Back in my London years my weekday consisted of handling corporate oil and gas insurance in a boisterous brokerage office.
Enter Harold from Houston. Each year Harold flew in from Houston to keep business relations ticking over. Harold was a good old boy who chewed tobacco and told me he felt naked traversing the London streets without carrying his heat.
“I just don’t feel safe in this town,” he’d say.
During one particularly long liquid lunch, Harold lost the common narrative, and began speaking of some mythical place back home. A mythical place called ‘Hooters‘.
A boyish excitement crossed his sun-wrinkled face as he spoke of Buffalo wings and live sports commentary.
Big deal, right?
But to him it was a big deal and everything his country stood for and I wasn’t in a position to disagree with his ideals for the cornerstones of a great society: sports TV, beer, wholesome fried food, and a buxom babe in a tight-fitting orange outfit.
The old oilman said he’d show me what he meant one day and that was all there was to it.
“One day you will be an old dude, just like me,” he told me. “An old dude getting what pleasures he can in an air-conditioned bar, with cold beer, and friendly faces.”
I got the impression Harold felt safe in Hooters Texas with its ice cold beer, and open carry policy, but I thought no more about it.
Until that was, the following Christmas. A gift arrived at the office.
Who was it from?
Harold, of course.
Opening the package revealed a calendar with a theme: attractive women, in orange shorts and tight, body-hugging white T-shirts.
The calendar had a name – Hooters.
I put the calendar on the wall where it stayed for a week or two before taken down and burnt by a hair-lipped feminist in accounts, and Hooters was filed once again to the dingy back recesses of the mind.
Fast forward fifteen years and I’m on the Bangkok BTS; a large billboard flashes past.
Big Bright Orange Lettering – Hooters.
The pull grew stronger every day.
I remembered the way Harold described the joint, the trays of beer, and chicken wings, and how Miss February held one hand on her hip as she stared into the middle distance with the expression of a puzzled fox.
I decided to visit.
What the hell, I thought, I’ll hit Soi 4, Nana.
Where Hooters now stands was once the Golden Bar – an old time establishment that sat in front of the Nana Hotel where it coughed and wheezed each afternoon from the excessive cigarette smoke pumped out by grizzled patrons.
Most of the bars on Soi 4 follow similar formulae: joints like Hillary’s, and the Morning Night Bar, where pool, breakfast beer, and broken baby-talk with street-wise bar staff is the order of the day.
Intrigued to discover how Hooters would compete with such a razor-sharp business economy, I alighted at the BTS, cruised down the escalators, and skipped along the street up past the Landmark. Into Soi 4, I passed bars packed with a jostling mass of boisterous and knowing single male punters who sat plotting, and confused pasty-skinned Western couples who were sat mostly regretting the trust they bequeathed to their friendly travel agents.
Then I saw it.
That familiar orange hue of the Hooters façade felt strangely comforting.
Like a predatory moth, I approached.
Harold’s holy Hooters. Yes, this is it. Just ahead I beheld a line of skimpily-orange-clad women performing a choreographed dance routine to a song with a popular beat.
They dancers/servers wore tight white t-shirts and impossibly short shorts.
Just like in the calendar!
Smiles were everywhere, the bar was open at the front and sides but somehow the temperature ice cool inside. An oasis from the Bangkok heat had been created here, these Hooters people were magicians, bending the laws of science for our beer drinking comfort.
I ordered a reassuringly expensive beer and stuck up some small talk with the waitresses figuring that at these prices the odd suggestive remark was expected, encouraged even.
I took a bar stool, and then I saw it, opposite me, across the bar, an old dude chewing tobacco, sun-scorched skin.
It can’t be, surely not. I approached – “Harold?”
“No, I am Fritz, from Holland.”
But it looked just like…
…I looked around and spotted four or five other Harolds.
There was a Harold talking on a cell phone, a Harold playing pool, another Harold riding a mechanical bull.
Harold. Harold. Harold.
Maybe this is where all the Harolds in the world go to die, I thought philosophically.
Then I looked in the mirror above the bar.
I looked like Harold.
I drank my ice cold beer and paid up.
I walked out of the bar, and crossed the road muttering under my breath, “I don’t feel safe in this town.”
So go to Hooters if you must, but be careful, people, they’re breaking all kinds of rules in there..
And if you see Harold, say Hi.
Featured image is a mash-up of a photo by Samson Loo (CC BY 2.0 licence) and a couple of owls