Sunday, August 4, 2013

Daeng Place

Where every low-life knows your name

Daeng Place. At one time, in the early part of the 21st Century, it was probably the greatest boozer on Planet Earth. What made it so spectacular? Every loony, near genius, defector from reality and second class citizen drank there. Me included.  

Mr. Daeng passes the kouchie

I have written about pubs before but Daeng's was in a league entirely of its own. 


I first heard about this establishment, and its gaudy social life, from Suntory Simon in late 2003. 


"I was sitting in Daeng's having a quiet drink with George, when this diddy little Scottish guy called Ronnie went crazy and attacked me for no reason at all. I started to beat him up but then George hit him over the head with a chair, knocking him out cold."


The Scotsman jumped Suntory Simon because he did not like English people (Simon is from Liverpool).   



Shortly after hearing this story, I went to recce the joint. I used to love establishments with a reputation for violence and bad behavior. One of my favourite boozers back home was the Warwick Castle on Portobello Road -- a rowdy pub, frequented by all the ne'er-do-wells of my old comprehensive, Holland Park School.    



Way down the end of Soi Sainum Thip, a cul de sac off Soi 22, past the Indian tailor, the Chinese money changer, the old Muslim lady convenience store, Thai street cafes and hair salons, there it stood, Daeng Place, a huge town house that had been converted into a hotel and bar.  



The "saloon bar" and "public bar" was located in this courtyard-reception area. It was a simple, no-frills set up.   



There was a fat, steel water tank, a series of Meccano framed long tables, and assorted pieces of plastic garden furniture and school chairs



It was cramped. But drinkers, by and large, got to know one another pretty well on a night out-- which is the whole point of a "public house," right?


Propping up the counter of the bar to regale punters with your charm and wit is an English art. The counter of this dive was a bashed together piece of recycled wood with a quintet of stools to lean on in the event of a Vodka-Red Bull OD (Guilty, M'lud!)


In the event of legless use crutches.


Customers and hotel guests were so trusted at this establishment that they were often left to help themselves to beers from the fridge (next to a handy urinal), and remember the tally.



Presiding over this crazed pad of good and bad was Mr. Daeng, the manager and proprietor. According to legend, Mr. Daeng was the black sheep of a rich Thai family. In youth, as a University student, he had studied in the USA. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s, the time of the counter culture revolution, and Daeng became a fully fledged drop out. He overstayed his student visa and got deported. Back in Thailand, his flares and loud music incurred the wrath of his conservative family and he was soon ostracized.


"I told my father, "fuck you," and he not speak to me ever since, that was a long time ago."



The wayward youth fell in with a bad crowd and picked up a heroin habit.  Daeng got into a spot of trouble and was locked up in Bang Kwang Prison, the real life Bangkok Hilton. He would show the track marks on his arms to customers, warning them about hard drugs (often when drunk).


"Look at my arms, man. Seven years I was on heroin, seven fucking years! I'm all fucked up!"


Out of clink and back out on the street, his family gave him a town house in Bangkok which he transformed into a hotel and bar. At one point he had a Muay Thai gym in the forecourt. 



"A lot of guys who trained in my bar went to have big fight in Lumpini and Rajadamnern, I no lie."  

(It also helped having a fight promoter for a next door neighbor).  


The place opened at noon or thereabouts (IE when Daeng got out of bed). During peak hours, 5pm -9pm, it was a cauldron of scarlet palms and pickled livers. Quite often, you could not tell (or prove) if any of what you heard was fantasy or fact. This is because Bangkok is full of self invented men, with stories and past histories that don't add up. Or jar with the reality sat in front of your eyes. Because you were never sure who-was-who, or what was really going down, a night out at Daeng's was usually unforgettable.  



One noxious beast was Nick, a British hooligan with delusions of Mafia. The skinny Londoner claimed to be an ex Royal Marine, and boasted about smuggling ecstasy out of Holland with Essex boy villains. Then things got close in Blighty. Our man, fearing that he was soon to be busted, ran. He took a plane to Thailand, and never looked back. Like many western men in South East Asia, he went crazy for pussy and was diagnosed HIV positive. 


"Here," he'd say, waving his AZT meds in the air, "look at these fucking horse pills I have to take!"


Nick reckoned himself as a hard man. And the skinnymalink would boast of his fighting prowess, challenging fellow drunks and dangerous strangers to fights.


"Did you know," he would say, "that I could have you on your knees? On-your-knees.


And Father Christmas lives.


Another "ex military" loudmouth was the Aussie Assassin. He was a regular irregular at Daeng's, who looked pretty normal, with neat, short, black hair and a polo shirt with a fake crocodile on the tit, but then he'd open his cake hole.  



