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Tony of Tony's Gyms

When I first arrived in Pattaya one personality certainly stood out and that was “Tony of Tony’s Gym” maybe because of the large folded arms image staring down from the hoardings around town, or the fact that he had been a known figure in Pattaya back in the early days when the place was just a sleepy fishing village. Or perhaps because there was a whole section of Third road given over to him, with the Fitness centre, open air gym, lido hotel and his own white, gold romanesque house. Whatever the reason, five years on I decided a large notepad and allowance of plenty of time would be needed to interview Tony as there were bound to be many stories to be told. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the generous hospitality of the welcome to his home complete with the introduction to his charming wife and children. In fact it is impossible to write about Tony now without mentioning his family because you have the feeling that at 60 they are the reason he finds he is far more grounded, calmer and happier than his younger self.

Emerging from a military family with a good school and good connections at the age of 16 Tony was sent to Germany where things “didn’t really work out for me” so he took himself off at the tender age of 17 to Los Angeles, USA. Although enrolled in a high school the 70s was a time when many young Thai guys were bringing in heroin and Tony remembers how he “hung with some street gangs” and envied the flash guys with their Rod Stewart hairstyles, fast cars and faster girls.

Needless to say the next three years saw some good and bad times with many of his street friends not making it to his 20 years . Luckily Tony’s love of music took him away from a similar fate . Through playing keyboards with Rock and Roll bands he was able to run from the lure of LA parties and drug fuelled lifestyle. Instead he went to Columbus Ohio in a Camaro that took him on to St Petersburg Florida amidst a few brushes with the law including one at the Texas border and another due to an aggrieved Dad who didn’t quite appreciate his daughter joining Tony for the ride!

 

From the age of 17 until he was 23 Tony managed to get by (apart from a few close shaves), without American residency which his mother finally got for him when she herself came to the States. The family were together in LA and Tony reunited with his brothers Nicky and Tommy. The “scene” back there had moved on to Acid and Coke but luckily for Tony the job offers came in and Tony was able to travel back to Florida to play in a band at Treasure Island.

He also got himself a job as bus boy at the famous Don Caesar Hotel a wonderful pink palace on the Florida coast, once a weekend getaway for the likes of Al Capone and the like back in the 1930s where Tony graduated from bus boy to waiter and fed himself on the left over steaks from rich clientele.

The following years saw him on the road with bands and even playing in Vegas, finally becoming a co-owner of a club “Tony and Friends” when still only 29.

However over the next six years there were “good and bad times” and by the age of 35 Tony returned to Bangkok. With his proficient keyboard talent (Tony can also play classical piano music) he was employed by The Dusit Thani group and then the Sheraton Hotel His promotion to Entertainments Director at the Sheraton saw his years living in the States stand him in good stead as he had a real talent for organizing events and knowing what the American guests wanted. For the next five years he measured his success by his mode of transport: Year 1 Tuk Tuk, Year 2 Battered old Car, Year 3 Trucik, Year 4 Mercedes and year 5 Ferrari!

Pattaya beckoned with a venue called Delaney’s (situated where Dicey Reilly’s is now) and when the resident American band were fired Tony rented some space on Walking street and put them to work there. He proudly told me his was the first music based club as everyone else insisted that only Gogo bars would work. However Tony’s love for R&B bands and American musicians was infectious and gave him a lot of joy he even started singing with the band. Unfortunately his success provoked jealousy in others, his band was poached to join another club and he was squeezed out of his rented space having to find a new spot “After the tree”. This was deemed to be the unfashionable part where he opened on his birthday October 31st 1998, but he made it work and business went well.

With this success it was time to diversify but Tony remembered the words of his friend Wayne Mitchell the famous founder of The Guitar Centre who had recommended that Tony :

“Do something you like because if you do that you’ll work your ass off !”

Therefore as Tony enjoyed keeping in shape he opened his first gym on 3rd road – there are now 21 in Pattaya and 5 in Bangkok.

So on to 2003, when Tony’s wife recommended they do something goof for Pattaya as it had been so good to them. As a keen animal lover her choice was to start a shelter for the many Soi dogs on the streets. So Tony bought 2 rai of beach front land in Jomtien to let the dogs be kept. However, neighbours were less keen on his choice of location and he was forced to sell the space albeit for a healthy profit – having bought the land for 6 million baht he eventually sold for 40.

Today the shelter has been relocated to the Sattahip area where there are now some 1100 dogs! Volunteers come and go and Tony has supporters and critics many suggesting that he should build in door shelters and euthanize the sick and the old. However he himself is very content with how it is progressing, 90% of the animals are doing well and rather than “put them down” he prefers to fix/neuter them, feed and let them roam around the space.

Some tourists or short stay Pattaya residents have come to him with their pets wishing to leave them behind at the shelter “that is not a good idea” he warns “the shelter for them would be like prison”.The pampered, domesticated pooch is not the dog to mingle with the street dogs collected up by Tony’s volunteers ,far better he advises to find a good family and a good home to leave them with. Certainly Tony himself really knows the value of a good family and a good home.