Into the 70’s…
…most of the early bars were unnamed shop houses but some of the famous ones that broke the ground, so to speak, were the Red Door restaurant, Max’s Place, Roma and Amor. By ’73 one had The Horny Toad, The Gaslight, The Butterfly, Grand Prix and the Mississippi Queen. It was around this time that servicemen began to make the cross-town pilgrimage from Petchburi Road to the area. Traffic was equally as horrendous in those days and every taxi ride in a Datsun Bluebird had to be haggled – every cab had to have a meter, but there was no law enforcing that they must use it – sounds reassuringly familiar?
The Mississippi Queen, known for having its’ premises used in the movie, The Deer Hunter was reputedly the first bar to have go-go dancers over the bar and they also introduced American soul music to their patrons. Situated right opposite the Super Star, which was later to become the biggest go-go bar in the region, The Mississippi Queen also introduced the honour tab – a practice that you still see to this day – where your tab sits in a cup in front of you until you are ready to leave. Unsurprisingly, people then were not allowed to forget their bill as the onus was on the staff and the cashier to ensure that they got paid for services and products rendered.
Keeping in line with the original white-collar ex-pats that frequented the area, Patpong in the 70’s bars were the alleged hangouts for DEA, CIA and other clandestine organisations. Howard Marks writes in his autobiography, Mr. Nice that Super Star was one of the preferred venues for American “background” staff. Madrid, The Executive and Crystal Palace were others, and some are still open to this day although Madrid is the only one to have kept its’ lustre and appeal. Most visitors today will have a quick look in Super Star and abruptly u-turn their way out of there.
Forming an Unmistakeable Theme and a Brand
Patpong’s three-storey townhouses formed a concept that you see to this day: lounge and go-go bars are the street level venues and upstairs one finds the illicit, explicit and erotic shows and services each with their own showers, booths and short-time rooms.
By the Eighties, over 100 bars made up Patpong. Traditional businesses had moved out and the successful enterprises were mimicked and cookie-cut to the style that one can witness through the length and breadth of the country. The King’s Group bars enjoyed terrific success during this time simply by maintaining high standards and sub-let rents.
Business owners then were not afraid to spend in order to draw in customers and accumulate market share. Lavish bars such as Takura on Patpong 2 was classy in design and décor and coupled with the hostesses adorning evening dresses, it made for a refreshing, salubrious alternative.
Strong yet healthy competition between the bars and venues created the marketing and design phenomena that are still around today. There was something here for everyone, convenience and supply that was crucial to the two-week tourists and overall, it was done very well and the whole place buzzed and thrived right through the Eighties.
By Kevin Goldsmith
*This article is the 2nd of a 3 part series about Patpong