"I was an assassin for the Aussie SAS. The Brits do the fighting, you know, Signals and Sabres and that, but they send us to do the assassinations, the politically motivated killings, wet jobs, black ops, that kind of thing. It ain't no fucking computer game, it's the real deal."


There was an unlicensed clown, dirtily buried amongst the regulars. Bobby Bullshit was a long-haired, hippy dippy liar who bore a snarling resemblance to BOB, the demonic entity from cult TV show Twin Peaks



Killer Bobby arrived at Daeng's with another improbable curriculum vitae. He was a rock star in a band called The Thunderbirds, then he got drafted and rose to the rank of Sgt in the 82 Airborne. Upon discharge, he became a drug smuggler and was banged up in HMP Wandsworth for trafficking hashish in the early 1970s. 


"Essentially," he volunteered, "I am an entrepreneur, a businessman... I have made millions and I have lost millions."


Which probably explained why he was staying at Daeng's and not the Mandarin Oriental. 


High on weed and Chang beers, Bobby would speak in lies


"I got a mansion in Ibiza, right next to Jade Jagger, she is one of my best friends. You're from London, right? Do you know her? Well I do. I popped her cherry. She thought I was the fuck of the century. Anyhow, lemme tell you about this cloud seeding project I had going on in Nepal a while back. This will interest you.  I went to see this guy from the Ministry with my plan, and he said he didn't want it. Of course you need it, man, I shouted at him. Look at the clothes you are in, you are in a sharp suit, and your people are walking around in rags!  What's wrong with you, are you corrupt or something, where's your sense of humanity?"


The Man at the Ministry called up security and Bobby Bullshit was escorted out of the building and onto the street. 


Bobby's Nam stories and memories of the 82 Airborne did not put him in good stead with Mike Bollinger, the enforcer and soi pit bull. He immediately sussed him out as a Walter Mitty type. 


"What is an extension line, what is a PLF? You ain't no paratrooper, motherfucker! Meeting adjourned.


Mike, who once drug tested soldiers as a SSgt in the 82 Airborne, noticed that Bobby Bullshit had stomach abscesses. 


"That guy who talks like Charles Manson is a heroin user." 


Mike was the constant bogeyman. He had beef with many of Daeng's customers. Scottish John was so scared of Mike that he used to bunk over the wall of the vacant lot next to Daeng's and cut across its waste land of mangy wild dogs just to avoid getting beaten up black and blue.



"I'm too scared to walk back up the soi on my own," John whimpered, crying over a large bottle of Chang beer. "Mike's a psychopath. A killer. And I'm afraid of what he might do to me if he got his hands on me. I have seen him beat up people before and it's not nice. I don't know what I did to offend him. I've apologized and everything."


In the meantime, until peace could be made, John would have to wait for an escort or bunk over the back wall


There were many lost and unscrupulous souls at Daeng Place. But what is a bar without drama and a crazed assortment of pissheads and junkies to stoke its fire For a number of years, Sir Bob Wilde was Father of the House. One day, when sozzled, the old coot took exception to the marijuana that was openly smoked on the premises. Unfortunately, he addressed his grievance to the wrong person.


"Mr. Daeng, I say, old chap, what if the Police come in here and arrest us all?"


My friend Mr. Daeng


"They no come here, Sir Bob. I pay them off already. I have a big house, nice business, come from an influential family, live here long time, they no fuck with me, I am a respectable man. I am not like you, Sir Bob. I am not cheap charlie who pays for beer with small coins and asks for credit."


"I hear what you are saying, Mr Daeng. But I don't like it all the same."


"Fuck off and drink somewhere else."    


Sir Bob wiped his boozy brow and stood up.


"Then I shall have to take the pleasure of my custom elsewhere!" 


Apart from cheap beers and spirits, weed was one of the reasons people went to Daeng's. At night, almost on cue, old George Miller would roll through for a beer and a toke with Daeng at the bar. To a very select few, the old Thai would supply them with 500 and 1000 Baht bags of ganja.  One loyal customer was Alice the Exbrat, a bisexual English model with diplomatic immunity and a get out of jail free card. 



"I love Alice," said Daeng, "she's a good gal, I love her like my daughter."

But the feeling was not mutual. Alice the Exbrat often complained about Daeng. 


"Daeng creeps me out. I am literally terrified of him. It takes me an hour to work up the nerve to ask him for weed."


She was not interested in him being her father figure. All she cared about was drugs-drugs-drugs. 



