“Sawahdee krup. Pie Isaarn Teud Teung, Thonburi?”
One, two, three, four, five. We flagged down five cab drivers on the corner of Thanon Petchaburi and Ratchaprop: all five of them shook their head no when told where we were headed. It was 8:30pm on a Saturday night, traffic was at a stubborn standstill, and Bangkok’s always-fickle cab drivers were in no mood to jockey their way across town, over Pinklao Bridge, and beyond the Chao Phraya River to Thonburi.
The sixth time was the charm, as it oddly often is on busy nights like this. The driver chuckled when we told him Teud Teung and agreed to take us, but for a flat fee (200 baht), not on the meter. Roadside robbery, to be sure, but we had no bargaining power and he knew it. The evening was tick, tick, ticking away, and we feared this old beer/performance hall would be packed by now and that we wouldn’t get a table, so we ceded and were on our way.
As it turns out, there was no need to rush.
It was our first visit to Teud Teung, and though we’d heard this was a late-night joint and that the show didn’t get started until around 10pm, we didn’t expect to be the first patrons there, on a Saturday. Dark, dank, and smelling like a urinal that hadn’t been flushed in a week, the hall was deserted except for the staff.
Server girls were dressed in pink tops and short skirts colored in a glossy wash of blues, yellows, purples, and pinks. Performers buttoned up green shirts and straightened white suit jackets (guys), or primped their hair and affixed sparkling tieras or earrings (girls, ladyboys) in front of a large mirror off to one side of the twinkle-lit, ramshackle bar. On stage, a five-piece band rehearsed the same 4-5 minute sequence once, twice, a third, a fourth time. The sound was deafening, like where-are-my-f’ing-ear-plugs deafening.
Indeed, though Isaarn Teud Teung offers a somewhat similar concept of food, beer, and performances, Tawandang German Brewery this is not. This is a decidedly local’s-only joint.
Fortunately we speak a little Thai because the staff speaks little to no English, and the only English-language items on the menu were whiskey and vodka brand names. We ordered two som tams, a plate of grilled squid, and two bottles of Leo, no problem, then tried to pantomine an order of fish cakes (successfully, in the end, but they weren’t actually on the menu).
A few small groups of Thais straggled in. Beers were poured. Food was served. Given that lovely smell of piss and the massive spider crawling up its web stretched between two legs of the table in front of us, we were a little nervous about the food, but it was fine… though something about the roach we spotted crawling across the table ruined our appetites halfway through the squid. We stuck to Leo for the rest of the night.
The Thai-style variety show began with all of the performers solemnly lining up in two rows across the stage while one of them sang a short, somber tune. Shortly after, the parade of one singer after the next began, each of them going through renditions that ranged from off-key to commendable of what I assume are well-known Thai songs; I recognized some of them.
The hall filled up some as the performances wore on, but would have still felt fairly empty if not for the singers and their friends taking up four tables in front of the stage and a few more towards the side. Their tables were stocked with bottles of soda and bottles of whiskey; at times it felt like they were performing for each other, at a private house party, and we were just allowed to peek in. It was sweet; it was a little sad.
Most of the songs were sung as solos or duets, but there were also two “dance routines” before a break at 11:30pm, when we left. We’d been warned by friends to expect “really bad dancing”, but this was something else entirely: a true comic spectacle.
The first featured six guys with disinterested body language wearing tight white pants and sleeveless blue-and-white satin tunics (so foul) half-heartedly spinning their way through a routine that could only optimistically be called “choreographed”. We loved every minute of it. They added two more guys and donned body-length, black-and-white tunics for the second routine; my fiancee noted that they were “putting a bit more minge into it”, with at least half of the dancers twirling and spinning at about the same time and tempo.
Yes, Teud Teung is rough around the edges, but in all the right ways. That’s what it makes so special.
Isaarn Teud Teung is located at 63/192 Phra Pinklao Road, Bangkok (Thonburi), +66 02 883 4434.