Patpong in limbo

There’s no denying it. The red light districts have fallen on hard times. Attendance is down, prices are going up, and the hottest girls are looking for greener pastures (see my previous post, “Where have all the hotties gone?”).

The opinion of many of the bar owners I talk to in Patpong, Nana, and Pattaya is that the red light district has fallen out of fashion. Technology is making the RLD obsolete. Apps like Tinder and ads on Craigslist are killing the gogo bar like video killed the radio star. You can’t slow the constant march of progress. It’s a shame.

A global economic downturn combined with stricter monitoring by the junta and a change in the demographics of tourists has made Patpong a much quieter and milder place than it once was. Gogos that used to teem with customers now see a lot less foot traffic while their hostesses nervously watch couples pass by their doors on the way to buy nick-nacks from the night market. Many operate with half the staff of previous years, caught in a downward spiral of cutting back dancers which in turn draws less customers which brings in less revenue which prompts the owners to cut back more dancers. A few have thrown in the towel and closed.

Others are shifting strategies to try to survive. The Shark bar on Patpong Soi 1 made a lateral move and changed to a regular bar, sealing up the doors of its gogo area like it held the Lost Ark or something. Kings 1 has gone all-in on a mega-gogo, the biggest in the Pong, in hopes of cornering the entire market, it seems. Black Pagoda moved its front door diagonally 45 degrees to make just the overpass portion the gogo, and will have mainstream events in the larger back room, in an effort to attract tourist couples and regular party-goers. The owners at The Strip discourage their girls from barfining, holding to the belief that they can generate more revenue for the bar by sticking around and soliciting drinks. As Bada Bing has waned in popularity, they’ve moved most of their hotter dancers to their sister club, Glamour. Electric Blue has poof! transformed into a steakhouse. Will these changes turn Patpong’s luck around? Only time will tell. Some Pong experts think the gogo has run its course, and will continue to lose customers until eventually going extinct, like the dinosaur. Vaginosaurus Rex. I don’t agree with that assessment. I think Patpong is going through a mutation phase, and that whatever it turns into will still hold an appeal—it just won’t be the same.

If there’s one bright spot among the struggling bars of the Pong, it’s the newly-remodeled Kings 1. I attended their grand opening party on April 27th, and for a few short hours the Pong felt like its old self again. I’ll post a piece on it sometime next week. Could this be a sign that things are taking a turn for the better? Is it wise to hang these hopes on the success of a single gogo? It’s too early to say.

Still, the fact remains that with the rise of Tinder and the decline of the barfine, bar owners will have to think of different ways to put butts in the seats. The Strip used to be one that had the magic formula: atmosphere, music, craft beer, attitude, and hot girls stirred together to make sweet chemistry. But that was 2 years ago. Though I believe there’s a way to recapture the magic. More on that in a later blog. For now, every bar faces the same problem—how to compete with an app where you swipe right and get laid an hour later? To me, it’s fairly obvious. People still want to be entertained and consume alcohol. And if there happens to be a bevy of beautiful ladies there, so much the better. So the offering needs to shift from a singular one—scantily-clad dancers—to a more multifaceted one. I laid out my dream for the perfect gogo in a previous post. In short, it’s Dave & Busters meets mud wrestling meets a strip club meets a disco. With a rooftop wine bar and cigar lounge. In 2018, the gogo has to become more than a one-trick pony. But knowing what we know about teaching old soi dogs new tricks, could it really happen?

We’ll have to wait and see.


@Bangkok 7

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