On one occasion, Daeng had run out of ganja to supply Alice (who was on her way to the islands with chums). Alice stamped her feet on the floor and screamed and screamed like Violet Elizabeth Bott from the Just William series of novels. Daeng knew a spoiled brat when he saw one -- for he was once one himself.


"Hey Alice," said Daeng, "this is Thailand, sabai sabai or get out of my bar!"


Another dangerous regular was a Brit called Brian. The pot bellied, bald headed eccentric was an ex publican who had relocated to Bangkok. He formed an irrational dislike of Scottish John, and had posted strange Photoshop pictures of him in the toilets of all the bars on Soi 22. Brian also had an unusual drinking habit: downing two large bottles of Leo beer at the same time. After a few "doubles," he would grow violent, bare his teeth like Hannibal Lecter and lunge at John over the table.


"I don't know why he wants to beat me up," said John, "I'm thinking of drinking somewhere else. Daeng's is too dangerous for me to go to now. Between Mike and Brian, I am a marked man."   


And it's back to Mike "The General" Bollinger. Friend to few, foe to many. Any punter to Daeng's would have to run the gaunlet past his sentry box outside Ampa Salon at the top of the soi. Sometimes Daeng would sit outside to intercept patrons scared of Mike, and wave them down. 


Buddha Bless Prapat Patomnupong aka Mr. Daeng. Jan 1950 - Sept 2010

But Mike's vigil was constant. And he would keep a sentinel eye out for punters on the way back from Daeng's to beat up.

"Here comes that motherfucker who owes me 200 Baht!"


A lot of the tension was political. Mike refused to drink in Daeng's because he got into fights with "liberals" and "pot heads." One of his pals, Jay, a huge, Germanic, ox of a man, who had served in the Army and worked as a Corrections Officer, loved beating on the douchebags and scumfolk of Daeng's. One occasion, Jay challenged two men to a fight. He was completely smashed. But his performance was Oscar worthy.


"I'm gonna fight both of you guys," Jay shouted at the liberal Americans who dared to criticize George W. Bush, "not one at a time, like a pussy, no, I'm gonna fight both of you at the same fucking time!"


Jay got up from his chair but his legs went and he crumpled to the floor, drunk and incapable.


"Stand down, Jay," bellowed Mike, "I said, stand down!"   


"What do you mean stand down?" George Miller chipped in. "The guy can't even get up from the floor."


People faulting on debts, or stealing, was cause for ruckus too. I was having a drink with Headley, the Welsh manager of the Texas Lone Star, when he jumped out of his seat at Daeng's to chase after some limping sexpat from Hotel 27 who owed him money. It wasn't a large sum: only 300 Baht.


Headley grabbed the man by the scruff of the neck, and waved his fist in the air.


"Pay me back my fucking money, you fucking low life American prick!"


Headley switched off the psycho and returned to his stool as normal as he'd left.


"Why'd you blow up at that sexpat, it's only 300 Baht."


"It's not the fucking money," he said, "it's the fucking principal!


Liverpool folk are known for thieving the world over.  But it drains when one of your own reinforces this regional stereotype in an international setting. The thief was Phil. The light-fingered Scouse had been chatting to Aussie Dennis.  Dennis was looking for a job.  Phil offered him a "sales" gig and swapped contact details. Then Phil left the bar...with our man's cell phone.


"That guy who offered me a job," said Dennis, "he just nicked my phone!"


"Then you'd better get after him," shouted Headley, "coz he ran off like someone had shoved a red hot poker up his arse!"       


Aussie Dennis and a posse from Daeng's chased after Phil and caught him. Phil got slapped for his efforts, and was never seen again.

But all good things come to an end. In 2009, Daeng rented out the property to Taffy, the owner of "Taffy's Hairy Pie Club" in Washington Square around the corner. The leases were up on the Square and the bulldozers were scheduled to go in. Daeng had a farewell party and Taffy took the place over, calling it "Taffy's Faulty Towers." Taffy had a midget bitch of an Englishman put up signs all over the place warning patrons not to smoke pot on the premises. The loonies of Bangkok, and beyond, had nowhere else to go. 


My favorite thing about Daeng's was the man himselfWe had a lot in common. He was a Capricorn, his character was defined by the times that he grew up in, and he was a bit of a class traitor. I was in the UK in the summer of 2010 when I learned that my dear friend  Prapat Patomnupong, aka Mr. Daeng, had died of cancer in a Bangkok hospital. It was the end of an era. You could not have Daeng Place without the ringmaster himself. And the joint only lives on in the memory of all those who drank there and raised Hell. Those days are dead. Those times are gone. But what nights we had, boozing freely in the fiefdom of Mr. Daeng. I am not sure if I will ever have as much fun again.