Back in 1986, I was a 30 year old smart ass who was still living under the illusion of invincibility.
I had served in the U.S. Army for several years, worked as a Cop, Been a Hunting guide, a bike messenger, a ranch manager and several other jobs which were ok ,but never really seemed to keep my interest.
It wasn't until 1986 , when I was bumming and drifting around SE Asia, and Bangkok in particular, that I wandered into Lucys Tiger den Bar at 285/11 Silom road.
Now, Im not much on bars but , I felt at home in this place and began to talk with some of the older “Gentlemen” who haunted this establishment.
The owner “Tiger” Rydberg was a salty old dog as were many of the other patrons of this place. Lots of WW2, Korean war, and Vietnam vets. All manner of Pilots, Oil field workers, Mercenaries, and general roustabouts called this bar “home”. Myself Included. I met many colorful individuals there which guided me on my current path as a no good drifter bum.
There really inst much out there on the net about Tigers bar. Its a shame too because this is actually a piece of American history by proxy.
I have included below a copy of a story written by, Richard Ehrlich about Lucy's Tiger den Bar. Im pretty sure you will like it.
In his story Ehrlich writes “Tiger is the last of a rugged breed” , I would have to disagree with that. There are many Rugged and colorful characters out there who, like myself enjoy wandering around the world. Guys Like Jimmy Reser, Lee Head, Wil Rhys Davies, and Many others.
See you on the trail!
War and Peace in Lucy's Tiger Den
by Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Western mercenary is talking with an American Vietnam veteran at the bar.
"The Burmese government is using phosphorous bombs!" the ex-soldier tells the mercenary.
"The rebels never seen nothing like phosphorous bombs before!"
The beefy mercenary, is not excited.
He stares at his glass of beer and complains, "I've been waiting two weeks in the hotel for that damned telephone call.
"Doing nothing except drinking, sleeping and sweating. I can't keep waiting there forever."
Their cryptic conversation drops to low tones while they discuss a vague plot to help guerrillas inside Burma.
Someone punches a coin into the jukebox and Al Jolson begins wailing: "M-A-M-M-Y..."
Upstairs, a Western diplomat is chatting with a few friends about a special bar girl's beauty.
An American construction worker wants to know if any new U.S. football games are available to watch on the bar's video which is showing "The Deer Hunter" for the millionth time.
And, if you listen hard enough, you can hear Alban "Tiger" Rydberg's gravelly voice telling a buddy a raunchy joke.
Born in 1916, Tiger is drinking water and serving "hobo beans" bacon, French bread and onions at the bar.
Tiger is the last of a rugged breed.
This bar, which he's named "Lucy's Tiger Den," is a meeting place for "every present and former soldier, flyer, oilie, construction stiff, merc, ironmonger, cowboy, pipe layer or deep-sea diver" passing through Thailand, according to one loyal customer.
By now Bangkok's mid-morning sweltering heat has inspired most people at the bar to opt for another cool drink rather than face the sweaty outside world.
Tiger is under a bright spotlight across the barroom, in a wheelchair because the one leg was recently amputated. Diabetes.
But Tiger, one his first day back from the hospital, bravely hollers to his cronies, "I want to get me an authentic pirate's peg leg, a black eye patch and a parrot on my shoulder to shit all down my shirt!"
He started the day as he usually does -- opening the bar at 10 a.m. and personally greeting people as soon as they enter the door.
Tiger's a humble man.
"I once told a priest, 'As rotten as I am, I might make purgatory'," he drawls in his gravelly voice, half Bogart, half sandpaper.
Looking like Walter Mathau with his baggy, lined hangdog expression, Tiger is helping his bar girls prepare for "Hobo Night."
Most Fridays he lays out plenty of beef stew and salad. All you can eat. Free.
As soon as he's sure things are going smoothly, he starts praising the old-fashioned, American-style, sit-down shoeshine stand which he installed yesterday next to the jukebox.
The shoeshine stand is huge -- a customer is supposed to sit in the chair atop a platform while the shiner scurries around below polishing an extended foot.
But hardly anyone has asked for a buffing yet. Tiger doesn't care.
He says he bought it because it's sort of a work of art.
"This is the first shoeshine stand in Thailand," he boasts in an interview. "It's really a conversation piece.
"I wanted a good-looking babe to shake her butt and shake her titties while shining shoes."
