Q Bar celebrates a decade in Bangkok You might be surprised to learn that the co-owner of Q Bar, one of the most popular bars in Bangkok, is Canadian Andrew Clark. In the following piece Scott Murray tracks his journey here and details how he came to be the proprietor of a hot spot known the world over.

The threat of separation from Canada forced Andrew, a native Montrealer, and his family to relocate from Quebec to Victoria in 1975, when Andrew was just seven. He stayed there until 1986 when his girlfriend at the time dragged him to Japan, where he ended up working as a graphic designer for a publishing/advertising company for three years. One of his employees was a young Thai guy named Chatapoom, who kept urging him to go to Thailand for a holiday. It made sense as it was cheaper to fly and spend a long weekend in Thailand than to kick back in Tokyo.He first touched down in Thailand in 1988. “I went to Koh Samui,” he recalls. “It was the first time I’d seen a palm tree in my life. The food was great, the people were friendly; I said what the hell am I doing in Tokyo? It took me four months to sort out everything and move here.”

Andrew started a little design company with Chatapoom in Bangkok, but after six months he moved to an international advertising company called KLPL (formerly Yonge & Rubicon) as an art director. He found it hard going working for a big company where you “needed to get permission to get ten new pencils”. Always having been an entrepreneur, he teamed up with a friend named Robbie Gilchrist, who was working for McCann Eriksson at the time. The two knew Tim Walker, the head of Canadian Airlines for the region, and Bill Heinecke, the head of the Minor Group: both had urged them to do start their own advertising agency. So in 1993, Robbie and Andrew formed Creative In-House. After three years, they were doing 40 million baht in revenue.

About the same time, another entrepreneur by the name of David Jacobson (photo above left, Andrew Clark, right) was starting Q Bar in Saigon. David had been hanging out in Ho Chi Minh City with some NGOs, doing some photography and looking for a reason to stay in Vietnam, a country he loved. So he looked around, trying to decide what Saigon was lacking, and decided it was missing a decent bar, just at the time the American embargo was about to be lifted. So he started Q Bar: it had decent drinks, bathrooms, music, and service, and the staff spoke excellent English. It was an instant success.

Andrew had started traveling to Saigon frequently and while there he hung out at Q Bar as it was one of the only decent bars in town. And all his clients hung out there as did many other people in the advertising business. He got to know David quite well, and Jacobson started to have Creative In-House do some work for him. One night, after a few too many, Andrew started urging David to open up a Q Bar in Bangkok.

Andrew himself had started to get into the entertainment business as the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit had asked Creative In-House to take over their entertainment for Sunday nights. It did and the company brought in live DJs, served Saki martinis for Bt100, did mass e-mailings to all the cool people they knew (ahead of its time back then) and they packed the place. The club made more money on Sunday nights, than they did for all the other nights of the week. At this point Andrew realized that Bangkok’s nightlife scene desperately needed something cool.

Serendipity intervened when in 1998 Vietnam suddenly denied David Jacobson a visa to return to Saigon. A lot of reasons were bandied about, including he was working for the CIA, but the real reason seemed they were envious that an American was running the most successful bar in Vietnam. David ended up being stuck in Bangkok for over a year, finally became fed up and decided to take up Andrew’s offer of opening a Q Bar in Bangkok. It took them five months to design and officially open the Q Bar Bangkok on 17 Dec 1999, pushing everyone, including the contractors to be open before the millennium. They had 800 people on opening night, so from day one it has been successful.

Looking back, Andrew says, “There were girly bars, Irish pubs, hotel fun-pubs, live band houses, but nothing really cool by international standards. There were no DJ clubs and no drink culture; you either ordered a beer, or whiskey soda.

“We wanted to come up with a bar with a real drink culture where you could bring your wife, girlfriend, or business partner and weren’t embarrassed to do so. There were very few places to do that except for a few hotel bars like Spassos. We sought to be the most sophisticated place to hang out in Bangkok, where you could dance, or you could hang out on the balcony and chat. From day one, we were packed, people couldn’t get enough of it; hi-sos, expats, tourists, they all came, and there was zero competition except maybe Tapas on Silom Soi 4, but they were catering to slightly different clientele. I expected that people would be copying us within six months, but it wasn’t until the Bed Supper Club opened on Sukhumvit Soi 11 three years later that we saw our first competition.”

