(We're not open yet. I am still dealing with licensing and legal issues, but when we are open -- in a little more than a week, after more practice -- I'll share that here. Last night was a test run. And all things considered, it went pretty well.)
BTW: To all those that have asked, the restaurant will be at 56/10, Sukhamvit Soi 55, just 100 meters up Thong Lor on the right side of the street. Thanks for stopping by. Jarrett.
And that was because the space had been flooded by water. Someone had left the tap on in the kitchen all night. Water flowed out from the third floor, down the stairs in little rivulets, and mixed with the sawdust and end cuts and cigarette butts that the local crew have flat-out refused to clean up for the past month. We walked into a very expensive pile of wet and festering garbage. And goddamn, was I mad.
But things improved yesterday. My father and I finished the woodwork on the second floor. The kitchen is complete, and little by little my space is being transformed. Yesterday was a good day, and today, I bring my cooks into the kitchen to test recipes in our restaurant for the first time. This morning I got my completed logo, which I'll paste below. Now I'm off to work. Have a good day.
In a dingy, blacklit room that smelled of piss and cigarettes, we watched 5 disinterested women well into middle age do strange things with eggs and needles and glow-in-the-dark rings. It's boring and rather sad, but that's not the worst part.
The place that we happened upon was not a safe place to be, evidenced by the shouting matches between clients (usually foreign tourist couples, sometimes with kids) who were getting ripped off to the tune of $250 (Yes, that is 8000 baht) for a couple beers. If you don't pay, you're surrounded by shouting women who don't let you out, as well as a few thick-armed thugs who glower and guard the door. It's pure intimidation and extortion, in a dark, strange, disorienting room. Police are not allowed in (they carded my Thai friend to make sure he wasn't police) and you really have no legal or personal protection once you're inside. I assume most people pay and get the hell out.
After about 10 minutes of watching this, and getting dripped on by a leaky air-conditioner (liquid in a run-down strip club ain't cool) we decided to leave. There was a glass on our table of orange soda with a straw in it. It wasn't ours and I moved it to an empty table. In that glass was the scam -- that orange soda cost 3200 Baht, or about $98. After arguing with a Thai woman who spoke to me with a ferocity that gave me goosebumps, we paid for what we drank (400 baht for 4 beers) and left. A bouncer shoved me around a little bit on the way out for good measure, and that woman told me to 'shut my mouth' about her scam. They attempted to charge us eight times our bar tab for that single orange soda. I was sober throughout, which made the visit even less pleasant.
To all who think this is 'part of the Bangkok experience' I assure you it's not. There's nothing Thai about it, actually: Thais don't scream at guests, they don't intimidate tourists, and they certainly don't pull sharp things out of their private parts. The only thing that's Thai about it are your own preconceived notions (which some unsavory characters will happily indulge for financial gain). It's also disgusting, and can be dangerous.
If you want to experience the rougher side of Thai culture, go to a kickboxing fight and sit high in the stands at Lumphini Stadium. Place a bet or two with the bookies if you want, drink some cold Chang from plastic cups, dig the old music and watch the rats scurry beneath rickety stands. You'll lose a lot less money, and have a lot more fun.
Each and every weekend tens of thousands of Thais and tourists waddle through Chatujak Market, which I'm told is the world's largest weekend bazaar. Regardless, it's huge, and wading through the sweaty current of humanity makes one hungry. This being Thailand, there's food everywhere -- but much of it the the hotdog-and-rubbery-meatball-on-a-stick shit that I'll never, ever eat. Life's too short for bad sausage.
Behind Chatujak proper is the JJ Mall, and across the traffic jammed street from that mall is a parking lot. Every Sunday evening people drive pickups loaded with antiques and old wood from upcountry and sell them there in the dark. I've been to this 'flashlight market' a few times in the past few weeks, looking for interesting pieces for my restaurant. And in going there I stumbled upon a restaurant called Big Krok. (Krok is the Thai word for mortar and pestle.)
This is not an exemplary Isaan restaurant. They do a few things well, including char-grilled fatty beef dipped in a spicy, sour jiim jeeow. And because I was eating there with my manager/friend Thanapat, I ate some things that I usually don't in Isaan restaurants. Like a plate of crispy grilled cow udder, which almost has the texture of squid (not as gross as it may sound) and a fiery salad of mint, beef blood, chili and tripe.
But what is most memorable about this place are the truly massive mortar and pestles that decorate the front of the shop (see above) which are used to make papaya salad. That, and the frightening male members above them, which are a common sight upcountry but are rarely so prominently displayed in Bangkok. "They're there to make lucky," Pat said as he ate some chewy, very beefy meat. Then he looked back again, laughed, and shook his head.
