The Anatomy Of A Beer Bar
The Beer Bar appears to be unique to Thailand and can be found almost exclusively in major cities and tourist resorts. The Beer Bar is an extension of an already established and sensible design which works well in a hot tropical climate. This is simply build a roof and leave the four sides open. That way you get shade and a breeze from whatever direction the wind blows. This has been used for restaurants all over Asia and is still in use today.
The Beer Bar simply uses this space to erect a bar, or several bars. Here they get protection from the sun and the rain.
One of the oddest features of the Beer Bar is the name. More often than not the Beer Bar will actually be called the Bar Beer. This purely because that is the way it would be said in the Thai Language.
Pattaya in Thailand probably has the greatest number of Bar Beer in the world.
Most beer bars will be square or oblong in shape. The central area is usually for the Bar Girls. Sometimes, if the Bar Beer is large there may be customer seating in the middle and even a pool table. This tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
Normally the customers will sit around the four sides of the bar. The bar top is of very sturdy construction and is normally concrete. There is good reason for this as sometimes the girls will dance on the bar and/or on the equally strong inner shelf.
Every Beer Bar has a bell. In the UK bars had bells in times gone by. This was rang as the pub was closing for the night with the call "Time, Gentlemen please!"
The Beer Bar bell is somewhat different. Anyone ringing that bell is expected to buy a round of drinks for everyone in the bar. The rules change slightly with the establishment. Sometimes it is just the girls in the bar you are buying drinks for. In others there is actually a limit on your money but unless this is on a sign somewhere it is drinks for everyone. There are no excuses and you will be walked to your ATM if you don't have the cash. Don't play with the bell unless you mean it.
Ping Pong Balls
Not every BarBeer has Ping Pong Balls but they are becoming increasingly popular. The balls are kept in small baskets located around the bar top. A basket is typically priced at 400 Thai Baht. Customers can throw the balls one at a time for the girls to catch or throw the entire contents into the well of the bar and watch the girls compete to collect the most balls. Each ball they collect is money for them. It may seem a bit coarse but it is all money. Not every Bar Girl
will be bar fined every night. Neither will every girl be bought a ladies drink so any opportunity for a bit of extra cash is appreciated.
The Ping Pong concept has moved over from the Go Go Bars where it is more common. Half or wholly naked girls scrabbling around for balls was always thought fun.
Fans are an essential within the Beer Bar to keep the air moving. Even with the open side construction the air can become very stuffy quickly. The fans are also very important to the girls as they can work up quite a sweat dancing on the bar. Or should that be work up quite a glow?
'Horses sweat, men perspire but ladies only glow'
Beer Bar girls certainly glow, they even shine brightly.
Not every Beer Bar will have a pole, but most do and some have two or three. Pole dancing can be as simple as one girl with the pole as a partner to quite dramatic feats. Certain songs or tunes really get the girls up and dancing, sometimes alone but as threes and fours is not unusual.
The poles are normally located on plinthes within the bar rather than on the bar tops. It is then possible to have pole dancing going on whilst other girls dance on the bar tops.
It is not unusual for inebriated male customers in various stages of undress to dance with the pole. On occasion I have seen some Western women put on incredible impromptu performances.
Beer Bar Party
There would be no Beer Bar without Bar Girls. The Girls maketh the Bar. The friendliness and professionalism are what really determine a Beer Bars success. Location helps, but without the Girls there is no guarantee of success.
Although some girls are employed by a Beer Bar not all of them are. Some Girls like to stay in one 'home' bar whilst other like to move on.
One Beer Bar I visit will have two to six new girls practically every night of the week. They move on because they like it that way. They have no contract and so they can go when they want.
Don't ever be fooled into thinking that the girls do not like doing what they are doing. They like the cameradrie, the fun and the anticipation of not knowing will happen next. Wages will vary nightly dependent on the tips. There are good nights and bad nights and tomorrow could always be better.
The Bar Girls will vary in ages from late teens up till mid fifties. There are older of course. Not all will be real girls either. The Kathoey are sometimes mixed in amongst them and whereas some are clearly what they are, some could fool a doctor.
Just about every Beer Bar today has a large screen TV. Most of these will be showing a Football game live. It makes sense. A large proportion of men whould not go out at all if they were going to miss the football. So here is the bait to catch the prey.
I find it highly amusing to see a lot of Western men glued to the TV screen whilst a ravishingly beautiful Bar Girl pole dances just inches away and unnoticed.
