Sunday, June 1, 2003

The Hogs Breath Saloon - Where Drinking Men Meet

by Saigon Charlie -

Like in the movie Casablanca and its infamous bar "Ricks"; in Bangkok there is the "The Hogs BreathSaloon". It could however just as easily be called "Bobs" as it is Bob McIndoe (an ex-pat Canadian construction hand) who is the cohesive force behind what makes the Hogs Breath what it is; a true ex-pat hangout.

Your distinguished Hogs Breath host and Master of Ceremonies, Bob McIndoe!!!

Life begins behind the curtain!

The Breath isn't for everyone. It isn't a glitzy club like the G-Spot, nor does it have 100´s of scantily clad girls that some advertise (it has a few nice ones however in the evening) or have anything else that, from just a glance, makes it special. But that first glance can never tell you the true story, unless you are a very trained observer of people or have some inside knowledge.

Some of the ladies outside waiting for things to "wind up".

If you walked up to the second level of Nana and strolled around the narrow walkway of bars, you would notice the sign and maybe a few guys either inside the darkened interior or maybe outside setting on one of the old, rickety stools outside sipping on a Heineken with a chilled, wash cloth around their necks.

There might also be a Thai lady or two outside, most probably nibbling on some form of local Thai food. There might even be one setting in front of the entrance making a very subtle effort to entice you inside. There is no real pressure or hustle here that is common in the numerous beer bars around town or in places like Patpong or Soi Cowboy (another infamous entertainment area left over from the Vietnam War).

If you have a sense that maybe something is different about the place by either a quick glance inside or a glance at those sipping on their beers, you would be most definitely right!

As you pull apart the heavy brown curtains to peer inside and see what there is to see, most probably you won't see much. Some can't close the curtain quick enough and continue their search, but these are the stupid ones.

The smart ones sense there is something different about the place. Maybe it is the caring smile of one of the day girls or maybe it is seeing Bob propped up on a bar stool reading his email on his notebook. It might also be a couple of guys talking loudly about the coming war in Iraq or maybe it is the tennis match on the satellite TV system mounted high up in the back of the bar; whatever it is that draws you in, you have chosen wisely!

Each and every day, almost from the opening hour around 11 AM or so, there is a constant flow of men dropping in to say hello to Bob or renew old friendships and tell more lies. You could be setting next to a guy who is passing through Bangkok on his way home back to Korea from Afghanistan. You might strike up a conversation with a guy headed for some oil rig in Indonesia or maybe be entertained by one of the "local talents" who just loves to tell everyone about the antics of their personal love lives.

Harold and Joe enjoying their days off from work.

Some of the wonderful and beautiful ladies at the Hogs Breath Saloon.

Goodness me...I think I am in love!

On a typical day you will find retired and active duty US State Department personnel, men somehow associated with intelligence functions of the US Department of Defense, men passing through having just served tours in Afghanistan with special warfare units, pilots and mechanics of all shapes and sizes, a heavy concentration of construction and oil rig personnel, a musician or two, a wanabe actor, an occasional artist, a couple of computer and software types, airline crews, men who swing both ways and men who are on the run, either from themselves or their ex-wives.

The group is as eclectic as it gets. There are the existentialist, the jaded ones, the quiet ones, the loud ones, the animated ones, the bullshitters, the good , the bad and the ugly.

The collective knowledge of this group of men on a normal afternoon or at the world famous Sunday afternoon Texas chili event would most probably exceed that of any corporate board room in the world!

The entire bar, almost every square inch of wall space is filled with many decades of memorabilia about both construction and military organizations. You will see pictures of many people, including President Bush (Sr.) as well as stickers from military teams that travel the world. Take a few moments to read everyone and you start to gain an appreciation for the eclectic nature of those that have passed through those curtains before you.

The "permanent" ex-pats have a heavy concentration of Canadians with a slight fewer Americans. There is however a distinct difference between the two groups but other than an occasional heated debate, the late night swing or two; it is all good fun and actually, if you listen to the conversations, is quite fascinating.

The Canadians and their experience seem to be concentrated in the construction trades. The Americans seem to be concentrated in US government related activities and aviation.

I know from many years of coming to Bobs and having spent numerous days (weeks!) listening and participating in these exchanges, that it just doesn't get any better or more interesting than this!

The Canadians are a bit more reserved, except Tequila Jim, than their American counterparts. Americans being Americans can be real loud at times and sometimes you think the present and ex-military guys are still out in the field barking out their orders!

The Canadians are also more reserved in both their perspective of life and living. They also seem to take a more conservative view of the world's events and their own family and financial lives. Americans always seem to project an attitude that seems to say, "Let's live for today!" and are often far more entrepreneurial and risk takers. Of course with the building hatred about American intervention around the world in its grab for resources, just walking in and people knowing your an American, can lead to an interesting exchange of viewpoints.

Tim - A really nice Canadian guy who is a great golfer as well as good at what he does on the rigs

Scottish Ken - Another hand from the rigs who makes the Breath his watering hole

Some of the very lovely and charming
ladies at the Hogs Breath Saloon.

The Sunday afternoon chili is a social event. Locals sometimes bring both their Thai wives and on occasion, a child or two. The air conditioning is always on and since Bangkok is usually hot, bright and draining, a bit of air-conditioning, an ice-cold cloth to wipe the sweat off, an ice cold Singha to quench a nasty thirst followed by a spicy bowl of Texas chili with cheese is pure nirvana! Of course here is where you will once again gain an opportunity to solve all the world's problems, hopefully before your third Singha.

Nana, as most call it, is almost a living, breathing entity. It never seems to sleep and goes through daily cycles and moods, just like a woman! In the late morning there is the "re-stocking" period where the beer trucks arrive and make their daily deliveries. There is of course the woman trying to be a man, the "beer lady". It is funny to listen to her and Bob get into it.

As the restocking happens, there will be the ex-pat or two that drifts in who are most probably in Bangkok for their holiday and are at the Breath to drink some beer and tell some lies. You usually get a good pulse about what is going on in the world as these people have been watching and listening to the news from where they just came from.

As the afternoon drifts on, the retired ex-pat locals will drift in. They are an interesting group as well and here you find camaraderie and if you gently probe and listen, and ask the right questions, can learn one hell of a lot.

Towards mid-afternoon, another group starts to come in. Most probably those that have partied hard the previous night and/or had a lady friend for the evening and have just sent her home. This is also the time the local ex-pats with jobs start to drift in and plop themselves down on their stools in their corners. Others gather outside on their barstools to watch the "show" at five in which the girls and those pretending desperately to be girls, start to arrive. Although the bar under Bobs has built a new roof that blocks the "show" entrance a bit, find a place where you can watch them come up the steps and pass by your stool. If it is your first time in Bangkok, you might be quite shocked at what you will see!

Most of these people are creatures of habit and I sometimes find it all quite amusing. Bob is no exception and if you look down on the floor, you will notice a well worn path on the old tile that starts at the curtains and goes about half the way back down the bar. You might think this is from numerous friend's of Bob releasing their rented beer in the head, but you would be wrong! It is actually from Bob walking off his hypertension, which if you calculated that Bob has called Thailand home for 35 years and has "managed" (Farangs can't own things, their wives do) the Hogs Breath more years than I can remember, has probably walked around the earth at least twice already on these tiles.

Gordon sent me this photo of him and Poon from his last trip.
He is hopefully getting back here for a short visit in late October or early November. Can you say "short time!"