Not so slowly and steadily, the “old” Pattaya that bar lovers knew is disappearing. Following on the closures of Super Baby, Casanovy and, most recently, Alcatraz, comes the latest casualty among the old guard: Living Dolls 1.
Staff was given the word at the start of shift May 30 that Tuesday night would be the last for the veteran bar opposite Soi Happy. The writing had been on the wall for some time, but the news was devastating nonetheless for many of the waitresses and dancers, who had worked there for years dating back to the ownership that put the bar on the map.
Truth be told, Living Dolls has been more like Barely Breathing Dolls for years. A refit almost exactly two years ago was supposed to breathe new life into the business, but did little to bolster the bottom line. Owner George has had LD1 on the market for some time – at a staggering 11 million baht asking price – but found no takers.
Finally, the red ink proved too deep.
LD1 has a history going back more than 15 years, but enjoyed its heyday under the ownership of the late Shane Wheatly, who got the bar to settle a long-running and nasty business dispute with ex-partner Ken, who got sole ownership of Living Dolls Showcase.
Shane got Living Dolls 1 and quickly bolted a “New” on the front of the name and NLD1 shot to fame.
Much of the credit for that success goes to the late Big Steve McCann, who as manager held court nightly at the end table under the aircon, along with Shane’s son Jason. The three men built a large and hugely loyal clientele and, with those punters, came a large stable of sexy dancers and showgirls.
McCann died of kidney failure June 19 last year.
The Australian Wheatley was smart enough to realize the good times wouldn’t last forever in Pattaya, where tourist demographics seemingly shift with the tides. In 2009, when T.J. Hawley, co-owner of Coyotee’s, died and Jacuzzi-in-an-agogo inventor Club Boesche closed, Wheatley sold high at 13 million baht to Briton George and some minority partners and Living Dolls was never the same.
It may have closed May 30, but, for many, NLD1 really died the day Wheatley did in a tragic minivan accident on his way to an Anzac Day commemoration in Bangkok in 2011.
An absentee owner, George soon replaced Big Steve with a series of managers who had no clique of their own and showed little interest in retaining the old regulars, who pined for the days under Wheatley and Big Steve.
He also raised prices by about 20%, irritating even more customers. Then he eventually fired all the farrang managers and let the Thais run the show. Later his wife would take over running of the bar and made it a ghost town.
Living Dolls – which lost the “New” in its name to match its old image – just didn’t keep up with the times. It had no Jacuzzi, no play mat, did not stoop to being a “hands on” bar and mostly ditched nudity. The “shows” staged every half hour were merely different girls dancing in different costumes. As the bar lost girls, agency coyotes were brought in.
Old customers who wandered in would ask some of the girls and service staff why they stayed when there were no customers. Surely they could make more money elsewhere.
But the answer was obvious: It was a family. From the Thai manageress to the service girls to showgirls to the security guys, much of the staff had been together since Shane’s days. They didn’t make much money, but they had each other and no one would ever go hungry. Someone would always have their backs.
That same group was in tears Tuesday night with many saying they have no idea where they’ll go now. For them – and for the guys who hoisted their elbows with Big Steve and Shane – it’s the end of an era.
Photo Credit: Bob James