Ellen Freeman is a freelance writer and former Festival Blog intern who is based in Oregon.
After backpacking on a shoestring through Morocco, Spain, Egypt, Vietnam, and Thailand, I had one night in Bangkok—and, like the song says, I was ready to make the world my oyster. I’d spent the last three months haggling self-righteously over fractions of a cent for the price of everything, shacking up with strangers (don’t worry, Mom, I’m talking about hostel dormitories) and trying not to think about what went into some of the dirt-cheap street food I slurped, all to make such an ambitious trip possible on my part-time yoga teacher/freelance writer’s salary. In the morning I would struggle to zip my bag and begin the 24+ hour journey back to Portland, Oegon, where I live with my parents. So I wanted to live it up for my last night as a world traveler. According to my Bangkok host Krishnan, a friend from college who moved there to teach English, there was only one place worthy of such an occasion—Bed Supperclub.
He wouldn’t go into details, but insisted that it would be an experience like no other on my trip. The Lonely Planet’s description was equally vague, something along the lines of “Bed Supperclub is like breakfast in bed, but without the breakfast or the beds.” When we got off the subway in Nana, one of Bangkok’s notorious sex districts known for it’s “entertainment plaza” of soapy massage parlors and ladyboy bars, I made Krishnan promise we weren’t going to a “ping pong pussy show.” (If you don’t know what that is . . . think about it.) But at the end of the block, past invitations from hustlers to just such a show, we came to Bed Supperclub, which was no naughty bar.
In fact, the place couldn’t have been more incongruous with its surroundings. The building was a large metal tube on stilts, shaped something like a bisected super-jet. The front was made entirely out of frosted glass windows, behind which pink and purple lights pulsated. A thumping beat grew louder as we walked up the ramp to the entrance, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was boarding a starship to a planet populated by a race of Euro-aliens. We were greeted by a pair of glamorous hosts who made sure that we weren’t defacing the image of the establishment by wearing flip-flops or t-shirts, and escorted behind a black curtain.
On the other side of the curtain was an ovular, all-white, two-level chamber, illuminated with icy blue lights and backlit with a pink glow. Each side of the room was lined with a long white daybeds, with the bar at one end and a DJ, clad in enormous headphones, bobbing his head at the other end. Other diners, undoubtedly all foreign, reclined on the couches sipping Technicolor cocktails and nibbling at plates of tiny foods. It was as if I had traveled from the streets of Bangkok to the set of Zoolander.
We were encouraged to take our shoes off and slide onto the white settees. I shifted awkwardly on the pristine white couch, feeling self-conscious about my dirty feet and damp dress. I had cobbled together the closest approximation of a presentable outfit out of what remained of my traveling clothes, but the effort had all been for not because Krishnan and I had been splashed with water on the way there. It wasn’t a Thai forced-bathing ritual for dirty backpackers—the whole week I was in Bangkok was Songkran, the Thai new year during which Thais celebrate by drenching everyone who ventures into the street with buckets of water and super-soakers. Taking in the arctic expanse of white, from the glassy floor to the futuristic plastic furniture, I shivered—the air conditioning, cranked to a frigid 18 degrees Celsius, didn’t help.
We were greeted by our server, who most certainly had a day job as a male model. He handed us our menus, which were also pocket-sized glossy magazines in which the hippest DJs, Swedish home accessories, and local designers were profiled alongside ads for high-end plastic surgery clinics. The menu was in Thai baht, and I pretended that the prices were so shocking only because the exchange rate is 30 baht to a dollar, avoiding doing the calculation which would reveal that the entrees cost more than what I’d recently paid for two nights accommodations. Krishnan and I locked in our order for the set menu, a parade of foods with five first names swimming in reduction sauces, which would also give us free entry into the club after dinner. We sank bank into the plush pillows and waited for supper.
It turns out that Bed Supperclub is not just a restaurant, club, zine publishing house, and model employment agency, but also a performance art venue. Without any announcement, the pink lighting faded like sunset, the room grew dark, and the generic Euro-beat transitioned to a mournful flamenco ballad. We had no idea that we would be treated to a modern dance appetizer before our meal; the performance was part of In Bed With Pina, an ongoing tribute to the legendary choreographer Pina Bausch, performed nightly at Bed Supperclub this spring. The performance was choreographed by Jitti Chompee, the director of Thailand’s 18 Monkeys Dance Theatre, which is heavily inspired by the late artist.
A hush fell over the diners as dancers entered the room, lit only by candlelight. One female dancer’s arms were outstretched, with tea lights balancing precariously on them and wax melting down her arms. She strode with slow and powerful steps, followed by another dancer who carried a live potted plant in her arms. Three shirtless male dancers followed them, bustling and spinning around the female’s contained movements like lively wood sprites or fireflies. The male dancers lifted the females, whisking them about the space, and then stacked themselves into a wavering tower. One by one, they blew out the tea lights on the dancer’s arms, until the male dancers’ furious steps spun off into darkness and silence like dying embers. The performance seemed to reflect divergent elements of nature at nighttime—light and dark, buzzing with activity and hushed, steady and in-motion. Above all, the performance was a huge contrast to the vibe of Bed Supperclub, which was jarring as the lights came back up and our food arrived.
The last of Bed Supperclub’s many unpredictable iterations turned out to be massage parlor. As we munched on the crispy fried sea bass, tender beef cheek (which was like if someone made butter out of meat), salad of unidentifiable space vegetables, and wasabi ice cream, a middle-aged woman in a white robe climbed into bed with us and began massaging our necks and shoulders—because consuming delicious, expensive food while reclining on a bed and watching a dance performance can really wind you up.
After our meal we crossed another black curtain to the club side of Bed, which was the mirror image of the restaurant but with black leather couches and a bigger bar. The Beautiful People started streaming in, including Thai girls wiggling around in obscenely short dresses while their doughy sexpat boyfriends bought them bottle service. After that meal I couldn’t afford the bar’s drinks, so I pretended to go out for a cigarette break and downed a two-dollar Long Island iced tea next to a ladyboy in a tight red dress at a car bar, or mobile stand which serves alcohol, across the street. Bed filled up with clubbers bouncing to the DJs who spun the perfect playlist of nostalgic early 00s hip-hop to get me ready to go back to America again. And that’s how, in a place where you can get a full meal on the street for a dollar, I experienced my first, and probably last, four-figure-dinner and massage-club-dance-theater-show.