It’s been almost nine years since I first came to Bangkok and in that time not a lot has really changed in the “format” of bars and pubs around this massive city. And when I say bars I’m talking about venues geared towards foreigners. We will leave Thai orientated bars out of the equation. I’m also not including nightclubs as they don’t fit in with where this is going.
Having been around most of what Bangkok has to offer I find the majority of bars can be considered one the following with plenty of combinations:
– girly / freelance
– trendy (who is looking at me poser joints)
– live band
– theme (Irish, Aussie etc)
Now from that list there are plenty of bars where the owners have spent a fair bit of money making them look good and a little different – even some girly bars. Expensive sound and lighting systems, high quality decor and elaborate toilets are just a few ways they have made an attempt to stand out from the crowd.
But the format they have went with remains pretty much the same in similar themed venues whether they have spent 10,000 or 10 million baht on doing the place up. The promotions and happy hours, the parties, the marketing – it all looks and sounds the same. No one is really doing anything special or different from the competition. For me those that rise to the top are the ones with the best marketing teams or those who have been in business a good number of years and built a loyal customer base.
One type of “format” that I find hard to believe that nobody has opened in Bangkok is a “fun pub”. The closest I’ve seen but not quite was a Thai bar I visited a couple of years back on the outskirts of town. This place ticked about half the boxes of what I’d describe as a “fun pub” and was packed to the rafters on a weeknight.
So what exactly is a “fun pub”?
– They are predominantly pre-club bars that close around 1am (ish).
– Continuously changing drinks promos throughout the night all of which are at rock bottom prices. And when I say changing all night I’m talking about hourly. 50 baht beers and shooters sounds about right.
– Entertainment from a DJ with a personality and mic skills playing party / mainstream music that people actually know and like.
– Traditional self-service with no waiting staff unless you come with a decent sized party when your first round will be served by a waitress. Beyond that you are hitting the bar yourself.
– Adult themed games plus giveaways and freebies. Drink a yard of ale in one go and win 5k etc. There are hundreds of games and no need for the same old night after night.
Off the top of my head a “fun pub” in Bangkok would be ideally be located somewhere like Sukhumvit Soi 11 or Khao San Road. Both have a good mix of younger male and female Westerners, freelance working girls with a reasonable helping of so called good girls. In other words, plenty of party people who are willing to let their hair down and have a good time without worrying who is looking at them.
Having had this discussion with a few friends and work mates many have said to me that a bar like this wouldn’t work in Bangkok and the most common reasons were:
– Customers want to be waited on hand and foot by service staff. I beg to differ. Sure for the Thai girls it will all seem a bit unusual at first but with a busy pub selling cheap booze and full of potential “boyfriends” it is my thought that they will soon get over it. Westerners won’t bat an eyelid at having to hit the bar and get a round in.
– You’ll have problems with bar staff stealing money as they will be serving customers in a more traditional Western way. Well there are several ways round this. Pocketless uniforms, security cameras, a trusted bar supervisor are just a few.
– People won’t stay in a bar with just a DJ is another one that often cropped up. Now I’m not talking Mr DJ mixing a bunch of songs nobody knows with a laptop and screaming here we go every now and then. Anything but. So let me ask you, when was the last time in Bangkok you seen a DJ with a radio mic walking round mixing and chatting with the customers? Never, right? When was the last time you heard a DJ who could speak in both Thai and English and be understood clearly? Never, right? The only time I’ve seen a DJ do anything even remotely like what I’m talking about was in the Thai place I mentioned earlier that ticked some of the boxes for a “fun pub”.
For every reason anyone has given me as to why a “fun pub” wouldn’t work here I have given them good, solid and lengthy explanations and solutions.
It goes without say that everything I have spoken about here are just the basics of a “fun pub”. Of course there is a fair bit more to it all but I’m obviously not going to go into details and hand a free business plan to every Tom, Dick And Harry reading this.
The bottomline is this. Bangkok is missing out on a clearly different style and format for a bar that works well in cities around the world. Why has no one tried it?
At this point you might be asking yourself, well Stickboy BKK if you are so damn sure it would work then why don’t you open it yourself? A very good question and one that requires a lengthy answer which I will save for “Running A Busy Bar In Bangkok” which will be coming in the not too distant future.