He gazes at the empty shoeshine stand, lost in his fantasy until someone asks for a drink and Tiger decides to make sure won't have to ask twice.
Tiger came to Thailand the hard way.
Born in California, he suffered the Depression and hammered his way out by pounding steel bolts on construction sites scattered throughout, Chad, East Pakistan, Canada and the United States.
In 1971 he went to East Pakistan building bridges in the sweltering jungles.
He first came to here to Bangkok in 1982, "workin' iron."
He helped build Bangkok's airforce base after running out of work in Vietnam's Danang and Saigon.
"I put up hangars in 1983 in this city, out there past the perimeter road," he says.
"When I came out to here again in 1988, I got drunk for 54 days straight and somewhere in the middle of it I married me a local woman, Lucy, and when I sobered up I decided to go into the bar business."
His guiding philosophy was bestowed by his ol' pal Vern Engals way back in 1937.
"Vern Engals told me a bar should have sawdust on the floor, cold beer in the box and none of those empty liquor bottles on the shelf, but instead stock plenty of booze.
"Keep a lot of loose change in the drawer and if somebody's got a check to cash, then cash it if you can.
"I'll treat anybody as good as they'll let me. I can tell an s.o.b. as soon as they come in the door of my bar.
"When some guy comes in with a chip on his shoulder and mouthing off, I run him out before he'll get a drink. Nobody here has got anything to prove."
Tiger also doesn't like any "anti-American assholes" barging in, or, for that matter, anyone who insists on expounding leftist views on any subject.
Tiger and his buddies are staunchly right-wing.
Hundreds of photos cover the walls, displaying pictures of pals, Tiger's mementos, plaques, and an American Legion plaque.
Ask him the story of his life and he'll begin by telling you a tale about "Shorty Moran, the first bartender I ever got a drink over the counter from.
"That was in Jamestown, California, where I was born, three-and-a-half miles from Sonara.
"You could fall out the backdoor of any of the bootleg joints, fall into a fight and wake up in a hard rock jail full of whores.
"Shorty Moran would pour half a glass of moonshine whiskey, drink it down and puke it up in the sink. He died drinking.
"What a funeral that was. The whores, pimps, cowboys and rounders all showed up. My dad run a lot of cattle in the Sierras and he knew them all.
"My dad wasn't a politician, he made them. But a banker put us out of business."
Suddenly, the telephone rings and Tiger's bar girls start handing out a round of free drinks for everyone.
"Someone just phoned from Manila and says he's coming to Bangkok in a few days," Tiger explains.
"He phoned just to buy a round of drinks for everyone, and to charge it to his bill."
No one else in the bar knows the generous caller from the Philippines, but everyone cheers Manila as the jukebox blares Merle Haggard.
Tiger sells Soldier of Fortune magazine at the door and still receives his personal copy of "Ironworkers" newsletter.
Tiger's bar also hosted in 1984 the first overseas reunion of American Legion Post Number One, now functioning in exile.
The bash was a huge success -- everyone felt right at home and spent the evening meeting old friends and talking war.
Founded in Shanghai around 1920, the post was ousted by the Japanese in World War II and later by communist Chinese.
Dedicated to soldiers of fortune, the post is the only one the American Legion allows foreign and non-military people to join.
Its 2,400 members include spies, veterans, construction workers and others who have fought for America's foreign policies.
Though he's never been ordered to serve in the military, living has been rough for Tiger. Just look at his scars.
"I got third-degree burns on my right arm and hand from rolling over the Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor in 1943," he explains, referring to a salvage operation which left whitish marks on his skin.
"Then in this country I got tropical sprue, it's a microscopic infection. I still suffer."
One of his favorite jokes is printed on the back of his calling card, stacked up on the bar:
"What do you get when you cross a prostitute with an elephant?
"A 2,000 pound whore who fucks for peanuts and remembers you forever!"
"A lot of guys say I should have a bunch of young girls in here," he says, gesturing towards waitresses who are at least pushing 30.
"But if I did that, this bar wouldn't be no more different than any of any other places."
Surveying the night's crowded atmosphere, he stretches his face into a satisfied, end-of-a-long-day smile, idly scratches his leg's amputated stump and drawls: "I run this bar the way I used to run out of my way to get to one like it."
Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich 1986.