BANGKOK — If finding a late-night roost in the capital’s usual haunts has become more difficult, that’s because most clubs and bars in the Khaosan Road and Thonglor areas were ordered this month to close at midnight – a situation that may not change.
While the earlier closing of familiar venues may seem a sudden change, police said they have merely begun enforcing a law long on the books.
Local police chiefs in both areas said they have done nothing but enforce a 2004 regulation requiring clubs and bars registered as restaurants in the two popular nightlife areas to close by midnight.
“Go back and look at the law,” Col. Khajonphong Jitphakpoom of Thonglor police said Monday when asked about the new closing times.
The enforcement effort seemed to begin after police were embarrassed by a raid on a Khaosan Road nightclub earlier this month that resulted in a station chief and several officers being removed from active duty.
Someone answering the phone at Thay, a recently opened restaurant and bar on Ekkamai Road, said they were told Saturday they must shut down by midnight.
An employee at Bad Motel, located on Thonglor Road, admitted the nightlife venue was ordered Saturday to shut down through the end of May because it had stayed open after permitted hours. The employee, who refused to give his name, said police told them to close at midnight once they’re allowed to reopen on Thursday, because they only have a restaurant license.
Other bars and venues, such as T-Rex on Soi Thonglor 15 and many of the after-hours Japanese restaurants, were reportedly told to shut down by midnight. Other mainstream venues such as upscale bar Rabbit Hole were ordered shut by 1am. While Rabbit Hole seems back to 2am, Dark Bar announced earlier this month it would close permanently in light of police demands it close by midnight.
The same happened in Khaosan, where clubs such as Mulligan’s Irish Bar and Bar Next Door have been obliged to close at midnight.
The change comes after a May 6 raid of Khaosan’s Zad Pub. Interior Ministry security forces – easily mistaken for military – found the place had been operating illegally and allowing entry to minors, some of whom tested positive for drugs.
The raid resulted in five policemen at the Chanasongkram police station being moved to inactive posts – including the station commander – due to negligence.
The acting Chanasongkram police commander, who was just moved to the post after the raid, said Monday that law enforcement has become stricter since his reassignment.
“Registered places can be open until 1am,” Col. Monchai Sriprasert said. “But most of them just register as ‘restaurants.’ I think there are only five places which have licenses for opening entertainment venues.”
This runs counter to the widely held belief that closing time for the capital’s clubs and bars is 2am.
According to regulations dating from 2004, only “dancing places” that don’t sell alcohol are allowed open until 2am.
Registered entertainment venues that offer dance floors and alcohol, such as nightclubs, can remain open until 1am if situated in one of three areas zoned for entertainment. Those located in conditional use venues such as hotels must close by midnight.
One exception is for alcohol-licensed venues which provide other forms of entertainment, such as musical performances. They can also stay open until 1am.
So why don’t the innumerable clubs and bars in Thonglor and Khaosan get properly licensed? They can’t.
Since 2005, there are only three areas zoned for entertainment: the Patpong red-light district, a brothel-choked stretch of Ratchadaphisek Road and the dance halls clustered along RCA.
Police Col. Monchai said most places in the Khaosan area – except for a few owned by the Buddy Group – do not have licenses, as it is not in one of the entertainment zones.
Buddy Group’s legal advisor, Warawut Phongsawang, said they registered four places before the law came into effect: Brick Bar, Molly Bar, The Club and 999 West. They all now must close at 1am.
The crackdown on Bangkok’s once free-wheeling nightlife has intensified since the junta seized power in 2014, with frequent raids in which regular police are paired with soldiers or sometimes left out entirely.
Soon after the coup, the regime empowered authorities to shut down or revoke the licenses of owners who keep their clubs or bars open after permitted hours or allow entry to underage guests.