Patpong institution ‘Madrid’ builds a bridge to a new generation

Madrid Bar looks about the same as it did back in 1969. There’s more memorabilia on the walls of Bangkok’s oldest expat girly bar than before, but that’s about all that hasn’t changed at this Patpong establishment. Since we last talked about it, the place has a new owner and her focus isn’t bringing in working girls but serving good food.

The bar opened when there was a war in Vietnam by a Thai woman named Daeng, who owned it with her American husband. It became a regular hangout for U.S. soldiers stationed in Bangkok for its simple home-style Western food, cold beers and the company of cute waitresses.

Daeng ran Madrid for nearly 30 years until 2004, when her daughter Jenny took it over. At the time, Jenny had been living in Dubai for nearly a decade. She wasn’t necessarily interested in working in Patpong but didn’t want to see the family business close. So the Thai-American resolved to do Madrid her way, overhauling the menu and also the in-house rules.

“It used to be more about drinking and girls, but I’m a woman, I have two stepdaughters,” she said. “I want this to be a place where families can come … I think if people actually walk through Patpong they will realize there are different things going on here.”

Madrid is not your typical Patpong business, nor is Jenny its typical business owner. She understands the bar-cum-restaurant is a landmark and a family legacy – but as the new generation, she wants to make it her own as much as she can.

A passionate chef self-taught by Western cooking shows and recipe books bought by her Belgian husband, Jenny created new dishes from scratch. The food is still American-style, and the pizzas (THB250 to 450), considered by some to be Bangkok’s best, are still deserving of their fame. There’s also an early-bird breakfast (THB 160 to 200) starting at 6:30am, with eggs, coffee and toast.

The restaurant sees its most traffic at lunchtime from tourist families staying in Silom-area hotels.  According to Jenny, there are more Thai customers than ever, but the majority is still foreigners – “Thais still think coming to Patpong is taboo,” she explained.
The woman in charge, who considers herself to be “more American than Thai,” has also changed some of the girly bar’s unwritten “rules of engagement.” There’s no longer a bar fine, and these days the waitresses join customers for a coffee or a Coke only when asked.

“There used to be certain rules, like how many times a month they would have to go out, and I’ve skipped all that,” said Jenny. “If a customer comes in and they want to take the girls to a movie, they can go. I’m keeping what’s there, I just want it to be flexible … I’ve traveled a lot and I can see that other things can be successful, not only the old generation.”

That’s also why many of the waitresses at Madrid are also older now, some of them being employed at the bar for nearly 20 years. Jenny rarely hires young girls lately, as many seem to be “looking for quick money, rather than to be trained properly,” she said. “I keep a lot of our staff out of loyalty, I wouldn’t just fire them because they get older.”

Jenny is also renovating the apartments above the restaurant, looking to convert the hourly and daily rental rooms of yore into monthly leases.

After all Mother Daeng, now 70, still lives there.


Ping pong, Patpong, prossies, and pizza: dinner at Madrid




78/3 Patpong 1

BTS Sala Daeng



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