Baccara Soi Cowboy’s First-Ever Photoshoot
This week Bangkok Photographer takes a closer look at uber popular, long-running Soi Cowboy bar Baccara and includes some cracking images of some of the current crop of ladies.
There is no happy hour at Baccara on Soi Cowboy and no plans for one. There’s no website. In 22-plus years of operation, the only photographers ever to shoot the Baccara ladies were advertising photogs for a Japanese-language nightlife magazine. There’s no YouTube, no Tik-Tok and, until this week, no official Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The fact is, Baccara has never needed any of that. It long ago established a successful business model and a sterling, internationally renowned reputation among its core Asian audience and stuck to it: Pretty girls and lots of them.
But, even for Baccara, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. Even though it was one of the first bars to resume dancing last spring, it still has only half of the 200 dancers it employed before Covid-19. Japanese tourists have been relatively slow to resume traveling and China didn’t lift its quarantine and virus controls until today (Jan. 8), effectively blocking any mass outbound tourism. Baccara’s third floor remains mostly closed.
Faced with such challenges, the owners of Baccara – two players with hugely successful track records in Bangkok and Pattaya’s nightlife scene – have done what was previously unthinkable and jumped on the social media bandwagon. (There is, in fact, an old Baccara Facebook page, but it was done by a mamasan, not ownership.)
The first-ever photoshoot, done Dec. 30, was a cultural shift for everyone at Baccara. There are 100 women on the payroll, but only a half dozen were willing to pose. No one knew what to expect, what the experience would be like and how the photos would look.
It wasn’t perfect. Only five of six promised models showed. There was no DJ. The house and stage lights took time to get right. But, overall, Baccara’s first-ever “real” photoshoot was a success. The photos were transmitted, real-time, to a 16-inch Macbook Pro as they were being taken and the girls were both surprised and delighted to see how good they looked under all the professional lighting, even unedited. They were so tickled with the finished photos that more volunteered for the camera on New Year’s Eve. More shoots are planned monthly with the expectation that more ladies will volunteer.
It’s all a big change from how Baccara began in September 1999, before even Dollhouse and Suzie Wong. (Baccara’s owners bought Suzie Wong in 2016.) Baccara began as a double shophouse with two floors. In 2009 it expanded to a third shophouse and its current size. The third-floor lounge was added later.
For those who have never been inside Baccara, the ground floor has a traditional go-go layout with a raised center stage and girls dancing in bikini tops and skirts. The second floor has no stage. Instead, it’s a glass dancefloor where those sitting on the ground level can look up … and see that all the dancers have forgotten their knickers in the dressing room. The top floor has a very small dance floor and bar, but is filled with cozy sofas.
The third floor opened on Friday Dec. 30 for the first time since last spring’s reopening. But it’s not a regular thing. Mostly it’s being used for private parties. When it does open, there is no dancing. It’s just a lounge for customers to spend more time with their “dates”.
The problem, ownership says, is that there simply aren’t enough women. Most bar owners would be overjoyed to have 105 dancers on staff. But, when you have three floors, you need more. Two hundred is the number management is shooting for. When that will happen no one knows.
Ownership knows all about the old “Catch-22” adage that more girls bring more customers; and more customers bring more girls. The hiring of the Digital a-Go-Go Marketing & Photography agency is a way to break that chicken-and-egg cycle by getting more customers through social media promotion and, hence, more girls.
The new social media channels, started late last week, are:
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BaccaraSoiCowboy/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/baccara_soicowboy/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/baccara_bangkok
The other problem with not having enough women is that many of them “disappear” very early. Baccara’s ground floor opens at 7 p.m. and the middle floor at 8 p.m. Even as photo gear was being packed up on the second storey, Japanese punters began filling the seats minutes after it opened. By 9 p.m., many of those women will have left the building with those same customers. Some will return. Some won’t.
It’s why, long ago, Baccara imposed a two-lady-drink minimum before a customer could barfine a maiden. At least then the bar could recoup a bit of money before losing precious talent. Ownership grumbles it’s still not enough and that many times customers just plunk down for the 400-plus baht for the “tequila Coke” and leave the bar almost as quickly.
