Wednesday was the new Friday last night as Bangkok’s bars swung back to life with strict rules in place to prevent a fresh outbreak of the coronavirus. And while most appeared to enforce those measures, the kind of behavior they were meant to prevent was readily found elsewhere.
Visits to a number of downtown bars and venues found face shields, social distancing and limits on table seating. Meanwhile scenes of packed tables, shared beer towers and no social distancing were on display at nearly identical drinking venues which just happen to hold restaurant licenses.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s nightlife reopening, COVID-19 task force spokesman Taweesilp Wissanuyothin said such rules were essential for high-risk venues to prevent another outbreak. As of today, Thailand has gone 38 days with no detected cases of domestic transmission.
In Soi Sukhumvit 11, bartenders and employees at speakeasy-themed cocktail bar Find the Photo Booth were wearing face shields and checking patrons’ body temperature. It was the same scene over in Soi Kasem San 3 at speakeasy bar Philtration. Some staffers there even wore rubber gloves, and the use of banknotes was discouraged – customers were urged to pay electronically to limit potential infection. Two meters of social distancing were maintained, and tables kept to five people. Patrons at both venues were asked to record their visit via the Thailand Wins system or on paper.
After months of darkness, the Nana Plaza sex mall in Soi Sukhumvit 4 was seeing few patrons, likely due to the absence of foreign tourists. Still, a few staff members were stationed in front to check the body temperatures. Most customers were drinking inside its bars without any live music playing.
Over at American sports bar franchise Hooters’ Nana branch, customers were scanned, told to wear face masks and logged via Thailand Wins.
As for the epicenter of middle-class carousing, Thonglor, police Lt. Col. Kitsadaphorn Chongaksorn said venues there and on Ekkamai were “very well-behaved.” Before opening time, he said owners and managers came in for a 6:30pm meeting at the Thonglor Police Department with chief Pornpipat Benyasri.
But many bar-like venues weren’t being held to the same standard. In recent weeks, crowds have been jostling elbow-to-elbow at many bar-restaurants, especially the kind of izakaya-style Japanese bars popular with large, rambunctious crowds.
By 7:30pm, it was a full house over at CentralWorld’s Groove complex, where several venues were packed with large groups of more than five per table sharing beer towers and being entertained by live musicians, some of whom did not wear face masks. There was little to no social distancing observable.
A representative with mall owner Central Pattana said they asked each bar and restaurant to cooperate with social distancing or provide partitions, and limit tables to parties of five. The representative, who declined to give their name, said all musicians were required to wear face masks except for vocalists.
They said the venues were told to politely ask intoxicated patrons not to stand up and dance.
Pichai Raksakom of the Pathumwan Police Station said today that officers had not visited CentralWorld but rather were surveilling brothels such as Sor. Botan as well as Hard Rock Cafe in Siam Square. Pichai said all the places they visited were following the rules. He said officers would visit CentralWorld and the lounge at the Novotel Hotel today.
Additional reporting Chayanit Itthipongmaetee
This article, On reopening night, scenes of orderly bars and rowdy restaurants clash, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!