The Quasi-Recovery Begins

What’s up, reader, how’s it hangin’? I’m Bangkok Seven and this is my blog. We’ve just sprang from the starting gate in a race to recovery, and by “we” I mean the Bangkok nightlife community, and by “race” I mean an excruciating slow-motion crawl toward a finish line we can’t yet see. On December 1st, restaurants got the go-ahead to stay open till 11:00 pm, and the powers that be have very quietly walked back Prayut’s announcement that bars must wait till mid-January to reopen. Last week, some of the owners in Patpong reached an agreement with police and the military (after a thorough inspection–see the photo at right) to open their doors on the down-low, provided they obtain a SHA certificate. Gogos can open as well, though the rules seem to be that loud music and bikini-clad dancers are off-limits. Within hours of this news, several bars in Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza announced they would reopen in a week’s time, not as gogos but as “restaurants.” Basically, everyone’s copying the example set by The XXX Lounge, which has been operating as a German eatery since November, dressing their gogo dancers in frilly waitress uniforms. Girls who aren’t on the clock often congregate there in their street clothes, hoping to siphon off the vibes that once made this location the best gogo bar in Bangkok. In other Patpong news, Tip-Top–formerly a Thai-Italian fusion restaurant and now a billiards hall–has reopened with some of the gogo dancers from King’s Castle 1 acting as hostesses-slash-pool sharks. Come try your luck, if you dare.

Is this what we mongers want? No. No, no, no. It ain’t. But it’s progress, and that’s something I can support. It feels like we’re getting back to normal in slow motion. Baby steps, as they say. It’s hard to know how to feel, especially when we continue to lose some fave locations along the way. In November, Kiss Bar on Patpong Soi 1 threw in the towel, and last week, Madrid—the oldest pizza parlor in Bangkok and a bar that stood as a living museum exhibit in Patpong—closed its doors forever. The owner plans to relocate to a different neighborhood somewhere else in the city, but it won’t be the same. After 52 years, countless clandestine CIA meetings, thousands of pizzas (pad krapow and meat lover were my favorites), and just as many happy patrons, Madrid is gone. The scars of this pandemic will be seen and felt long after it’s finally over.

Let’s focus on the positive, shall we? The Patpong museum finally reopened on the 1st, with a new exhibit featuring Charles Sobhraj, the infamous serial killer and topic of a recent Netflix series. One of the actors from that show—Sahajak Boonthanakit—who played the detective general instrumental in tracking down Sobhraj, was on hand for a meet-and-greet on Saturday, and later that evening the museum hosted a live jazz session in their bar—the first of many such events, or so I’m told.

In news from other Red-Light fronts, Lollipop and Twisters have reopened on the ground floor of Nana Plaza—well, sort of. The bars themselves are not open—just their outdoor patio areas. But it’s a start. I swung by last night to see for myself. The crowd was raucous and raunchy. I couldn’t help feeling like Bangkok is poised to explode. The tourists are back and they’re ravenous for a taste of fun. And not only tourists, but Thais as well. There were throngs of well-dressed Thai women on the Twisters patio that veritably oozed a party vibe they must’ve suppressed for the last eight months. We Bangkokians are now at the base of a tidal wave of festivity that feels–for the moment, at least–unstoppable. It doesn’t rule out an 11th-hour attempt by the govt to again quell the swell, but I’m not sure how submissively the populace would endure another fun ban. At this point, a return to happiness seems inevitable.

On the same night, I also popped over to Soi 7 to see if it was still as crowded and crazy as it’s been for weeks already. The answer, in short, is yes. I didn’t get over to Cowboy but I’ve heard through the grapevine that some joints will reopen under the “restaurant” banner, namely Baccara and Suzi Wong’s. The Oasis—an actual restaurant—will also reopen, and probably already has by now.

And so, ever so slowly, Bangkok is clawing its way out of the grave dug by the virus. Like a zombie party animal, an undead red-light rambler, the salacious soul of the city is waking itself up, shaking off the Covid coma, refusing to relent. Party on, Bangkok. You beautiful bitch. We love you.

That’s all the monger muck that’s fit to rake this week, friends. Until next Sunday, keep your hopes up, your eyes open, and if you’ve got a beverage, raise it. Here’s to better times. Here’s to a Bangkok bounce-back. And here’s to Thailand—the greatest country on Earth, pandemic be damned. Cheers.