Baccara has faced greater challenges in history and overcame them even stronger. Perhaps the biggest challenge to the club’s survival was the early-hours fire that gutted Baccara’s upper floors in April 2014. The ground floor reopened a few days later, but the upstairs work took months to complete.
What resulted was even a more plush, comfortable – and safer – environment. Fifteen years after opening in an old shophouse that had been there years before that, Baccara was like new, with modern electrical wiring and that “new car smell”.
In the years since, that sleek upstairs bar has been featured in music videos from artists including Major Lazer, hosted adult film stars like Maria Ozawa, and, last year, was the set for an epic fight scene in this season’s second episode of U.S. TV series “S.W.A.T.” And, unlike usual, the name of the bar and its signage wasn’t even changed for TV.
What does 2023 hold for one of Soi Cowboy’s oldest go-go bars? As mentioned, there are no plans for a happy hour. There are plans to bring back the Friday night barbecue. It actually was supposed to start last month, but has been delayed for now. Other than that, Baccara plans to continue doing what has made it what many say is Soi Cowboy’s No. 1 go-go bar. It’s simply going to show more people what it’s doing now.
Last week’s photo was taken of the top floor of Baccara in Soi Cowboy. This week’s snap shows a spot I have featured in the past although it did look rather different back then. Thanks go out to Mega for providing the photo.
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Lady drink musings.
Regarding the having to leave if you don’t buy a lady drink issue, I wonder if this is a rather sly way of charging an entrance fee? A fee demanded at the door would deter customers but once inside a venue, many would feel obliged to pay when asked. It also raises the thought if some bars realise that customers do not want to buy a lady drink if they are not there to sample the goods later, so to speak. This will be interesting if there is a price hike in customer beers because lady drink prices will surely jump up even more. And in some places in Pattaya it is reported that before a barfine is even considered, you need to buy your new love at least 5 lady-drinks!
The worst sight in a gogo bar.
You wrote, “For some punters, there’s nothing worse than the sight of a white woman getting up on stage in a gogo bar.” Oh but there is – a guy getting up on stage!
Pattaya booming, Hua Hin not so.
A quick note to confirm Pattaya is indeed booming. Arrived November 20th and business has definitely increased across the board since then. Being an avid golfer, surging numbers at Pattaya golf societies confirms a return to pre-Covid levels of participation. Not so for naughty boys across the gulf in Hua Hin. Just returned from a 4 day golf trip between Xmas and New Year, and can sadly report the Bintabaht / Soi 80 areas to be as dead as a door nail, far removed from when I last visited some 8 years ago. We wandered through these areas three consecutive nights (after a superb seafood dinner at the Ketsiree pier restaurant) and it was an eerie feeling. What bars were open had few if any punters, with the small number of ladies being mostly past their prime, the only advantage being not having to work hard in securing company for the night. Even street vendors were conspicuously absent. The restaurant / beach strip was somewhat better, patronised by family tourists as was the night market. As for the golf, Black Mountain and Banyan were superb and I cannot recommend both highly enough, even if both courses kicked my butt!
White women enjoying Soi Cowboy.
Regarding white women in bars, I thought I’d recount to you an amusing and not unpleasant incident that occurred a couple of months ago at Corner Bar in Soi Cowboy. I was in having my usual pre-gogo drinks when a group of not unattractive 20-something Europeans entered the bar. They had clearly ‘taken a drink’ and it wasn’t long before they were dancing along to the Filipino band. As the night progressed I found myself dancing along with them, doing shots etc. At some point thing were getting quite wild and one of the better looking girls fully pulled down her crop-top exposing large, natural assets. Quick as a flash one her the over-enthusiastic male companions stuck one in his mouth. It was only later that evening that I found out that they were cabin crew for a well-known German airline and both were happily married – but not to one another. I am sure no harm was done but the flight home would have been particularly interesting, given the flight captain was also in attendance. All good, harmless fun that certainly brought a smile to my face.
