I don’t get to see everyone. Those I don’t catch up with I like to call and say hi. In some cases they have changed their phone numbers so I call them on the LINE app. This is kind of ironic because I could just as easily call them on LINE from New Zealand. Phone calls using the LINE app are free. But I don’t call them from NZ. Why is that? My best guess is that it’s a carryover from the days of old when international phone calls cost a fortune and you would only make them if it was important. I need to adjust my thinking!
What is it with Thais and the insistence that many dishes must be accompanied with sauce? Thais love to douse their food in sauce. Western food, Thai food, so many dishes they just have to add something to it be it fish sauce, tomato sauce, seafood sauce etc. My other half puts seafood sauce on all manner of things – including many foods that aren’t seafood. And when we go out to eat, she often takes a small pot of Thai seafood sauce along. She’d be horrified if they told her it wasn’t allowed!
There is a story unfolding at present that some foreigners resident in Thailand might like to keep an eye on. Many expat residents, particularly those who have been around for a decade or two, are familiar with Chuwit Kamolwisit, a wealthy Thai businessmen who became known as the king of the upmarket soapy massage trade. Chuwit owned many of the biggest and most famous bath houses which are popular with moneyed Thais. He also owned the plot of land at the start of Sukhumvit soi 10 that recently was known as Chuwit Square and prior to that as Sukhumvit Square. That’s the old bar area which late one night in 2003 was destroyed in dramatic fashion. Some 15 odd years ago, Chuwit formed a political party and campaigned against police corruption amongst other things. He served as a member of parliament for a short time. He has since become a very popular and outspoken pundit and commentator of various social issues and criminality including gambling, prostitution and especially police corruption. Fast forward to today. Chuwit’s latest allegations concern corruption within the Immigration Department which has allowed many Chinese to enter and stay long-term in the country from where they operate various criminal enterprises. Chuwit is bringing to light corruption in the Immigration Department and while the focus is on Immigration processing visas for Chinese criminals, this has become a big story and could easily spill over to include all foreigners. Not an insignificant number of Westerners manage to stay in Thailand by exploiting loopholes to stay long-term on visas meant for short-term stays. Whether anything will come of this, and whether there is any fallout for Westerners is moot. What tends to happen in Thailand is that someone raises an issue, the press picks up on it, the public is horrified that this was allowed to happen and then there is a – usually, short-lived – high-profile crackdown. Before long, things revert back to how they were. If you’ve been exploiting visa loopholes, keep an eye on this as there might be some fallout for a short while. Chuwit is a real character and one of few Thais in the press who I enjoy following. He is most certainly not one of the (increasingly few) old-school Thais who are unapologeticaly anti-foreigner. That’s absolutely not the case. Chuwit is Western-educated, speaks fluent English, has a sharp mind, is extremely well-connected and has charm in spades – and is one of few influential Thais I have always felt was actually pro-foreigner. He has always appeared to be in favour of foreigners not just visiting, but living and working in Thailand.
The last few months have been fantastic for those in the tourism trade, with recent weeks getting better and better. One hopes that recent events which we cannot talk about do not have an effect on things. Precedent says that New Year may be a sombre period if bad news happens to be announced before then. The potential for long-awaited New Year’s festivities to be subdued would be disappointing given all that everyone has endured these past few years. With a bit of luck any bad news will be delayed until after New Year.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
A Brit former teacher is the latest foreigner to be killed on Thailand’s deadly roads.
An English woman is the latest foreigner to have a motorbike accident in Thailand and end up with huge medical bills, £50,000+ in her case.
A middle-aged Thai man is savaged to death by 3 pitbulls in Udon Thani.
Were the ladies more attractive in the past? It’s the eternal question, one that is polarising, especially when bar owners, bar managers and those whose income comes from the bar industry are concerned. In recent weeks, a not insignificant number of readers have commented on the general attractiveness of ladies in the bars these days. Many feels ladies are less attractive than the ladies of the past. I think the big change is less about general attractiveness and more about how natural the ladies look. You really don’t have to go back very far to a time when tattoos were the exception rather than the rule, ditto other surgical enhancements. Back in the day, most ladies simply threw on a bit of makeup – often quite haphazardly – whereas today some go to extreme looks to stand out from the crowd. In 2015, I published an article titled How The Ladies Have Changed, featuring photos from the first ever bar gogo bar photo shoot I did way back in 2004. Check out the ladies in those photos and tell me what you think when compared with the ladies of today. And do factor in that the bar where that shoot took place, Hollywood on the top floor of Nana Plaza, was one of the best bars back then. There was no problem photographing girls so you got to shoot the pick of the crop. As I say, to my eyes the ladies were more natural back then – but were the ladies actually any more attractive? Maybe it’s more that along with looking more natural and less made up, they were much less aggressive and more demure? Do check that article out, especially the photos, and let me know what you think.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org