Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, considers his body a temple. It’s one at which I worship often. Dave, who plays the role of my boyfriend back home, not so much. His is my choice of places to worship at on Sunday mornings, but he views his body more as something to abuse. Which I do the other six days of the week. Having both bodies at the same place at the same time means the best of both worlds. But it can make deciding which religion to practice at any given time difficult. And for that, I can empathize with Catholic priests.
Dave an I have traveled the world together, even if for most of those journeys only one of us was officially gay. With the internet still in its infancy, while it was more of a chore I always took care of the logistics of travel, booking airlines, hotels, transpo, and the like. Dave went with what he knew best and handled finding the hottest bars and seediest dives. It’s one of his main talents. New to any town, he can find the watering holes that will make a trip memorable. Provided you can still remember them the next morning.
When we hit Hong Kong the first time, he excelled at his task. That was largely due to his having grown up there. Not that I didn’t have any input on how and where we’d spend our nights. In a homage to its history, on the top of my to-do list was a visit to an opium den. And he made that happen. Kinda, sorta. He managed to get us eight-sixed out of a trendy nightclub. The bar’s manager, being no more thrilled with his establishment’s hi-so clientele than we were, decided to spend the rest of his night bar hopping with us. Although part of his decision to turn our road act into a trio was because he loved that we were from Hawaii. ‘Cuz he had plans on moving to the islands and opening a bar cum brothel. And assumed two boys from Aloha land who got kicked out of a bar that didn’t offer prostitution were probably in on the know of how to become a pimp running one in their home town that did.
Vision of the grandeur of the flesh-trade aside, we explained that a bar fronting as a brothel was illegal in Hawaii. He nodded wisely, agreeing. And then asked again how you’d go about setting one up. We went back and forth trading rounds of can’t / can, never managing to convince him that it wasn’t simply a matter of knowing who to pay off. Tea money is a universal concept within Asia, but its not one that got carried over to the Hawaiian islands. But we all got pleasantly hammered while negotiating the finer points of his new business while hitting a succession of bars, each just a bit more seedy than the last. That opium den never materialized, but thanks to our new friend, the opium did. And we returned back to our hotel room to turn it into the opium den that I hadn’t quite envisioned. I’m not sure what we did the next night. Or maybe it was the night after that one.
It’s not surprising that on our first trip to Thailand, Dave led us to Patpong. Or that on our next visit he’d discovered the wonders of Soi Cowboy. Or that several trips after that he took me to my first gay gogo bar in Bangkok. As long as copious amounts of alcohol were involved, Dave has never cared much about a hang-out’s clientele. Or what in addition to alcohol it serves. Although now that he’s discovered he is gay, our visits to Soi Twilight have quickly become of much higher interest to him. Still, in our earlier visits we’d managed to hit trendy nightspots and less salubrious clubs that didn’t include naked male flesh on the drink menu, and I missed those days. And since I’d also missed visiting that opium den in Hong Kong I’d dreamed of, I thought it was time for a change.
“Where we go?”
As usual Noom wanted to know what my plans for the evening were. Not to voice his opinion, ‘cuz that was always up to me. Not that if my plans weren’t to his liking that it wouldn’t matter either. ‘Cuz pouting – as only a Thai can – was always an option totally up to him.
Thanks to what he does for a living, Noom has pretty much heard and seen it all. At least he’d thought he had until the night I took him to Bangkok’s premier SM club, Bar Bar. It was like a person who strayed unknowingly into the showing of a pornographic film and would like to rinse himself of a new and unwanted awareness about human behavior. The few times since that I’ve suggested a bar or club he’s not familiar with he’s grilled me about the place first. And then is quiet on our way there, busy practicing his selection of pout faces just in case the need arises. So I punted.
“We go bar.”
It worked. He assumed I meant his bar. And that meant a night of communing with his friends, free from the duty of chaperoning his charges since the farang would be too preoccupied with the naked male flesh on stage to need watching. Dave wasn’t as pleased. He’d been enjoying the almost nightly parade of cock on Soi Twilight, but that was a new vice for him. His old vice of getting totally smashed demanded, at least, equal time. Soi Twilight has never heard of a mixologist. And premium brands of alcohol mean a top-label bottle refilled with a no-name brand liquor. Getting your rocks off is what Soi Twilight is all about. Getting a decent scotch served on the rocks, not so much.
So Dave decided since Noom wasn’t pouting, he should. Until he caught my look. The one that reminded him I’d told him he looks gay when he pouts. Still new to the homo-lifestyle, Dave hasn’t quite yet figured out that it’s okay to look gay when you are in fact gay. When he finally reaches that conclusion, I’ll have one less trick in my arsenal for manipulating him into doing anything and everything I want.
So off we headed into the night on the BTS with Noom practicing a few pout faces just in case and Dave trying out his version of one that didn’t make him look too gay. When we passed Sala Daeng station, Noom upped his efforts realizing he’d been duped once again. Getting off at Surasak, he posed his earlier question again, hoping for a more informative reply. And then settled on the perfect expression of a Thai boy in agony when all he got from me was a curt answer of, “Walking.”
That changed when we arrived at the otherwise nondescript side of the Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom Hotel to be greeted by the green neon billboard of Maggie Choo’s, slightly tacky looking but promising Thai-Chinese food nonetheless. One of Noom’s favorite pastimes is eating. And the thought of doing so always puts a smile on his face. The dour looking doorman promised something entirely different. So Dave was happy too. Past the joint’s dark wooden doors, you’re not greeted by much. But you notice the ambiance has definitely changed. And with no other choice offered, you quickly make your way down a steep wooden staircase into what looks like an old-school dai pai dong Cantonese noodle bar replete with patrons fishing dumplings into their mouths with chopsticks while perched on antique wooden stools that don’t look quite up to their task.