The email about Tim’s Bar Beer brought back many fond memories. Before Tim moved to Second Road, Tim Bar Beer was on Beach Road at Soi Yamoto. From 4 PM to 4 AM, 365 days a year you’d find Tim and Pow (her husband) in charge. They did take half a day off for one anniversary. Tim’s was like Cheers. No strangers there. One visit and Tim would know your name. The girls were friends. It was a party organized by Tim. Then Tim announced she was closing and moving to Second Road. I was there for the last night of Beach Road and first night on Second Road. When they moved from Beach Road the party moved with them. Then Pow fell ill. When Pow passed Tim was still an everyday presence. With the family all living in the hotel, Tim’s two daughters married. One with two children as Tim became a grandma. Her visit to Tim’s became sporadic. Young anti-farang Thais took over the bar. The music became so loud it was impossible to have a conversation. Regulars found other spots to meet. Tim’s became just another watering hole. One of many. Latest reports have Tim Bar Beer permanently closed. Tim started out selling bananas on the sois of Pattaya. In the end she owned land, a nice hotel and a thriving hotel. To quote the slogan from the Virginia Slim, “She came a long way, baby.”
The year ahead.
About the year ahead in Thailand, everything I’ve witnessed about the supposed cost of living crisis here in the UK seems at odds with the media. Currently we have full bars, restaurants etc. Okay, there may be a hangover coming but I’m not sure when or where. My guess is Thailand’s “vast majority” tourists will not be the older sex tourists but families and couples plus singletons looking for a nice time and Instagrammable photo shots. The days of the gogos as we know them will diminish and go towards clubs akin to Europe etc.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
The big news from Thailand this week was the announcement that from tomorrow morning, all international travellers flying to Thailand would be required to show proof they have had two shots of a Covid vaccine. Airlines must check proof of vaccination at the departing airport and deny boarding to anyone who has not been vaccinated. This announcement followed news from a couple of weeks back that China would open its borders and the Chinese could resume international travel en masse from January 8th. Rather than enforce a vaccine requirement rule for those travelling from China where Covid is spreading far and wide, Thailand imposed this new requirement on ALL travellers – presumably because Thailand doesn’t wish to upset China. There has been no mention of any requirement of vaccination for those entering Thailand by land border. There has been an outcry on social media with some pointing out that there are unvaccinated folks who will turn up to the airport unaware of the new requirements and be denied boarding their flight. Others who are vaccinated may also turn up for their flight ignorant of the new requirements, nor have proof of vaccination with them and also be denied boarding. Further, all international flights to Thailand now require passengers to be masked up. The regulations are initially in place until the end of the month. One imagines they will be reviewed – and rolled over – month by month. Update: Monday, January 9: Since publishing, there has been a change in policy and anyone who cannot show proof of vaccine when they check in for their flight will be allowed to get on the flight, and will be informed they’ll be tested on arrival in Thailand.
On to more important things like what’s happening in the bar industry, the Rainbow bar under construction in Soi Cowboy has been confirmed to be part of the Rainbow Group in Nana Plaza.
In Nana Plaza, Stockings on the 2nd floor is either up for sale or has just been sold. The shutters are down as Stockings was closed this week. The girls from Stockings have joined the crew at Rainbow 1.
Notices on the doors of the currently closed Stockings advertising for staff provide a snapshot of where gogo bars are at today. A day rate of 700 baht is offered to dancers, with a commission of 100 baht for every lady drink. Ladies who work 20 days (presumably in one month, although it’s not 100% clear from the notice) receive a bonus of 2,000 baht. Ladies who work for 25 days (again, presumably within one calendar month) receive a bonus of 3,500 baht. Putting the bonuses aside for a moment, the 700 baht day rate topped with 100 baht commission for every lady drink clearly shows what we have long known – the ladies can now make a very good living without going with customers. How many lady drinks can a lady get in one night? In a busy bar on a good night, the sky is the limit and upwards of 20 is quite doable. That’s one reason why most Bangkok gogo dancers typically request a minimum of 3,000 baht for short-time. The time when ladies spent the night with customers to make ends meet are long gone as the dynamic in the bars has changed entirely.
