There’s an interesting story behind The Classroom, as there are most things in Pattaya. This particular story goes way back in time to when one of the most famous and popular Agogo clubs in Pattaya first opened its doors for business. This story sort of chanced upon me when the owner of The Classroom requested me to include The Classroom on my Pattaya Guest Friendly Hotels Page. In the owner’s email there was a brief history included, which got me curious, and so I asked him if he would like to elaborate further.
What follows (below) in his own words is the story of one of Pattaya’s most famous bars, and how one man incidentally became a successful bar and hotel owner in Pattaya.
A Brief History of Time (spent in The Classroom Pattaya) by Pete Stonebridge
1993: The Founding Fathers
Some guys took over a single-unit bar when the previous leaseholders failed to pay the rent. They renamed it the “Playboy Club” but it did not prosper. With a few months left of their no-key-money adopted lease, they decided to test out the waters as a GoGo bar. One partner had the idea of girls wearing schoolgirl uniforms (instead of the ubiquitous bikinis), which led to The Classroom A-Go-Go opening its doors on Wednesday, December 1st, 1993. It was an overnight success. (And so it became the law that every Thai bar now has a schoolgirl outfit in its kit.)
The Classroom was the first GoGo to open on Soi Pattayaland 2, as the street was dubbed back then, and the nearest competition was the Tahitian Queen (TQ) further north on Pattaya Beach Road, and Happy A-Go-Go to the south in Walking Street.
At that time I was still slaving away in the salt mines of a hi-tech Silicon Valley firm to bring home the bacon for my 1-year-old son and my Russian wife (actually neither of them ate much bacon then – just as well). Somehow my plans of working in America for 5 years before moving on to another part of the world had turned into 14 years, and my promise (to myself) of forever remaining a childless, happy-go-lucky, nomadic bachelor had been smashed on the rocks of a cute accent and a beautiful face.
Little did I know that halfway round the world there were many over-refreshed men, both young and old, listening to great rock & roll songs and enjoying the sight and the company of young, pretty Thai girls dressed in next to nothing, wobbling their knees almost rhythmically to the beat while clinging desperately to a pole so as not to fall off their high heels. The beer was cheap, the music was loud, the girls were happy, and the customers were plentiful. I was obliviously writing code for 10 hours a day.
1999: The Dawning of a New Era
Five years later, after an unpleasant but very necessary divorce, the successful sale of our company, and quitting my job to take a year off to get my head straight (still working on that), a friend suggested I join a bunch of guys on a golf trip to Thailand. Whoa! The Far East? Spicy food? Squat toilets? I’m a nerdy Londoner whose wanderlust drove him to go live and work in Europe and America, but Thailand?? I mean, do they even speak English over there? (By the way, the answer is “no”.)
So, in early 1999, five of us landed in Don Muang airport at 11 pm, hauled our golf clubs and bags out to the waiting minibus, to find a big cooler stocked with ice-cold beers and the blur that has been the last 19 years of my life began. I vaguely remember a long, scary, bumpy and, hic, hilarious ride to Pattaya, dimly recall checking into the hotel, dumping my bags, and then being whisked around the corner to, Ta-Da!, The Classroom A-Go-Go. It was 1:30 am. I was doomed!
By this time, The Classroom and its street had undergone many changes. The Classroom had grown to be 3 units wide with a large stage, 2 bars, over 90 Thai girls, and a crowd of crazy regulars made up of British and American armed forces, off-shore oil rig workers, and retired UK ex-pats living off their pensions comfortably with 60+ Baht to the pound. The street had flourished too. There were many GoGos and beer bars – Planet Rock, Venus, Kittens, All-Girls, Bubbles, Rodeo Girls, Misty’s, Lipstick, and the biggest of all, The Classroom – my favourite because they didn’t play that awful techno crap.
Got to bed at 4:30 am. Rudely awakened at 7, quick shower, dressed, and off we went to play golf. Jet-lagged, hungover, and sleep-deprived, I stared out the window of the minibus as it entered the grounds of Laem Chabang golf course – I was convinced I was dreaming. The beautifully manicured, colourful bushes, the lush-green fairways, the well-tended greens, and the magnificent clubhouse. It was obvious I had died and gone to heaven. Then I discovered that not only did I have a caddie, but the caddies in Thailand aren’t a bunch of old, grizzled, sarcastic ex-cons. Instead they are petite, beautiful young Thai girls, smiling and giggling, who are happy to trek into the jungle looking for my many wayward shots. I still have the marks from pinching myself that day.
1999-2003: The Wonder Years
The pattern was set. Golf every day. Dinner and drinking every night, always ending up in The Classroom. I extended my stay. I got a soapie. I came back four weeks later. That stay got extended too. As did the next. And the next. I turned down a job offer back in America, preferring instead to enjoy frequent, decadent trips to Thailand. I bought a condo, played lots of golf, drank a few beers, and fell in love several times. I was loving life and enjoying all the pleasures that Thailand had to offer. And then I lent money to the owner of The Classroom who shall not be named (let’s call him “Stan”) – and my fate was sealed.
As collateral for the money I lent him, I got 25% of The Classroom. That quickly rose to 40, 60, and 80 percent. Always a different reason – for his visa, tuberculosis, family emergency, blah blah. I naively coughed up the cash, even invested more and opened up The Emergency A-Go-Go four doors down from The Classroom. By late 2001 I owned 100% of The Classroom but because I only spent 3 months a year in Thailand, I was paying Stan to manage both bars. He was happy he’d met me.
2003: The Big Bang
Then I found out that Stan had borrowed money from a mate of mine and given away a percentage of MY bar as collateral. So, in April of 2003, I confronted Stan with police and lawyers in tow, he ran for the hills, and I was forced to move here full time to manage the businesses. The Classroom and the Emergency were still successful, but I had to settle the many unpaid debts that Stan had run up, close the Emergency bar because he had stolen the key-money that was overdue, pay off 2 mortgages he had failed to mention, and convince dozens of other Classroom “shareholders” that they had all been duped.