Somewhere hidden away is a genius who mixes the music for Beer Bars. The wanting to get up and dance figures highly among the tracks. Then there is the sing along type and those which conjure up memories. There will be new tracks too which will firmly implant the Bar Beer in your mind.
Apart from pool which is really an aside from the Beer Bar there are three main games played.
Connect Four is very popular. Unless you have played this game every day of your life there is no way that you will ever beat a bar girl. She will let you win sometimes and express shock or delight. She is there to keep you happy. The longer you play with her the more drinks you will buy. The more inebriated you become the more likely of the Beer Goggle Effect. More likely she will be your companion for the evening or a short time.
The Tipsy Tower, Tumbling Tower, Booze Tower, Stacker, Jenga is made up of a series of equally shaped wooden blocks. They are stacked in a pile on the bar and then blocks are slid out one by one and added to the top of the pile in an overlap. Great fun when sober but a laughter making challenge when just a little drunk.
Flippet, Shut the Box or Jackpot Dice is a small open topped box containing nine numbered pivoted wedges. A pair of dice are rolled within the box and an appropriate numbered wedge flipped over. The person who flips them all is the winner. It may at first seem quite a simple game. Luck definitely places a part but there is some skill involved as well.
There are others but they are the most popular.
How To Play Jackpot Dice
Most Bar Beers will have a Mamasan who watches over all the activity in the bar. She will also act as the cashier. Sometimes the Mamasan will actually own the bar or just be the representative of the string of girls.
If you want to have a good time in a Beer Bar always buy the girl who serves you a drink and buy the Mamasan one too. You don't have to do it every time. By doing so once you have signed the guest book and been approved.
As the name suggest Beer is the main item of sale in a Beer Bar but a range of spirits and cocktails are always available too. It is surprising the number of customers who just drink water or soft drinks.
There are not always balloons in a Beer Bar but balloons represent a party and any excuse for a party is grabbed at. It could be the bosses birthday, the anniversary of the bar opening, a regular customers birthday, one of the girls birthdays. Just about every Beer Bar will have a party ever six weeks or so.
The party atmosphere is infectious and it is very easy to have a good time. Often there is free food available too.
Many Bar Beers will have flags of all nations suspended around. This indicates a welcome to all. It does not necessarily mean they speak all the languages of the nations which the flags represent, but you may be surprised.
Bar Girls in their mid thirties may have had several long term relationships. Some have even married and gone to live in Italy, Scandinavia, England, Germany or other places and returned to bar life. They speak the language. English though is the all time favourite to get by on.
Every Beer Bar will have at least one small shrine or inner spirit house. It is here that the spirits live. If kept happy they will bring luck and prosperity to the bar. Although many believe that these are Shrines to Buddha this is only half true. These type of shrines pre-date Buddha and are Animist in nature. It is a belief that a spirit (pixie, fairy, elf, leprachaun or whatever) lives in that area. Sprits live in stones, water, trees and everywhere so undoubtedly they live in Beer Bars.
The spirits in Beer Bars are fed and watered daily. Usually Red Fanta will figure but in Beer Bars they are given alcoholic treats as well.
Bar Girls will Wai the shrine when they arrive at work. They will Wai again and give thanks, especially if they get a customer.
Tips make up a large part of what a Bar Girl earns in a day. Salary, if they get any at all, is poor at best. Bar Fines do not come every night and neither does 'short time'.
Generally all tips are put into a jar, piggy bank or plastic container. This will be divided at the end of the evening between staff working that night.
If the bar girl who has served you all night, chatted to you and stolen part of your heart away you may, if you are a nice person, want to tip her separately. The way to do this is to take any note from 50 Baht upwards and fold it unseen till it is quite small. Slip this quiety into the girls hand. She will slip it into her bra quite quickly. Such monetary exchange is rarely missed by the other girls but it is accepted by all as a separate exchange as long as not done openly.
It is common for a bottle of spirits to be opened at the start of the evening and lightly dribbled around the outside of the bar, for luck.
The first customer of the day is always special and doubly so if generous.
The first money taken in the day is often used to 'dust' the bottles and items for sale. This may include, only half jokingly, girls private parts. This is also to increase luck.
Cyndi Lauper's Tribute to Bar Girls Everywhere
Make it a Must
When you visit Thailand by all means stay in the best hotels, do the cultural tours, the shopping, the beach but please make a point of spending a night or two in at least one beer bar. Choose the right one and you are in for an unforgettable experience.