Mandarin A Gogo in Nana Plaza has joined the growing number of bars with impressive LED signboards. Mandarin’s, which flipped on just in time for New Year’s Eve, sits vertically in the shared lobby for Mandarin upstairs and Red Dragon downstairs. In addition to 3D logos and designs, the board will show drink specials and, ultimately, photos of the Mandarin and Red Dragon ladies.
If you are pining to see naked ladies, not that many bars have the ladies get all their gear off these days. One Nana Plaza bar where everything is on show is Geisha.
New Year’s Eve was quite the party across Bangkok but, on December 31st, Soi Cowboy was said to be the most-happening red-light zone that particular night. The soi was bouncing with party atmosphere, with Lee Shamrock belting out his oddball tunes outside Suzie Wong and bars like Suzie Wong, Shark, Baccara and others putting on a buffet. Shark’s buffet was the best of the bunch with two pigs sacrificed and sliced up in time for happy hour. Shark also won the trophy for the most-original New Year’s Eve theme with staff dressing up in all manner of costumes, from Miss America to schoolkids drinking whiskey to flamenco dancers.
Speak to bar managers, however, and many espoused disappointment at the amount of trade in the bars or, even in Cowboy’s case, on the street. At Dollhouse, business was good, but not what you’d think a Saturday night New Year’s Eve would bring in, at least early in the evening. One bar that was jumping was Red Dragon, in large part to the 30 new ladies on staff attracting anyone who poked their head in to come and have a drink. After 11 PM, however, things really picked up as the witching hour approached. Tourists filled Soi Cowboy setting off confetti blasts and the Silly String was just silly again at Crazy House. Pubs, able to show the football, did better. As midnight tolled in The Game, the entire bar was filled with confetti and spirits rode high into the early hours of the day.
As has been reported in this column in recent months, many bars – particularly the better gogo bars in Nana and Cowboy – have bounced back to where they were pre-Covid. But not every bar is back to where it was. One old favourite that has not bounced back is the Biergarten in soi 7. Oftentimes lady numbers can be counted on one hand and while some old-timers like to perch and reminisce, this is one venue that has a long way to go to get back to where it was. I do seem to recall that even before Covid came along the Biergarten wasn’t exactly setting the nightlife on fire. As much as anything, I think many who used to frequent the Biergarten just aren’t out and about as much as they used to be.
Away from the bars, work continues on the prime piece of real estate next to Sukhumvit soi 10 that was previously Chuwit Park. The name for the new development? Tenth Avenue.
Pattaya’s resurgence continues at a torrid pace. Christmas, New Year’s and the week after the holiday saw Pattaya looking almost like it used to in the “before times”. From early morning on Pattaya Beach to late night on Walking Street, tourists are everywhere and, unlike a few months back, they’re not just Indians. No, the yobs with shaved heads and heaps of tattoos, proudly wearing singlets are back, as are the leather-skinned, deep-tanned and shirtless European men, swinging their huge bellies and saggy moobs along the beach promenade. You have to give them credit for getting out for some exercise, especially at the age of some of them, but everyone would be happier if they just covered up.
There are still plenty of Indians around, often in packs of three or four. And, in 2023, the Indians do not lack for places to eat some home cooking. Pattaya has absolutely exploded with Indian restaurants, some located right next to each other. An unscientific estimate has Pattaya with six times as many Indian eateries as it did a year ago.
Pattaya (and Thailand’s) Indian gravy train may have just derailed, however, and the Chinese are the ones to blame. The Indian Public Health Ministry on Christmas Eve issued an order to require those returning from Thailand, China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong to show negative Covid-19 test results. Anyone testing positive or showing symptoms are placed in quarantine. Many tour groups planning trips to Thailand immediately cancelled or postponed for a few months.
