When it's time to unwind or unravel in Bangkok, the locals head for Patpong Road--a low road to the high life.
Fun-loving Bangkok is not the spot for corner saloons with pickled eggs--or for sober talk and swizzle sticks in Naugahyde lounges. Patpong Road, especially, provides a raucous alternative.
Patpong and adjacent Patpong 2 are block-long carnivals in the middle of the commercial district. Pub-crawlers call them collectively "The Street."
The wall-to-wall saloons and go-go bars have the wicked, tacky air--and the hustle--of San Francisco's North Beach. Patpong, however, seems somehow more innocent in spirit.
A favorite of mine is the Grand Prix. It's run by Rick Menard, a Vietnam veteran who stayed on in Southeast Asia. The main bar circles a runway where go-go dancers shuffle or bounce, depending on the enthusiasm of the onlookers, to the beat of American rock.
Menard, who introduced go-go to the street, holds forth at a separate, small bar in a corner of the room. His passion is boxing, but the discussion also ranges through what he considers lesser sports.
The Grand Prix is a hangout for expatriates and members of the foreign press. Beers cost the equivalent of about $1.70 and whiskeys a bit more, about $1.90, and it's the place to start or end the evening. Many never leave. There are prizefights and ballgames on the video.
Another notable establishment, just off Patpong, is Lucy's Tiger Den. The Tiger Den houses the Bangkok Memorial Division of American Legion Post No. 1, once situated in Shanghai.
Traditional cocktail lounges can be found in first-rate hotels, but if you leave Bangkok without hitting "The Street" and the Grand Prix, you've missed the fun.
The Grand Prix, 91 Patpong Road.