Pattaya go-go bars used to be great fun: low prices and great times that last a long time. No more. If you ask seasoned Pattaya bar owners, that was ruined by the owners of the Pin-Up and XS go-go bars.
“They wrecked the business model,” one 20-year veteran complained recently at a meetup of longtime go-go and beer bar owners. “It’s ruined and its never coming back.”
Sebastian, the Frenchman who is the principal partner in Pin-Up and XS, both on Walking Street, is despised around the city. He’s banned from nearly every Walking Street bar and most of those ones in the Soi Buakhao/Soi LK Metro area. He’s been caught passing out business cards in competitors bars, trying to poach girls, and has jacked up salaries and expectations among dancing damsels to the point where everyone is paying the price.
Pin-Up Only for Unwitting Tourists
And while Pin-Up and XS are both packed with tourists from early hours every night, both bars have come off the “to-do” list of most Pattaya expats due to not only exorbitant prices, but the Thai male security thugs who are used to seat – and move and harass – customers.
Rather than do as Billboard and Butterflies do in Nana Plaza do and hire attractive and polite female hostesses, Pin-Up and XS’s mob wield laser pointers and walkie-talkies, literally pushing people where they want them to go. If you’re a single, White guy – even one who is known to drop 6,000-8,000 baht a night buying lady drinks – you can forget about sitting in a top row or center table. If you’re Asian, you get better treatment.
If you’re a group of water-sipping Asian guys, you can sit wherever you want. Usually that means the vested thugs roust another White customer to seat them.
As Stickman Bangkok recounted back in November “one Bangkok bar owner, who was in town with a very wealthy friend, said security manhandled them, grabbing and pushing them through the overcrowded bar.” Many Stickman columns since then recount instances of rudeness and abuse by Pin-Up and XS’s out of control security.
“Once you let the staff take control of the bar, you never get it back,” one bar owner said last week. “The farang managers in Pin-Up and XS can’t control them anymore.”
Pattaya’s Go-Go Model Upended
But, for the city’s bar owners, the grievance goes directly to the bottom line: Sebastian upended Pattaya’s nightlife economics by paying salaries and rents far over the odds.
Start with what Sebastian and his partners paid for XS.
XS was leased on the usual 3+3+3-year contract/renewal cycle (although, it’s worth noting that the second and third 3-year leases are unenforceable under Thai law).
The first three years required 27 million baht in key money (nearly US$1 million) plus rent of 450,000-baht a month. The second three years sees key money increase to 32 million baht and rent of 500,000 with both increasing again in the final three years.
Then there’s the talent. XS and Pin-Up hire agency women on 10-day contracts that supposedly earn them 2,000 baht a day. On a recent Saturday night there were about 120 women working in Pin-Up, but dozens of service staff, security, bartenders and cleaners. It’s said Pin-Up’s nightly cost for staff runs in excess of 300,000 baht. Now add in the cost of liquor, air-conditioning and the rest and you begin to understand why weekend are 3,200 baht.
Dancers, however, almost never make what they’re promised. Bar management viciously cuts girls’ salaries for everything from being a minute late on stage to having the wrong-colored shoes. One 10-day dancer said that instead of 20,000, she received only 7,000 baht for her 10-day shift.
Many of the dancers, however, don’t care about the salary. They make so much money off drink commissions, tips and barfines, the salary becomes irrelevant.
In addition to paying out 3,000 baht-plus just to take the girl out of the bar, a customer seeking a longtime tryst – if it’s even available – will set you back 7,000 baht. Add on top of that the 200-baht or 250-baht lady drinks you bought before leaving. And the girl gets 100 baht of every drink.
Go-Go Girls Now Expect Huge Fees
All of that has raised expectations among agency sharks, the ones who hire out 90% of the dancers in Pattaya. If you’re not paying 100 baht a drink and 2,000-baht salaries, they won’t send you any girls. Or the ones they send you are old, fat any ugly.
As a result, other go-go bars, most of them smaller, have had to pay the same rates just to keep up. It’s led to huge hits to profitability or, in the case of Dynamite Pattaya, outright closure.
It used to be bars would pay 50 or 60 baht commission on a lady drink. How much difference does the extra 40 baht make? One Nana Plaza bar owner said that, unless he raised customer drink prices to 200 baht, the switch from 60 to 100 baht would leave him with a 400,000-baht loss for the month.
Many will read all of this and applaud Sebastian for building such successful businesses. Others will say that the moaning from other bar owners are just sour grapes. But, the fact is, tourists, expats, customers and the girls themselves have been hurt by Pin-Up and XS. The good ‘ol days of a 500-baht barfine, 1,000-baht short-time/1,500 long-time, 130-baht lady drinks and 45- (or even 75-) baht happy hours are gone forever.
A naughty night out in Pattaya, at least for those looking for a young, sexy stunner, will cost you the same as it would in the U.S. or U.K. And it’s why Pattaya continues to become a place for families and tour groups and no-longer on to “must visit” list for western guys.