Chinese New Year is coming but, bizarrely, Pattaya has erected a monument to the Japanese. A set of “Torii Gates” and a stretch of Japanese cherry trees, with plastic blossoms, have appeared on Pattaya Beach. No explanatory signboard is placed at the display, so it’s unclear what the story behind the display is. But it does look odd in the middle of the concrete walkway. Odd also it is to depict cherry blossoms blooming now as their season in Japan starts in March.
A long-time reader made an interesting observation – the percentage of naughty boys on Walking Street appears to be very small with the crowds even more diverse than you would expect for a destination (that used to be) known as the world’s biggest sex tourist haunt. He also commented that he felt there were as many – or even more – Asian naughty boys floating around than obvious Caucasian naughty boys. That is very much one man’s observations at one point in time. Of course, the Soi Buakhao / Soi LK Metro area is a completely different story where you still find the stereotypical Pattaya visitors of old.
If you want one of the best line-ups of genuinely attractive ladies in Pattaya, everyone mentions the same bar, Pin Up. From all accounts the bar is ram-packed with beauties with some describing the line-up as even better than Sensations in its heyday which would really be quite something. Some say it’s like the bar has Hoovered up many of the attractive ladies in Pattaya, resulting in a dearth of beauties elsewhere. But while the line-up is described with great enthusiasm, that’s where the positives end. If you wish to barfine one of the attractive ladies in Pin Up, they come with a premium. Not only is the barfine a rather steep 1,400 baht, you also need to buy her (or pay for, whether she consumes them or not) 5 lady drinks. I guess the bar’s business model is that its ladies are not barfined. It’s yet more proof that just because a bar is filled with the hottest girls does not necessarily make it the best bar in town.
Things look brighter for Walking Street’s gogo scene, however, with more bars open and things much improved over the past couple of months. Iron Club and What’s Up, both thought to be dead, have come back to life. And December saw the opening of two new, large clubs: XS, from the folks behind Pin Up, and the oddly named IvyGo. Even the Russian / Eastern European XO Club is operating again.
XS, now managed by Pin Up former manager Stefan, is what Pin Up used to be: Big and well-laid-out. Three shophouses wide (it’s the space the short-lived Miami nightclub had), it has two parallel stages with seating between them, as Pin Up did before the pandemic decision to give back a shophouse and shrink the bar. The look, the music, the drinks and the prices are the same as Pin-Up. What, fortunately, is not the same is the progressively horrible customer service on display at Pin-Up, which has not improved since our last report on the bar 2 months ago.
The new Belgian manager at Pin-Up, on the job for a month, appears to suffer from the issue so common with foreign bar managers – he has no control over the staff, especially the security thugs who continue to push, scowl and bark at customers. Having security guys seating customers like a hostess is one of the worst ideas ever, but that’s what you can expect at Pin Up. Choose a table you want and you’ll likely be told you can’t sit there. Sit where they tell you and you’ll be told to move in a few minutes to make way for their preferred customers, Koreans. Now, Pin Up has made things even worse for solo visitors and prohibits anyone to sit in the second level of sofa seating unless you’re in groups of 3 or more, even if one entire side of the bar is empty. Pin Up is still rarely empty, with the bar full at 8:30 PM on Thursday. How many are one-time tourists never to return isn’t known, but the bar is now on the “no go” list for a growing number of expats.
Down the road, Skyfall continues to show why – especially in comparison with Pin Up – it’s the class of Walking Street. The relaxed bar has a stunning set of dancers, especially its showgirls. Drink prices are reasonable, as are the barfines (at least relatively: 1,000 baht for coyotes and 1,500 for showgirls). Just to confuse matters, barfine prices rise by 500 baht on weekends, but drop by 500 baht after 11 PM.
Barfines on holidays always get nutty as owners want to keep the entertainment in the bar until midnight. Pin Up broke the bank with its already exorbitant barfines on December 31st when anyone keen (or stupid enough) for takeaway was stung with a barfine of 6,000 baht.
If you were asked where in Thailand the worst named bar is, where would be your guess? I’d have guessed Pattaya. There are so many bars in Sin City that there must be some with some really daft names. But I think the dubious honour of the worst named bar might be what puts Chiang Rai on the map with the hideously named Sperm Pub. But then perhaps the bar owner deliberately set out to shock because there’s a bar a little further down the road called Cockpit which, if you think about it in the context of the bar industry, can put some icky images in your mind.
