The Gayification of Patpong

Last week, a guy on Twitter asked for my opinion on the alarming number of gay bars encroaching on Patpong’s territory of late. He said he’d read something about it in another “Bangkok Nightlife” blog. Personally, those blogs bore me to tears, and since the writers don’t even come to Patpong, their take on the topic is less than stellar. So here’s an account from a guy on the ground. Your man on the street. Your eyes and ears in the Pong. Not second-hand info, but the real deal from the dude who dances with the devil in the bright red-light, nightly and spritely. That’s right, I’m a fuckin poet. So let’s go.

First, let’s just say for the record that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Especially in Thailand, the most permissive, accepting country on Earth. However, if you happen to be straight, you naturally find gayness…….unappealing. Kind of like how a gay man would find a vagina……unappealing. It’s simply a matter of taste—or rather, orientation. So let’s not fault anyone for their preferences. That said, it’s somewhat surprising to see gogo bars close down in Patpong, only to reopen as gay gogos (gaygos for short, copyright BKK7). Over the last month, four new gay bars have popped up in the Pong, bringing the total to seven.

The three original gay bars—Screw Boy, Fresh Boys and Chillout Boy–now share their customer base with Dreamboy Paradiso, a gay-and-also-ladyboy cabaret, Lucky Boys, and Hotmale on Soi 2, as well as Sweet Banana on Soi 1. For the demographic that has enjoyed Patpong as a bastion of straight male sin (plus some ladyboy bars) for over half a century, this change is unnerving. Not only does it mean we woman-lovers have less venues to visit, it now calls for running a gauntlet of aggressive gay barkers outside these establishments as we make our way from one end of the soi to the other.

Personally, that light inconvenience doesn’t bother me much because my face is familiar enough that they let me be. Further, it’s easy to discourage their pitch with a wave of the hand. So I can’t get riled up over these dudes doing their job as promoters for their gaygos. What does bother me is that the changing room for the cabaret is above Kings Corner pool bar. It has large windows with no curtains, so anyone sitting at Paddy Field has a direct line of sight into the brightly-lit room filled with men in their tighty whities. It’s more than a little distracting to have barely-clad Thai men stretching and pacing around while you’re trying to sip your Tiger pint in peace. The least they could do is put up some blinds. One thing you never see is female gogo dancers flaunting their wares backstage between shifts. In fact, a peek into the changing room is a rare and frowned-upon occurrence. I should know, because I go backstage a lot, and get yelled at for it A LOT. But it seems the gays don’t have the same sense of modesty that even the most brazen gogo girl does when not performing. Although now that I’ve said it out loud, it kind of makes sense. Men—regardless of orientation—like to show off.

I get why this is happening. The gay soi over off Surawong is closing, so naturally some of those businesses are going to migrate the shortest distance possible, which is to Patpong. And to be fair, the Pong has always had ladyboy bars and half-n-half bars, so gay bars aren’t exactly a shock to the senses for us darkside wanderers, peddlers, and patrons. I think what grinds the gears of straight regulars the most is the combination of dwindling straight gogos and increasing numbers of gaygos. The feeling of loss for us is compounded.

As far as what it means for the future of Patpong, your man in the alley believes that one of two things will happen: either A—the gay bars will experience the same drop in business that closed the straight bars to begin with, and thus will also disappear and be replaced with gentrified establishments like ice cream parlors, cigar bars, and avocado toast lounges, or B—the Pong will reach some kind of equilibrium, with all sexual walks of life living in harmony elbow to elbow with one another. There won’t be some Pongwide gay takeover of the red-light a la something out of World War Z. The gays will do their thing, and the straights will do theirs, and never the twain shall meet, except in passing on the sois. And that’ll be the new normal. No big whoop. Like that town on Mars in the original Total Recall, or Mos Eisley space port—a wretched hive of scum and villainy in the eyes of most straight-laced tourists, but a place where swashbuckling brigands like myself feel like pigs in shit.

There’s some evidence that both A and B are already happening. One gay bar on Soi 2 (Screw Boys Karaoke) has already closed for lack of customers, and Chill Out Boy and Sweet Banana are all but empty on a daily basis. Conversely, Hotmale is doing great business despite a 350 baht sit-down charge. More than likely, this means that the gay bars will have the same fate as the straight bars, which is the smaller, less-trafficked ones will close and the number of bars will dwindle to a few large, successful ones. Meanwhile, the gay demographic on the Pong has jumped about 10%, and as I suspected, they barely acknowledge the straight folks while passing us on the soi. Thailand is a paragon of tolerance, and the live-and-let-love maxim is now evident in Patpong.

And honestly, I don’t have much else to say on the topic. It is what it is. A lot of life is that way. The only constant is change. I’ve got some gray pubes now. My take? Eh, whatever man. All my best girls have left the gogo and moved back home or in with boyfriends. My response? Easy come, easy go. What else are you gonna do? Piss and moan like those poor old expats who do nothing but sit around all day pining for days of yore when everything was better? Because that’s no way to live. You gotta make the best of what you got. You gotta roll with it, you gotta take your time. Say what you say, don’t let any gay bar get in your way. Because the person responsible for your good time is you. So go out and find it. It’s everywhere. It’s in a San Diego burrito at Sunrise Tacos. It’s in a cigar and a glass of port at The Steakhouse Co. It’s in a happy hour pint at Shenanigan’s. It’s in the soft bosom of a Kings Castle gogo dancer. The gays aren’t raining on anyone’s parade. They’ve got their own parade, and well they should, and so should you. So grab your baton, put your best shirt on, and go get it on, bang-a-gong.

On a short, happy note for straight mongers, The Strip–which closed a couple of weeks ago–has already re-opened under new management. The new captain, Mr. Masa, will spend the next few days gathering up girls with which to adorn that emerald green stage. Drink prices appear to be the same, so stop by on your way in or out of the Pong and show them some love.

And cheers to everyone who finds what they’re looking for, whether it’s a ladyboy, a gay dude, or in my case, a late-teens/early 20s skinny bar girl with fake boobs, big tattoos, and a wicked smile. I love Thailand.