Bed’s owners were in the Q Bar every night for a year before they opened, looking, watching and learning. Strangely enough, when Bed opened Q Bar’s business increased, as it made Soi 11 more of a destination. “We believe in healthy competition,” Andrew says. “We are all good friends; we have dinner together and invite each other over to our homes.”

From 2004, onwards people approached Andrew and David about opening a Q Bar in places like Dubai, Mumbai, Shanghai, Macau and Beijing. But they didn’t find a spot that particularly caught their fancy until they established a Q Bar in Singapore in August of 2006. It was on Boat Quay, in the old Justice Chambers Building, near the Fullerton Hotel and statue of Raffles. It was a franchise, and unfortunately the owners didn’t take Andrew and David’s advice, nor did they pump much money into it, and Andrew and David couldn’t get there as often as they would like. It ran for 12 months, but Q Bar Bangkok eventually took the name away, because Q Bar Singapore wasn’t paying them commissions or living up to their standards. The bar is still there under a different name.

In 2004, before the Singapore venture, they were looking at expanding to Jungceylon in Patong in Phuket, but the tsunami changed all that. Then an opportunity came up in Koh Samui on a hill overlooking Chaweng Beach. So Q Bar Samui was born featuring a nightclub downstairs, an upstairs lounge with a big balcony overlooking Chaweng. It debuted on 15 Dec 2005, just as Singapore was closing down, but it barely broke even, so after about 20 months Andrew & David sold it to a Bangkok businesswoman, who has kept the name, but focuses on tourists and Bangkokians.

“What has made Q Bar Bangkok so successful is that David and I are there five or six nights a week,” Andrew says. “People want to see us. There is always something to take care of, whether it’s the lighting, the music, whatever. That’s why Q Bar Singapore fell apart; we just couldn’t spend enough time there. If you are going to run a successful bar, you need to be there unless you are prepared to pay big bucks for a corporate manager.

“In Bangkok, we are cutting edge; the invitation to our opening night introduced a whole new era in Bangkok, we’ve had a lot of influence on Bangkok’s nightlife, we started bringing in international DJs before anyone else, we used SMS’s and the Internet to market Q Bar long before it was common to do so. Now Thai clubs like Muse and Funky Villa in their Thonglor-Ekkamai area have taken it to the next level as has Narcissus, but Q Bar set the bar.

“Recently, we redesigned the upstairs making it into a high-end lounge, which brought back a lot of the older clientele, who like to sit down, have drinks over chilled-out music. In our outdoor area, you can smoke and have shishas.

” David and Andrew are very ying and yang; they have a great partnership, most businesses break up because the partners have falling out, but David being a Jewish New Yorker and Andrew being a laid-back Canadian are a perfect fit. They listen to each other and have never had a serious falling out. And everything they do is a combination of both their ideas. “We are in it for the lifestyle, we enjoy what we do and we are proud of the way we do business,” says Andrew.

Fame, talent & publicity

Q Bar is not simply “world famous in Bangkok”. It has been featured on hundreds of television networks worldwide, in newspapers and magazines from Dubai to Washington, Tokyo to Malta, Beijing to Brisbane, Moscow and New York. It has been featured in Elle, Vogue, Time, Esquire, Newsweek, the London Bar guide. It has hosted the likes of Mick Jagger, Matt Dillon, Oliver Stone, Eric Cantona, Michelle Yeoh, Steven Segal, Collin Farrell, Jackie Chan, Rick Yune, Michael Rappaport, Jay Sean, the Black Eyed Peas, the G-Unit, the Backstreet Boys, Paradon Srichipan, and a multitude of Miss Worlds and Miss Universes, who have lounged about while soaking up the resident DJ's mix of chill-out and club tunes.

In addition to Q Bar’s high-quality international resident DJs, over the past 10 years it has brought to Bangkok some of the best talent in the world including: Kid Koala, DJ Cash Money, Ice-T, Jazzy Jeff, Z-Trip, A-Trak, Q Bert, The Mad Professor, Maseo of De La Soul, DJ Premier and of course the legendary Hedkandi Parties. It has supported the local music scene with events like Jub Chai parties, its famous 9 Mile MC contests, Bollywood parties, events with Bakery Music, Grammy, Sony, MTV, and Channel V.

 

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