In recent years there have been a lot of comments from naughty boys who are not at all comfortable about the infiltration of mainstream visitors in to those areas where the naughty boys previously felt safe to do things that they would really prefer weren’t seen by those who don’t fit the naughty boy profile. Not only do the nightlife areas now have a lot more visitors who are not male, many are young. And these young visitors are doing what youngsters do these days – take photos and videos of anything that they think might get a few likes when posted to their social media. It is so bad that one friend commented that many of these young, first-time visitors do not actually appear to be taking in what is going on, they are just recording it. They may not be YouTubers per se, but it seems that the idea of walking around exploring nightlife areas with your mobile phone held out in front of you recording the whole thing is what so many of the young crowd enjoys most. People recording what happens in the bar areas is a much more common sight than a customer walking out of a bar hand in hand with a bargirl. But what I found amazing is the report from a friend who was in Pattaya this past week and commented that “Soi 6 is absolutely on the tourist trail.” There are now streams of first-time visitors walking the length of Pattaya’s soi 6 recording the spectacle! This was always the Pattaya expat’s sneak-away soi. Note the deliberate use of the word “was”. Damn, things are changing fast!
Speaking of first-time visitors snapping shots for their social media, there are a handful of popular spots around Bangkok where everyone loves to grab a snap. The Patumwan intersection looking at the big MBK sign from the pedestrian walkway was a favourite for many years, as was the streams of traffic outside Central World from the pedestrian overbridge. Perhaps the most photographed spot in recent times has been the Asoke intersection and the streams of traffic in all directions. But there is a new spot that I bet becomes very popular and goes on to become one of the most Instagrammed spots in Bangkok. Wonder, the weed store on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 5. The large colourful frontage which looks rather like a Las Vegas casino is photographed by all and sundry – many of you have kindly sent your photos of this store. What brilliant marketing by the owners in what looks set to become one of the most photographed spots in all of Bangkok.
Wow, hasn’t the Thai baht turned around massively in a very short space of time. Just 2 months ago, one US dollar would get you a bit over 38 Thai baht at the likes of Super Rich or Vasu. Today, that same US dollar gets you just 33.xx baht. Quite a turnaround! Other currencies have also fallen against the Thai baht, although not by nearly as much.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Quote of the week comes from a friend currently on holiday in Northern Thailand, “One of the great appeals of Thailand was that you could escape all of the politically correct nonsense and ultra-feminist Western women, but unfortunately now they’re all here on holiday!”
Bangkok is trending in online travel destination searches.
Indians are postponing or cancelling their Thailand travel plans as India now requires its nationals to be tested for Covid-19 before they return home from Thailand.
A trans Thai tycoon buys the Miss Universe company.
The Bangkok Post reports Thailand is reintroducing the requirements that all visitors must have been vaccinated with at least two Covid shots.
Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health has issued a cannabis guide for tourists.
A Brit was murdered after being shot 4 times in the back while riding his scooter home from a pub in Pattaya.
The latest in a very long line of foreigners without valid travel insurance to have a motorbike crash in Thailand and subsequently face huge hospital bills is a 28-year-old Welshman.
The announcement this week that Thailand now requires all international passengers on flights to the country to show proof of vaccination before boarding was surprising on a number of levels, not least that there is no requirement that the vaccinations be recent or “current”. Plenty of people have had just two shots, the last of which may have been in 2021. Given that the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines wanes fast, what sort of protection does 2 doses from 2021 provide now? As such, the requirements come across as rather arbitrary. The impression one has is that many Thais are comfortable with more rules being put in place to protect them against Covid, when much of the world has largely moved on. Of course it’s their house, their rules. Will this week’s announcement be followed by the tightening up of Covid-related rules on the ground? Could, for example, mask mandates on the likes of the skytrain and the underground go from being merely “recommended” to mandatory? Interesting times and one can’t help but wonder, what next?
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org