It began as a remote bolthole for ex-pats and spies and became a Bangkok institution attracting Hollywood elite. Travel writer Rod Eime downs a few ales and takes in the music – and history – of Bangkok’s oldest bar: Check Inn 99. Here’s an extract of his article on Thailand Jing Jing.
It was a simple enough invitation. Ex-pat, motorcycle riding buddy, best-selling author, would-be pop star and all-around likeable rogue, Stu Lloyd, says “Join me for a quiet ale at Check Inn 99. It’s open mic afternoon.”
As I wandered into the little hole-in-the-wall establishment, the Sunday afternoon crowd was just warming up. A local Thai chap was ripping some serious Blues chords on a big semi-acoustic Fender while sax and jazz keyboard players were taking their supporting roles very seriously. Stu wasn’t kidding, some substantial talent already in the swing of things.
Stu introduces me to Chris Catto-Smith, a former RAAF fighter jock who runs Check Inn 99 with his Thai wife, Jiraporn, known to her many friends as “Mook”. For nearly 60 years, Check Inn 99 occupied the same location on the now famous Sukhumvit strip between Sois 5 and 7, originally under the name ‘Copacabana’. Chris and Mook tidied up the place in 2011, turning the former go-go bar for US servicemen on R&R from Vietnam into a serious nightclub with good food, a well-stocked bar and quality live (musical) entertainment.
“The Copa was something of an institution back in the day,” Chris tells me over another red wine, “celebrities would hang out here and relax away from prying eyes. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Rachel Welch and David Bowie to name just a few. Not bad considering it started out with what were basically farm girls in ball gowns.”
When a long-running struggle to save the original premises was lost, Chris and Mook took the name and the ghosts with them to a new spot in Soi 33 and did their best to revive the spirit. And the effort seems to have been largely successful.
One ghost that will never leave the Check Inn 99 is that of celebrity ‘mamasan’, known simply as Noi, or later Mama Noi. Noi passed away in 2016 after a career in the Bangkok nightlife scene that began as a feisty 17-year-old in 1960 at the ‘Copa’. Imbued with a classic Thai/Khmer beauty and oodles of spunk, she was frequently seen in close quarters with Bob Hope and his entourage.
The band is joined by a mysterious and glamorous woman of colour. She belts out R&B, blues and gospel that fairly makes my spine tingle. We’re in awe for a full 30 minutes. As she leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, she wanders nonchalantly to our table and chats effortlessly with the drinkers. I compliment her on a stellar performance and she smiles appreciatively before resuming the small talk. Stu elbows me in the ribs and whispers, “you know that’s Deni Hines!”
Deni tells us she’s been in Bangkok for almost a year (who knew?) while still pursuing an active career in music as well as charity work. Boy, she still has the goods and Check Inn 99’s reputation for impromptu A-Listers remains.7
Read Rod Eime’s full article here on Thailand Jing Jing, an insiders guide to Thailand’s many hidden gems.