The Mosquito’s Buzz
On Kasem Rat Road, just a stone’s throw from the old wharf at Klong Toey, in a scruffy 1930’s wooden building, up a narrow flight of creaking stairs, and you’d come to the entrance to the Mosquito Bar…the rowdiest sailor bar in Bangkok, if not the world.
There was no grinning doorman to greet you like at the Venus Room next door. There were no bar girls standing at the entrance enticing you to come inside. Just a heavy teak door you had to push open. If you knocked, no one would answer. Everyone who entered, did so freely with no coaxing.
Of all the waterfront bars, saloons and dives at Klong Toey, and there were many, the Mosquito Bar was always the most crowded, loudest, darkest, and wildest.
As the door closed behind, the newest patrons were swallowed up in almost total smokey darkness. The merchant seamen would linger by the entrance squinting as their eyes adjusted to the darkness.
At the Mosquito, the bars girls always had the advantage. It was home turf. Their eyes cut through the darkness like a cat’s. As the half-blind sailors stood by the entrance, unseen feminine hands reached out and guided them by the arm through the loud, boozy chaos to an open table deep inside.
For a seaman just off his boat after after a long slog halfway around the world, the Mosquito with its booze and bar girls was a reward long dreamt of. The beauty of Thai women was legendary among seaman and pointing your ship’s bow toward the steamy Port of Bangkok warmed even the hardest of sailor souls.
Bangkok’s Mosquito Bar: 1930’s-1982
The bar-bashing heyday of Bangkok’s Mosquito Bar lasted from the 1950’s to the early 1970’s. No one is quite sure exactly when the Mosquito served it’s first beer, but according to a few old salts, the bar first started serving in the 1930’s.
That makes sense because it was during the 1930’s when sailor bars started popping up along Kasem Rat Rd. which ran adjacent to the historic pier at Klong Toey.
The Mosquito went into hibernation during World War II as merchant ships rarely anchored at the port. Japan also occupied Thailand during the war which pretty much put the kibash on the free-wheeling, whiskey-fueled nights that the Mosquito induced.
After the war, as Thailand’s economy heated up, ships from around the world returned to Klong Toey. By the mid-1950’s, the Mosquito was putting on a nightly debauchery that was legendary among merchant seamen.
Drinkin’ “Monkey” at the “Mossie”
Translation: Drinking Mekong Whiskey at The Mosquito Bar.
The Mosquito only opened after the sun set on the waterfront. Inside, it was the darkest bar in all Bangkok.
The bar’s patrons were almost exclusively merchant seaman with a few Bangkok expats thrown in. The Mosquito was strictly off limits to American servicemen.
Beer and Thai whiskey composed the entirety of the Mosquito’s drink menu. The whiskey was Mekong brand (Monkey for slang) which isn’t whiskey at all-it’s made from sugar cane and is really rum. It was sold by the bottle, not the shot, and the bar girls made sure their sailor boys drank it freely.
Spilled beer, grabbing someone else’s bar girl, or simply saying “no” to an offered shot of Mekong could be reason enough for a bar room brawl. But a brawl at the Mosquito was entertainment. A few drunken sailors trying to punch each other in near total darkness was more comedy than violence. A night at the Mosquito without at least one good ruckus left the patrons disappointed and management wondering if the bar had lost its edge.
Fist fights or not, the Mosquito’s house band always played on. The band provided a steady stream of pop and rockabilly hits of the 50’s and 60’s.
It was too dark inside to dance. And besides, if dancing was your thing, then you’d instead go to the Venus Room next door where you could at least half see your partner. The “Mossie” was for drinking and shenanigans with the bar girls. Not dancing.
A Ship’s Tale
The Boribana, a cargo ship owned by the East Asiatic Co., sailed often between the snowy northern ports of Japan and the Port of Bangkok. These photos show the life of a ship’s crew and lure of the Bangkok’s Mosquito Bar.
” [Arrived] in Klong Toey Bangkok in mid August, 1956. I remember as if it was yesterday….The bosun sent me up to the Mozzie Bar (The Mosquito) to buy 2 bottles of Mehkong whiskey (Monkey brand). [I] think they were six bob a bottle at the time. Along the wharf through the gates (no security) diagonally across [Kamer Rat] Road and on the corner was the Mosquito Bar. Up the stairs and inside, pitch dark at first. While waiting for the mamasan to bring the bottles, a couple of girls started planting kisses on my cheeks. Terrified I bolted back aboard and found to my dismay lipstick imprints all over my face. By the time we sailed however I had a knowing lustful look about me, having lost my cherry in the Klong Toey bag shanties. Ah they were glorious days!!!!!
-Ben Boat Jim
“Boribana” [the writer’s ship] and the other “East Asiatic Co.” ships always stayed at the nearby pier and warehouses owned by the “East Asiatic Co.”, and from there we could just walk down to the “Mosquito Bar” and in a few minutes time we would be in another world…and forget time.
