Cut-price vice as clubs, bars bounce back to life

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 October, 1998, 12:00am

Even the most thin-lipped economist will admit that it is people's vices that often betray what is happening money-wise across a city.

And so it is in Bangkok, where a stable baht and a steady government are starting to free the middle classes from the shell shock that accompanied the utter economic collapse of a year ago.

With a nervous eye on Tokyo and Washington, well-heeled city folk are starting to talk about the light at the end of the economic tunnel. Clubs, bars and glitzy stores are slowly starting to fill again, lifting the ghost-town feel that many such quarters suffered just a few months ago.

On the streets, Bangkok's feared traffic is getting heavy once more. Residents are beginning to dip their toes into the pond of excess, albeit in a more restrained manner than in the heady, high-flying days when the Asian tigers were roaring.

Take the once-vast market in premium whiskies. Some name brands had virtual cult status in restaurants and clubs. You could not enter some establishments without first buying a bottle of Black Label or Chivas Regal. Now the glass cabinets where regulars keep their bottles reveal such unheard-of names as Blue Eagle, Royal Spey or the now ubiquitous Hunter, whose label is dedicated to Ewan Cameron who 'shot the last wild wolf in Scotland'.

Supermarkets now sell such brands for under 200 baht (HK$40) - a tenth of the price of previous favourites. Even the local Mekong firewater is reportedly enjoying a resurgence.

It is the same with cigars. Groups of suits who clogged certain bars with talk of US$100 (HK$770) Havanas now earnestly discuss the 'under-rated' merits of Indonesian or Filipino tobaccos, some of which can be picked up for little more than the price of a box of cigarettes.

At such gatherings talk inevitably turns to mistresses. Those men who bragged of keeping three or four young mia noi - minor wives - across the city now say they have cut back to one or two.

One property developer revealed his austerity measures: 'Mine has to pay for half her own apartment now.'