And after I've had some stir-fried chicken with basil and egg at Tik's mom's shop (she cooks and arranges flowers) I may head over to my furniture maker's spot (Joe's BO, Ekkamai Soi 18). Joe makes really comfortable chairs and his little pet is the cutest damn dog I've ever seen... so I'll let you in on the secret.
Yesterday, when I visited, the construction workers had finished knocking a gaping hole in the ceiling, which will connect the first and second floors spatially. It's hard to imagine that in less that two months diners should be sitting around this hole, on raised chairs, eating plates of Thai food and sipping cocktails and looking down on the action in the bar below.
In other news, I recently filed an article for The Atlantic on the graceful guidance of my manager Pat, which you can read here. Alright, I'm off to the site. Have a great weekend.
We were eating the rich, sweet, Indian-ish curries there and crispy Thai-style samosas when an old woman dressed in all pink entered the empty dining room. She wore a pink hat, pink pearls, pink mittens and pants and shoes and socks, and pink earrings too. This was strange, to be sure, but not especially so in Bangkok, a city where oddities aren't in short supply.
The woman, old but sprightly, spoke with warm familiarity to the staff. Then she opened her large pink purse and removed an embroidered pink mat to sit upon, two pink vessels for curries, and a knit sweater that would eventually wrap around her (red) can of Coke.
We didn't laugh, and the point of this post is not to poke fun at this woman's peculiar habits. It's about hospitality. I will tell my staff, as long as I am in the hospitality business, about the pink lady.
Because after the woman has arranged all of her things -- the many pastel colored bowls and utensils necessary for her to eat -- I saw a curry emerge from the kitchen with a tinge of pink. I thought my eyes were failing me, and it was quickly slipped into what looked like a homemade clay jar where it fit snugly, hiding the contents from our table's view.
But then the waiter placed a pink plate on the table with three blindingly pink chapati, fresh from the kitchen. They looked cartoonish their color was so vivid. She slowly tore off pink triangles of bread and dipped them in curry, pleased with her monochromatic dinner, as we watched from behind a barrier of plants.
"She's been coming once a week for as long as I've worked here" said our server, as we paid the bill.
On the way home, and later in bed, my mind kept returning to the staff and their gentle acceptance of such a strange request. In doing so, they created a loyal customer for life. And brought a bit of color to the dining room, too.
Outside my door in Bangkok rests this ash-stained broom. It has a smiley face burned into the part of the wooden brush that looks up at you while you scrub. I will keep it, because this brush is my own little reminder of what can happen when things fall apart. I bought it yesterday, a few blocks away from the smoking husk that was Central World, which was Bangkok's biggest mall.
To get there, myself, my wife and our friend Patrick Winn walked up Ratchadamri, past Lumphini Park and Chulalongkorn Hospital - places where much of the fighting between the Red Shirts and the Army had erupted only days before. Some trees were burnt the color of toast, shrubbery was torched, and bullet-ridden vehicles were being towed away from the protest area. But the streets were full of lively, smiling people. People with garbage bags and gloves. And amidst all this destruction was suddenly the happiest scene I'd witnessed in weeks. But things started to get worse as we passed the Ratchadamri BTS stop, whose eastern entrance was destroyed.
The smells of this rotten area of Bangkok were pretty intense, and lazy flies - the sort one sees hanging about garbage dumps and grim slums in South Asia - were hovering everywhere. But that didn't dampen the spirit of the thousands of people who headed out to clean up. Soap suds washed down the Ratchadamri, and garbage disappeared into the bags of crowds of cleaners.
When we did reach the intersection where the UDD had built their stage, volunteers were handing out free water and food. Some people wandered about, staring at the gaping hole in Bangkok's biggest retail outlet. Others posed for pictures in front of it. The smell from the twisted pile was, to me, very much like scotch whisky. The air was filled with smells of peat and petrol and wet. But despite all that, people simply needed to smile.
And then we set to work on a truly horrible pile of trash beside a klong (canal), scooping rubbish that had rotted in the weeks since it had started piling there. Insects wriggled out, and maggots shimmied in the sunlight. The women who lived beside the mountain of garbage, on the canal, were too old to move it. Young Thais helped us scoop and carry big bags of the stuff up to the curb. Then we scrubbed streets in the afternoon sun, as the last wisps of smoke rose from the nearby wreckage.
After we finished cleaning that afternoon, we stopped for a beer, exhausted and also grateful to be living in Bangkok again. The spirit of the people on the streets - Thais and foreigners working together for the good of this city - was infectious. And as night fell and Candice and I returned home I thought about all that has happened, and how we will remember this disaster some day. I don't know how I'll feel so many years down the road, but I'll keep my mop to remind me.
I do know how I'll feel about the day that Bangkok came out to clean -- that was the day that I remembered what makes this city great, once again.