There were always stories to be heard [in the Mosquito] and there were always funny and interesting people there. No people in coat and tie. No naive tourists. Just real men, sailors and adventurers who knew the world, and who knew life! And together with beer, the rum and the Bangkok girls, the atmosphere was electric and could be pure magic….
-seaman aboard the Boribana
I remember the Mosquito Bar and the Tiger Bar. The Mosquito Bar was not a good place to be unless you had 20 or 30 of your good fighting friends with you. The front of the Tiger Bar was actually a large tiger’s head. It was not a painting. The head was made of cement/mortar and extended out the front of the building. You walked in the tiger’s mouth under the teeth to get to the door. The smoke (concha/mary jane) was so thick you could barely see a foot in front of you. If you did not smoke you still got high in 15 or 20 minutes just from the 2nd hand smoke. Does anyone remember these bars or know if they still exist?
Klong Toey: Bangkok’s 1st Red Light District
The history of Klong Toey and the existence of the Mosquito Bar are inseparable.
Klong Toey is the original deep water port of Bangkok and is known today as Port of Bangkok. (Laem Chabang, Thailand’s biggest port, didn’t open until 1981.) Merchant ships have been anchoring at Klong Toey even when Ayuttaya was the capitol of Siam back in 1767. In 1857, King Mongkut (Rama IV) widened and cleared the canal so that ever larger ships from Europe could anchor there.
Klong Toey means Pandan Canal in Thai. Pandan plants grew abundantly along the banks. (I wrote a blog post about Thai pandan cuisine that you can find here.)
In the 1920’s and 30’s, the canal was built into a modern port with all the necessary components of cranes, piers, a wharf, railroad access, and warehouses. And along with all that infrastructure came restaurants and bars for the merchant seamen and other dock workers.
By the 1950’s, you could walk down Kasem Rat Rd. which ran along the wharf and drink and carouse at the Freedom Bar, the O.K. Corral, the Rose Garden, the Tiger Bar, the Golden Gate, the Venus Room and of course the Mosquito Bar. All within spittin’ distance of each other. Sprinkled among these waterfront bars were assorted bordellos, massage parlors, opium dens, and a horde of small restaurants-enough to feed an army of stevedores, seaman, truckers and dock workers.
This was Bangkok’s first red light district-a two block area down on the waterfront. The Patpong, Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza did not exist in the 1950’s when the Mosquito and its counterparts were in their heyday.
Death of The Mosquito Bar
The Mosquito Bar maintained its infamy and debauchery through the late-seventies. But the times were changing.
As Thailand’s economy grew, the Port Authority of Thailand took a leading role in developing Klong Toey into a modern deep water port. Security was established and you could no longer just stagger around the wharf area drunk on your ass. Rents increased. Buildings were razed to make way for progress. Bangkok was also showing off its newer, glitzier red light districts of the Patpong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza which competed with the old bag shanties of the Klong Toey waterfront.
Slowly yet inexorably, the bars, saloons and bordellos of Klong Toey shuttered their doors and evaporated into history.
In the late 70’s, the Mosquito tried to make a comeback. New plaster and paint. New furniture. And most shocking, they put in new lights so patrons could actually see each other and their bar girls.
The Mosquito’s decline was already well underway by the late 70’s and management’s attempt to “spruce the place up” dulled its much-loved seedy provenance and no doubt hastened its death.
In the early 1980’s, the Port Authority of Thailand annexed the property where the Mosquito was located. It’s old wooden building became a derelict for a few years after and then was torn down in the name of progress.
Honorable Mention: Quinn’s in Papeete, Tahiti
Which sailor bar was the toughest, rowdiest, meanest in the world is like saying strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate or vanilla. Purely personal preferences.
But serious sailor bar historians will mention only two serious contenders for the title of rowdiest sailor bar: the Mosquito in Bangkok or Quinn’s Tahitian Hut in Papeete, Tahiti. It’s no coincidence that both are located in tropical climes with beautiful women far from the home countries of the seamen who drank there.
Quinn’s probably had more fights a night and certainly its enclosed booths encouraged a lot of rambunctious behavior right in the bar itself. The Mosquito on the other hand was infinitely darker with a mix of sailors, ex-pats and adventurers who reveled in Bangkok’s steamy underbelly.
Which flavor is better? Which bar the rowdiest? Can I choose both?
Not many people remember the Mosquito Bar now.
Not only has it physically been scrubbed clean off the Klong Toey waterfront, but now decades have passed since it last served a drink. Old sailors die off slowly, and with them take the colorful tales of inside the Mosquito Bar.
I like Mekong whiskey and have a shot before dinner. And when I reach for the bottle, I can’t help think of the Mosquito.