2003-2005: The School of Hard Knocks
It was like trying to learn to swim by jumping into a deep, muddy pool full of alligators. Many mates had told me of their dreams to own a bar. My dream was different – it was not to own ONE bar, but to be the best customer in DOZENS of bars in Thailand. Suddenly I was stuck with a GoGo bar with a 100 scantily-clad, young Thai girls running around, and quickly found out that managing them was like herding rabid cats. Many were ripping me off, lying to customers, not coming to work, borrowing money one day after they got paid. Mayhem. A gorgeous nightmare of confusion, hangovers, and some of the best parties I’ve every been to.
2006-2009: On The Job Training
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was certainly the most eye-opening of times. Like when one dancer convinced a customer that she had had a motorbike accident, her lower leg amputated, and could he please send a load of money for the hospital bill? He did, and then flew out a few weeks later to surprise her. She was on stage dancing when he walked in and he is probably still amazed at how realistic the prosthetic was. Love is blind.
2009-2011: The Black Hole
How do you make a small fortune in Thailand? Well you start with a big fortune… The business peaked in 2006 and by 2009 I realised that I couldn’t afford to pay the scheduled increases in key-money/rent agreements for 2 of the units, so I decided to close one of them. Moved the front door, bar, and DJ booth, cleared out the upper floors and was ready to chop the stage in half when the owner came by and agreed to lower the payments. That left me with 3 empty floors upstairs so they became 3 furnished apartments for lease with their own private entrance which then turned into the first 3 Hotel rooms. Two months later, I struck a similar deal with the other building owner and ended up with 8 hotel rooms in operation by 2011.
2011-2015: The Dying Star
Our bar business was slow, the hotel business was OK, but the rest of the street was dismal. One by one the other GoGos either closed down or were turned into boy-bars, and then closed down. By this time there were over 70 GoGo bars in Walking Street, 20 in Soi LK Metro, and The Classroom was the only one left on Soi 13/4 (it’s new name courtesy of City Hall). No longer a “destination Soi” in Pattaya, our GoGo was on its last legs. A few faithful regulars still came by, but the oil industry had ground to a halt, the Cobra Gold military exercises had been cancelled due to yet another military coup, and we were bleeding money. So I used this time to expand the hotel side of the business, and to make some changes downstairs as well.
2015-2016: Expansion of the Universe
Got plans and permits and built on the roof, creating a fifth floor. The Hotel now had 16 rooms, a small Sports Bar and hotel reception, and the GoGo got smaller – only 2 units with 3 small dancing stages. During this expansion I recalled my early visits to Thailand, when I stayed in hotels, and the “walk of shame” that guests had to endure as they dragged some hapless bar-girl through the gauntlet of heckling drinkers sitting at the bar. So I decided to keep the private entrance, and have made it a part of the plans through many additions and remodels. Then we signed up with Agoda and Booking.com and we had our first overbooking problems.
2016: To Boldy Go Where No Man Has Gone Before
I bought Miss Dinos next door. Added 4 more hotel rooms and installed a much needed elevator (Thai girls don’t like stairs – especially 5 floors). We enlarged the Sports Bar but kept the private entrance.
2017: The End Of An Era
The GoGo was on its last legs. The Sports Bar and the Hotel business were bringing in most of the money. I decided to focus on our great collection of classic Music Videos, expand the outside seating area, and demolish the private but dark GoGo bar to remodel it into the bright, retro-themed Classroom Music Lounge.
Live Music shows every week and the dancers are now friendly Hostesses to chat and dance with you while you enjoy the comfortable, air-conditioned interior. We accept all the old VIP cards so our regulars can still enjoy discounts on their drinks. The Hotel Reception is now open 24/7, and the new, modern kitchen serves tasty food at bargain prices.
2018: A New Star Is Born
Who knew? Seems that people flock to Live Music, love our new food menu (especially the Pad Krapow Pizza), and the Hotel has been nearly full all year. Turning people away at Christmas is always sad so I bought Nong’s bar next door and we are nearly finished with the latest expansion. Upstairs 4 more rooms, downstairs the Music Lounge stays the same, the Sports Bar gets bigger with more big screen TVs to watch Live Sports events. The private entrance is being shifted yet again, and there will also be a separate Hotel Reception area for checking in without entering the bar. We are installing a premium coffee making machine and fresh juice bar, and telephones in each room for wake-up calls and room service orders. Completion by August, 2018.
NOW: To Infinity And Beyond
Thailand is a wonderful place to visit. Pattaya is a great place for adults to have fun. The Classroom is in the heart of the action, close to the Beach for daytime, and Walking Street for nighttime. If you are planning your first trip to Thailand then I recommend you book early to avoid disappointment. You can check out availability, and make a deposit-free booking at https://www.theclassroompattaya.com. If we are full, try to stay close to Walking Street and make a point to stop by for a drink and a chat with our British ex-pat managers. With over 60 years of experience of living in Thailand between us, we enjoy meeting new people and seeing Pattaya through fresh eyes and can advise you on a few must-do things and some to avoid.
If you have just enjoyed your first trip to The Land Of Smiles and are already in love with the place, then I strongly advise that you visit a few more times before jumping into a permanent move. Thailand does not make it easy for foreigners to stay a long time or to own a property or a business, and it is practically impossible to find work and make a living. Being a tourist is easier and a lot more fun. Retiring here is very possible and comfortable if you’ve saved enough before you commit. Be warned, there are still some Stans out there!
We look forward to seeing you in The Classroom Pattaya, Pete.