A one show kind of town.
BANGKOK, Thailand- Finding a bar around Sukhumvit where girls are not hanging all over you, grabbing at your package, and trying to lure you to the end of the bar so they can blow you is about as easy as finding a New Englander who can listen to opposing points of view. This industry drives the economy — I’d conservatively estimate that 10% of the businesses in Bangkok are built around it — but sometimes some men just want to drink a beer and listen to music without being bothered. I’ve abandoned more half full beers on bar room tables in the past two days than I probably ever have in my life.
“You don’t want girl? What you doing here then!?!”
Good question. My response of “I just want somewhere to sit and work for a while” doesn’t make any sense here.
I like the seedy side of cities — those quasi-autonomous, lawless urban sectors that operate by a different set of rules. Stuff happens here, you meet people, you hear stories, there’s good action in all directions. Usually, these places are dubbed red light districts, but I don’t believe this term can be used for Bangkok: the entire city is one big brothel.
It took me a few days but I found a place to hang out and drink my coffee / beer while typing up my notes. I can’t work from hotel rooms — I feel trapped, claustrophobia sets in — and I feel the un-suppressible need to break out. It’s called the New Yorker Bar, and it’s run by an Italian American — reputedly ex-mafia — and his Thai business partner.
I was initially lured in by the prospect of getting a real cup of coffee. I don’t want a cappuccino or a latte from some machine. I just want a normal coffee with milk. Even McDonald’s coffee here comes from a plastic machine and is delivered with a packet of creamer. So I sought out the New Yorker on a whim. The place sits at the end of a gauntlet of brothels. Hidden among billboards saying “Kiss” this and “Sweet” that and “massage, massage, massage” is a vertical sign that just says “D-I-V-E.” That’s the place — my kind of place.
I walked in and said to the waitress, “Just a coffee and milk” and she nodded her head and filed the order without cocking her head to the side and saying the dreaded “Cappuccino???” But I wanted to be sure:
“Wait,” I called after her, “a normal coffee, not that cappuccino shit.”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Yeah, a coffee and milk.”
She brought me a coffee and milk. Peace.
So I’m now sitting on the outdoor patio of this bar, drinking my coffee and beer and getting some work done. When I want a break I sit back and watch the action at the brothel that sits 15 meters in front of me. It seems popular. Dudes flow in and out of it all day long. Most seem to be normals on vacation — the same people going on boat tours and visiting beaches, checking off their Thailand bucket lists — not really old creeps or experienced connoisseurs. When they arrive they all tend to do the same thing: they walk to the end of the strip, look down at their phones, look up at the sign above the door of the brothel, shoot an awkward, sheepish glance at me, and then slide open the doors and walk inside. As the doors are made of glass I can then watch how the deal goes down: they sit down, are given the menu, and order what they want like at a restaurant.
These guys are obviously finding this place online. I looked them up. Their website is well made and says all the right things. They are currently running a promotion — a $6 savings. What’s interesting is that they advertise services for women too. Apparently, female tourists no longer want to be left out of this game. However, there’s not really much else to do in Bangkok.
It’s not common that you can set yourself up in a place where you can watch how a brothel operates — even in countries where they’re ubiquitous. Each time a client leaves I watch how the girls react. As soon as the dude is out of earshot they start giggling about him — laughing and joking. Apparently, the black dude who just left didn’t live up to stereotypes. When the girls saw that I understood what they meant by a thumb and forefinger positioned a few inches apart they burst out laughing and scurried back inside.
“The entertainment is better than TV,” said the American guy sitting next to me on the cafe patio.