Go Go Bars vs. Strip Clubs: What’s The Difference?

Confused by Asia’s strip clubs and go-go bars?

A phrase often used in North America to denote a certain kind of strip clubs, the go-go bars of South East Asia are quite different to a strip club. Essentially two very different kinds of establishments, many a farang travelling in countries like Thailand or the Philippines expect go-go dancers to strip and can end a night feeling ‘scammed’ and disappointed.

In this simple guide, we explain the difference between a go-go bar and a strip club plus look at some of the regional differences in how the term ‘go-go’ dancer is used.

Origins of the Go Go Bar

The phrase ‘à gogo’ has been a part of the English language for centuries and is actually a Parisian slang term meaning ‘galore’.

Its current use, when applied to dancers, can be dated back to the late 1940s with the British Film Whisky Galore! The film was released in 1949 and was very popular in France under the title Whisky à Gogo! Around the same time, in Paris, drinking whiskey was considered fashionable and there was already a bar in the city with the same name.

By 1953, the Whisky à Gogo bar had become the first discotheque and was popular for dancing. Patrons were no longer visiting the club to sip trendy malted grain spirits but to shake their booties. Whisky à Gogo’s infamy spread across the Atlantic and by 1958 the club had franchised its name to a new disco in Chicago. Stateside, the chain grew and by 1965 Whisky à Gogos could be found in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Atlanta.

whisky a go go hollywood strip clubs go go bars what is the difference
Whisky a Go-Go, 8901 W. Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood, CA. (2006). Image via Wikimedia.

This was the 1960s and a new ‘loose’ fashion for dancing had been developing. Young girls previously only dancing with a partner in a formal way could attend the clubs and dance alone or in groups. The term go-go bar quickly became associated with nightclubs or bars where young people could do this. Of course, it wasn’t long before the term ‘go-go’ dancer was being applied to the female patrons.

Go-go dancers, as we know them today in North America, evolved with clubs like the one in Los Angeles employing attractive women to set the mood and get patrons dancing. Dressed in high boots with short fringed skirts, they were placed in glass booths above the customers, gyrating like a visual reminder of the club’s purpose for dancing. However, it wasn’t until 1964 at a club (the Condor) in San Francisco that the first topless ‘go-go’ dancers appeared.

Go Go Bars vs Strip Clubs: What’s the Difference?

Well, it depends where in the world you are but the simple answer is:

  • A strip club is a venue where a dancer performs a choreographed routine whilst removing clothing. The focus of the club is centered on the stripper themselves.
  • A go-go bar is a venue where dancers perform in a state of undress (topless or with skimpy clothes, rarely nude); usually the focus is not on the performers themselves.

In the United States and many Western countries, the term Go Go bar has become synonymous with a certain type of strip club; the ‘spit and sawdust’ kind.

go go bars vs strip clubs
Traditional striptease is considered more of a burlesque, erotic performance art form. Image via Flickr.

Compared to a traditional strip club where the focus is on a central stage upon which a trained stripper performs a routine during which she will shed her clothes (either to end up topless or fully naked) to music, a go-go bar strip club in the United States is considered a low-class, cheap-rent alternative. In these American bars, go-go dancers do not perform choreographed routines and do not really strip; they sort of start in a state of undress and just continue dancing until their shift is up.

More generally, a go-go bar is broadly used to describe a club or disco where dancers are employed to set an erotic mood.

Across Southeast Asia, the distinction is similar but the go-go bars of Thailand and the Philippines offer far more nuanced adult entertainment than those in the U.S.

Go-go bars are very popular in countries like Thailand and are similar to the hostess bars that can be found across southern Asia including South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. Hostess bars are basically any kind of premises where alcohol is served where female staff are employed to flirt with customers.

The difference with a go-go bar is that, in addition to the bar girls, they also have dancers (often topless) who do the same. Unlike in a strip club where the venue’s seating and bar areas are focused around a central stage upon which strippers perform their choreographed sets, go-go bars usually have several areas (podiums, small stages or even tables) where dancers perform for a set period. Unlike in the U.S. where you don’t find go-go dancers performing large routines or set numbers, some of the larger go-go bars (particularly in Pattaya and Bangkok) may stage a big spectacle.

go go bars and strip clubs what is the difference
Thailand has a big culture of go-go bars. Image via Wikimedia.

Both the dancers and the bar girls are usually available to be ‘bar fined’; a practice whereby a male customer can remunerate the bar for ‘loss of earnings’ so he can spend private time with one of the female employees. Though sex (or other personal services) can then often be negotiated with the girls themselves, the bars (strictly speaking) are not actually pimping their hostesses/dancers.

In most go-go bars, the dancers attract a premium bar fine as they are considered the talent, drawing in other customers. If you want to take them off duty for some one-one-one time then you will pay a lot more for the privilege.

In many parts of Asia, such as in the Philippines and China, strip clubs are actually illegal and though you may find some operating in some parts of these countries they do tend to be quite ‘seedy’ and not like those you would find in Europe or North America. In areas like this, go-go bars are a way of offering adult entertainment without breaking the laws. Depending on the local regulations regarding public nudity, the go-go girls could be topless or they may well be wearing nipple tassels to protect public ‘decency’! As a result, go-go bars can remain legal and offer more of a gentleman’s club or nightclub environment as well as providing the same kinds of hostess services as detailed above.

Featured image via Wikimedia/Wikimedia.