While many of us are well aware of the workings of your average gogo bar, not everyone is attracted to the city’s neon signs like a moth to a.. neon sign. And for some it’s still a somewhat alien environment. I can remember my first trip to Nana Plaza and my first gogo bar experience. So many lights, so many people, so many drinks, so much flesh. Luckily I was under the wing of a good friend and gogo veteran, but I can’t imagine how confusing it may have been if I’d entered through the Nana arch for the first time, all on my own.
The first person you are likely to meet when entering a gogo bar is the mamasan. She (or sometimes he – the papasan), is likely to be the older and often larger lady or ladyboy who shuffles over to greet you with a smile and see you to your seat. You’ll soon work out who the mamasans are as opposed to the waitresses and other staff, the mamasans are often the only member of staff not in uniform, and the nearly always get great respect from all other workers.
You may be greeted by a waitress, especially if the bar or mamasan are busy. Waitresses are simply there to take your orders and serve you drinks, but in some gogos the waitresses can be flirtier, wear sexy uniforms, or even take on some of the duties of the mamasan or gogo dancer. But in most bars you are best to see them as a more traditional waitresses and show them the same level of respect you’d treat a waitress in a restaurant.
Now the role of the mamasan is to manage the staff, kind of like a supervisor, but more hands on and with far more power. In most cases the girls are seen to work for the mamasan rather than the bar. The mamasan is often the one who employs the girls and when she leaves it’s not unheard of for the girls to all leave with her. Hence the great level of respect she gets. The mamasan is also the one who is likely to welcome you to the bar. Part of what she is really doing is sussing you out to see if you are looking to take a girl home with you, or at least buy a few lady drinks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some mamasans may be a bit pushy and persistent, but usually if you make it clear you are just there to have a drink and want to be left alone then she’ll turn her attention elsewhere. If on the other hand you would like to get to know one of the girls then there’s no one better to ask for help than the mamasan. She is likely to know more about the girls in the bar than their own mothers, and if she knows you want a girl to drink with she’ll do everything she can to find ‘the one.’
Some people will basically refer to gogo bars as brothels, and the girls themselves as prostitutes. That’s a very narrow minded and distorted view of what gogos are and how they operate. The truth is gogo bars make far more money through drink sales than bar fines, so to pimp out all the girls into the arms of horny customers would be terrible business and the wrong way to build a successful bar.
Most gogo bars are selling a vibe, a very sexy or seedy, fantasy driven vibe, and the girls are the centre of it all. The girls are employed to look pretty, dance sexy, and sell lady drinks. If a girl can do at least one of those three then she will pass the test to be a gogo dancer. If the bar has the right vibe and the girls do their job, customers come and stay, and drink plenty.
As a customer you are invited into the bar to drink and watch the girls dance. You’ll be encouraged to buy a drink(s) for a girl so she can sit and flirt with you, and in the vast majority of cases that is what it’s all about. Drinking, ogling, and chatting to young, attractive girls. If you end up spending some time chatting to the same girl you will probably be encourage to pay her bar fine and take her out of the bar with you, especially if you have bought her several drinks and/or the bar is close to closing. But don’t assume that the bars want you to simply walk in and take their best looking girls away.
Many of the girls in gogo bars will leave with customers, though certainly not all. There are plenty of girls who just see themselves as a dancer or hostess, there to entertain and be admired. Some girls simply can’t be bar fined, while some can but without the promise of anything more than some conversation and a peck on the cheek. If a particularly attractive girl is referred to as a coyote it can often mean that she doesn’t go with customers, or she has a much larger bar fine, simply because the bar want her to stay and sell drinks rather than head off into the sunset with the first customer who lays eyes on her.
The gogo girls are in the bars to make money. They will get a commission on every lady drink they are bought and a monthly wage (around 8000 to 10000 Baht per month on average), and in most cases they have a quota number of drinks to sell per month in order to get their salary. Many girls will rely on making money by being bar fined and spending time with customers outside of the bar (getting a tip for her time and company – feel free to use your imagination here). However, these girls still need to sell plenty of lady drinks, attract customers into the bar, and keep the mamasan and bar owners happy, which means being in the bar a significant amount of time.
As mentioned, the bar and staff make most of their money through the sale of lady drinks. A lady drink is basically bought by the customer for a girl of his/her choosing, and in return that girl will sit and talk with the customer until she finishes her drink.
OK, that’s the theory of it through a customer’s eyes, but it doesn’t always work out that way. In some of the busier bars a lady drink will simply be seen as you showing a girl you like her. She will still come over to you to receive her drink, but it may just be a shot of tequila (or water masquerading has hard liquor), and she may not hang around for long. While in some gogos the girl will come to sit with you for a good 20 minutes, sipping on her drink and chit chatting away, in other bars the girl can be gone in a puff of smoke within 5 minutes, after downing her drink or simply leaving it and moving on to the next drink. It’s best not to take these things personally. Sometimes the girls are under pressure to sell as many drinks as possible and even encouraged to accept a lady drink from a customer despite having another already half drunk with different customer sat on the other side of the bar. In a lot of bars, even if you have bought them a drink, when it becomes their turn to dance on the stage they are still expected to go, unless the customer has paid their bar fine.
The flip side of this is that if you really do want to chat with a girl then it’s best not to avoid the lady drinks and play by the rules. Slipping a girl a couple of hundred baht under the table really doesn’t help anyone and doesn’t look great. If you want to spend time chatting to a girl you’re going to need to buy her a lady drink. Just try to request a tall drink rather than let her get served a shot.
The bar fines are simply a fee a customer can pay to free a member of staff from work for the rest of the night. For most gogo bars in Bangkok this is 600 ฿, though there are plenty of bars with higher bar fines, especially for girls considered to be coyotes or show girls.
As said before, don’t assume the bars want you to just walk in and bar fine a girl as soon as possible. It’s a common misconception, and most bars would much rather you walk in buy plenty of drinks and leave alone. However, if you do spend some significant time in the bar and take a particular shine to someone, you are best to ask the bar if you can bar fine her and how much it will cost you.
In most cases the answer will start with a ‘yes.’