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scene & heard
Spreading Success of the Karaoke bar with guts
Saturday, September 17, 2011

Our Waistline Correspondent reports: It ought to have been a recipe for commercial disaster. It certainly took guts, if you’ll pardon the phrase, to open a bar for chubbies in one of Bangkok’s main arteries of eye candy, Silom Soi 4. But despite the looks-conscious locale, Bearbie Karaoke Bar has been attracting men of extreme girth in droves since it moved to the soi over four years ago. Not only that, Bearbie is so bullish about the future that it has invested in a re-fit; unlike some other businesses nowadays, these chubbies aren’t tightening their belts. So I went along before last week’s reopening to sniff the fresh paint and investigate Soi 4’s heavyweight success story.

Among several surprising features of Bearbie is the absence of physical concessions to the stature of its core clientele. The chandeliers in the ground-floor lobby suggest a degree of well-upholstered luxury that’s not to be found in the main premises upstairs. And there’s no such thing as a lift. You climb a winding staircase of shallow steps to reach the art deco bar, where the mode of the décor and furnishings might be summed up as smart Spartan.

Almost everything is either red or black, with squat chairs that are minimally cushioned. The narrow, backless stools might have been designed for lithe young things of Mayfair in the 1930s, but at Bearbie they support the broad beams of chubbies from all over 21st century Asia, not to mention the chubbies’ admirers.

My host was Khun MuMu, one of eight partners in the business. He stepped from behind the bar – instantly calling to mind the words “stately as a galleon”, from the old Joyce Grenfell song – and demonstrated the holding power of the chairs. It was a tight squeeze, but he obligingly wiggled around to show that there was no danger of collapse at the stout karaoke party.

“See? The chairs are comfortable. They’re reinforced,” he said proudly. To be fair, there are also a couple of plush sofas, which I suspect are in heavy demand on busy nights. But it struck me as oddly characteristic of Bangkok that, in a soi sometimes seen as garish and brash, it’s a bar for chubbies and chubby chasers that provides a pocket of high style, even chic. Then the karaoke started and I thought better of it.

Still, something impressive is happening here, and Khun MuMu’s claim that the bar is “a community” doesn’t seem too far fetched. Bearbie has nearly two thousand followers on Facebook and a growing reputation throughout the region, with a cohort of regular visitors from Japan and an increasing number from China. It seems that Big is big in the People’s Republic nowadays, just like capitalism. As for Bearbie, Khun MuMu wants to emphasise its inclusivity: “We welcome all here, including every type of gay and lady.”

Most types of gay I know would undoubtedly appreciate the charm of Khun Fon, a bartender at Bearbie who is himself not chubby but well up to the Soi 4 standard of trimly-honed loveliness. I was more than happy to hand Khun Fon 100 Baht for a bottle of Singha beer, while noting that I could have had Earl Grey tea for the same price. At the other end of the tariff, you can open a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label for 1,650 Baht, with 20% off this and other whiskies during the re-launch period to the end of September. So why not take in this oasis of bulk in Bangkok’s hub of lissome frolics – if you can manage the stairs, that is, and don’t mind the karaoke?

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