The End of an Era

For the past four months, every day has been the same. I’d wake up, drink two cans of Birdy coffee, stare disbelievingly at the number of empty beer bottles on the counter, check the fridge futilely for any unopened ones, work for 4 hours, order lunch from Foodpanda, stare despairingly as the clock struck 2 pm, forbidding me from buying booze until 5. Then at 5:01 I’d rush out to 7-11 for a bag full of beers that I’d home and consume one after the other till it was time for bed. In between, I might practice ukulele, or download a random TV series from Pirate Bay, receive a visit from a harem girl, or climb on the stationary bike for 20 minutes of wheezing cardio. And every day, I’d ask aloud—how much longer can this nonsense go on? How long before the country’s entire economy implodes? How long before the poor classes start dying in the streets—not from Covid, but from starvation? At what point does a greedy, power-mad, inept government pull the country out of this tailspin? It’s obvious no one at the top gives a single shit about the Thai people. So what’s the endgame?

Then suddenly, last week, seemingly out of nowhere, restaurants got the OK to reopen. I almost didn’t know what to do. At first, I was too scared to even approach one, for fear that it was just a trick—a practical joke. But on the 1st, I worked up the courage to head to my favorite restaurant in the whole of BKK: Le Bouchon in Patpong. Only to find it shut, with the lights out, the paintings gone from the walls, the furniture stripped. Le Bouchon wasn’t just closed. It was closed forever.

After 25 years, this Patpong icon is gone. The combination of greed and stupidity (“stugreepidy” for short, copyright BKK7) that plagues so many Thai people has struck again. It turns out that throughout the pandemic, while businesses were forced to remain shut, the Patpong landlords continued to force those businesses to pay rent. Last month, the owner of Le Bouchon asked his lease holder for a one-month reprieve on rent, and the response—the repayment for being a loyal tenant for a quarter century—was a resounding “NO.” And so, Le Bouchon is no more. Thankfully, they’re looking to reopen in a new location, far from the stugreepidy of the Patpong Trust. Meanwhile, nobody’s going to move into Bouchon’s old location, proving yet again that Thai business acumen is the intellectual equivalent of repeatedly shooting oneself in the foot.

(At right: the chevre spring rolls)

Wherever they end up, I will be there will bells on. I’m even willing to break my strict rule of never traveling beyond Silom for this magnificent, legendary eatery. But visiting their new spot will be bitter-sweet, because this fantastic French bistro was an integral part of what made Patpong so unique and delightful. Nana Plaza is a cluster of gogo bars situated around a beer garden. Soi Cowboy is a single street lined with gogos and beer bars. Patpong is (or was) a cornucopia of carnal curiosities, including a night bazaar, restaurants and pubs, live music venues, ping pong shows, a museum, billiards halls, massage parlors, hotels, a supermarket—oh yeah, and gogo bars. Covid has killed the night market, the dance halls, the Old West themed Cosmos bar, and Glamour-A-Gogo. And now Le Bouchon—a glorious slice of Paris planted in the middle of a red-light district, has vacated Patpong. It was part of what made the Pong such a beautiful, wild, wondrous place—a vital piece of a thrilling puzzle. Now that piece is missing, and Patpong will suffer for it. We Pongians have lost one of our favorite places to eat, drink, congregate, and socialize. And for what? Who has won here? The Patpong landlords have lost a monthly chunk of cash. The Pong Mongers have lost a bastion of greatness to the menace of Thai avarice, brain-dead foolishness, and moronic lack of business sense. Thanks, fuckers!

In honor of this great restaurant, what follows is a photo album of some of the best meals I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy in Le Bouchon over the years. Cue the Pavlovian drooling, and stay tuned for a hopefully near-future announcement of Le Bouchon’s grand reopening somewhere else in BKK.

Above from left to right: lamb filet, chevre ravioli with tomato and basil, beef filet, osso bucco

Above from left to right: foie gras, eggs cocotte with truffle, lobster thermidor, beef cheek stew.

Above left: foie gras and pear–good enough to post twice. Above right: spinach stuffed chicken

Above left: pigeon in port sauce. Above right: the infamous hand-made steak tar-tar. The best in Thailand.

Above left: duck a l’orange. Above right: foie gras ravioli

The tiramisu is a wonder. As is everything else on Bouchon’s menu. The knowledge that Patpong will now be deprived of this mythic spot weighs heavy on my heart. One by one, the institutions that made the Pong so enigmatic and legendary are disappearing. It’s looking like the future of this historic section of Bangkok is grim. And yes, it’s partly because of Tinder and the global economic downturn that plagued Thailand before the pandemic. And certainly, the pandemic is to blame for all our current ills. But the assinine, moronic, senselessness of the Patpong landlords share the blame for the demise of the red-light district. A child can understand that, when you drive your tenants away, your bank account will be smaller. Why can’t the idiots in Patpong understand that? It’s a question for the ages. On Friday, there was some good news. Serge, the owner of Le Bouchon, posted this message to their Facebook page. I’m crossing my fingers for a new location, and soon. Here’s to this magnificent restaurant, and to their triumphant return. Cheers.