As restaurants go, Maggie Choo’s is tiny. Jade colored tiles adorn the walls and floor; paper parasols diffuse the light from above. And a caged, bright green iguana, center stage, is no more impressed with the day’s special – red curry roast duck with jasmine rice for 300 baht – than are the few other diners who opted for more traditional noodle dishes instead. Noom’s stomach began to rumble. Dave gave me a questioning look, knowing I generally hold any form of pasta in the same general degree of disdain I normally reserve for drag queens. Tonight he’s in for a big surprise.
Ignoring the noises and looks my companions were making, I pushed them through a doorway blocked by curtains into what only can be described as a classic, but classy, oriental opium den decor, circa early 20th century. It’s very hedonistic. And literally underground. Oil paintings of sailing ships and busts of Queen Victoria compete for wall space with heavy steel doored brick bank vaults to fill the lush, cavernous club. At its center, the bar looks like an old-school casino cashier counter with the bartenders pushing drinks through its bars. And a pair of turbaned, shirtless hunks swing above it all. It’s several steps down in naughtiness from the pleasures of Soi Twilight, but the faux-speakeasy’s colonial era decor and button-tufted leather couches promise a degree of the decadence that helped to make Bangkok famous. And when Pangina Heals, Maggie Choo’s resident drag queen, takes the stage Dave forgot all about my dislike of pasta.
The story behind Maggie Choo’s – ‘cuz every good theme restaurant/club needs one – is that the concubines’ haven is run by its head-mistress, a cabaret owner named Maggie Choo who fled her hometown of Shanghai in 1931 following the Japanese invasion. Landing in Bangkok, she bought a tiny restaurant crammed into a basement ten meters below Silom Road that served authentic Thai-Chinese shophouse food. One day she discovered an entrance behind one of its walls that lead to a derelict 19th century East India company bank used for storing porcelain and spices that the British used to carry back to England for Queen V. Going with the life she knew, she converted the old bank into a cabaret, just like she used to run back in Shanghai.
In fact, Maggie Choo’s site was originally an underground East India Company Bank. The vaults that dot the walls are original, though now they serve as private rooms where you can perform those disgusting acts you can no longer get away with in public (that’d be smoking). Six nights of the week the club features fish on its swings and blues or jazz bands on its stage. But on Sundays it’s all about “The Importance of Being Earnest”, shirtless studs draped in red satin trousers and turbans, and a night of gay cabaret with Bangkok’s “wackiest drag queen”. Who at least is Asian.
Rebranded from the Love Your Own Kind Night when it debuted last August, Maggie’s is slowly become the Sunday night hot spot for gay expats and tourists, as long as you don’t mind spending your evening with a few local hipsters and the occasional wide-eyed farang visitor who passed on a night in Patpong ‘cuz it sounded too risque. The magical underground cabaret full of mystery, romance, jazz, and reminiscent of Shanghai opium den in the 1930s is the brainchild of Sanya Souvanna Phouma, who used to organize the gay nights at Bed Supperclub. Every Sunday night from 9pm to 2am, mixing steamy exoticism with steaming noodles, the club takes on the air of a live version of Cabaret, except this time around, Liza Minnelli really is a drag queen.
Noom sat through the opening bit of the show patiently. But ladyboy acts are a part of his life. With the limited number of pu’u pu’us available on the club’s menu and his stomach still singing off-key, he suck out his hand for some cash and nodded back toward the curtained doorway where his dinner awaited. Meanwhile Dave split his attention between the drag queen on stage, giving me querulous looks at my choice of the night’s entertainment, and the club’s extensive menu of premium brands of alcohol. At 165 baht for a Singha, Maggie Choo’s isn’t quite as expensive as a drink at Soi Twilight’s bars, but then the acts on stage aren’t quite as male-flesh filled either. And you can’t order Johnnie Walker & Sons Odyssey on Soi Twilight either. (Okay, you can, but that’s not what will be poured into your glass.)
Unfortunately – ‘cuz I’m greedy and one of the guys was a total hunk – the boys at Maggie Choo’s aren’t offable either. The scent of prostitution is for ambiance only. But if you are looking for an alternative gay night out on the town where money boys don’t dominate the crowd, Sundays at Maggie Choo’s might be the answer. When we hit the club there was a smattering of farang touri, an obvious number of gay expats, and enough friendly local eye candy willing to be cruised that you might just manage to score a Thai guy without paying for it for a change. Of course if drag queens are your thing, you’ll probably be as happy as a hog in slop anyway.
The club’s Pax Britannica decor mixed with a seedy far Eastern vibe is quickly gaining a loyal following, so reservations are a must; by 9pm it’s a first-come-first-seated basis, and there just ain’t that many seats available. On most nights it’s more of an intimate jazz or blues club, although it’s Facebook page announced a recurring “Freak Show Night” replete with midgets that looked like it could almost be as much fun as watching an Asian drag queen. Noom gave the noodle shop a hearty thumbs up (but then his sole requirement for sustenance is that it’s hot). And Dave enjoyed himself enough that he switched from Macallan’s to one of the club’s signature drinks, an HMS Leviathan (bourbon infused with honeycomb, honey syrup, sweet vermouth, and a twist of lemon). And I was just happy that I’d found a hot spot that could satisfy both of my boys. Even if it did mean sitting through a night of drag queen infused cabaret.