According to the owner, Check Inn 99 is the oldest bar in Bangkok. Judging by the age of the bow-tie-wearing octogenarian waiter, I believe him.
Hidden amongst the ubiquitous street market that is Sukhumvit between Soi 5 and Soi 7, it is easy to pass by Check Inn 99 without even realizing it is there. It is located a block away from the Nana BTS stop. It’s between the girls asking you if you want a massage, and the lady-boys asking you if you want a massage. Right across from the guy selling the dildos and Viagra. You know the place.
There are posters outside advertising the Filipino ‘Music of the Heart’ house band who has performed there every night for the past 97 years… (ok, 16 years, but who is counting?) Down a short dark corridor that serves as the smoking area and through an old wrought-iron and glass door you will enter something that really does have the sense of what Bangkok might have been 50 or 60 years ago.
Check Inn 99 is a cabaret bar, with plenty of seating on two levels that overlook the dancefloor/stage area where the all-girl house band performs choreographed dance numbers for every song they sing… and they can sing every song ever written. Cherry, the leader of the girls, seems to remember the name of everyone who has ever been in the bar, recognizing return customers by name even if they last visited the bar a year ago. It is uncanny. It also instantly makes you feel welcome. There is a keyboard player and a guitar player who accompany the women, giving the show a legitimate ‘live entertainment’ feel. They play four or five sets a night, so chances are you will catch at least one set no matter what time you come.
The owner is an Australian, but don’t hold that against him. He’s a good guy: Friendly and deeply in love with the place. He will be happy to tell you whatever you want to know about the history of his beloved bar. He might even tell you without asking. Chances are he will introduce himself to you at some point. It’s that kind of place. The rumour is he bought the cabaret a couple of years ago for 70,000 baht (£1,300) moments before it was scheduled to be demolished.
The drinks here are ‘Farang priced’, but given the quality of the show, the unique 1950/60 authentic décor and feeling, a woman who I can only assume is a mamma-san (and has been for the past 70 years) floating around quietly, a good menu, occasional special events like the Blues Brother’s night, a production of The Rocky Horror Show last holloween, and productions of Moulin Rouge and The Vagina Monologues, Check Inn 99 is positioning itself as a truly unique entertainment venue in the downtown core. The clientele are older than you will find at a house-music dance club, but that doesn’t seem to detract from the fun. Don’t be surprised if you end up on the dance floor by night’s end dancing in-between the band as they belt out another requested favourite.