Mention Pattaya Bay Thai to anyone who lives east of Highland and chances are a mischievous smile will spread across his or her face. "Oh yes... I've been there."
Los Feliz Village is dotted with bars, restaurants and boutiques lining Vermont between Franklin and Hollywood, where families brunch by day and adults imbibe by night. All night. The party doesn't stop after taverns like The Dresden Room and Public House shut down at 2:00 a.m. Just a stumble away is Pattaya Bay Thai, serving towering piles of noodles, flaming bowls of soup and karaoke until 4:00 a.m.
The five members of local band Sunken Ships have shared many a late night at Pattaya Bay since their formation in 2010. Violinist Pablo Mendez and I wait at one of the long, black tables until the rest of the band arrives.
Rebecca: I've had some crazy times here. I'm sure you guys have too.
Pablo: Oh yeah. Our lead singer, Ray, used to work at Public House a few doors down so we'd come hang out here all the time.
Rebecca: Do you sing karaoke?
Pablo: Yes, and it has to be a Beatles song.
Among the rows of long, black tables, often shared by two or three separate parties, is a karaoke stage draped in blinking lights and nautical ropes. A flat screen TV on the back wall blares the NBA playoffs and a disco ball hangs from the paneled ceiling. Servers dressed in black hold pens taped to plastic spoons as they bustle amid the controlled chaos. Guitarist Joe Mullins swings open the glass doors and joins us. His right hand is wrapped in a bandage.
Rebecca: What happened to your hand?
Joe: Let's just say I rescued a cat from a burning building.
A few minutes later, bassist Rose Shawhan takes a seat and the three band-mates catch up about who owes whom a beer.
Rebecca: Were you all friends before you became a band?
Rose: I met these guys through Nick, our drummer. I've been friends with him for a few years. Actually, the night I met Ray, our lead singer, we came here to Pattaya.
Drummer Nick Miller arrives and takes a seat next to Rose.
Nick: How 'bout some beers? Where is Ray? I texted him to make sure he's not wearing the same shirt as me.
As they chat about Ray's whereabouts, I discover something I'd never noticed before at Pattaya Bay: A model pirate ship sitting high atop a shelf behind the register.
Rebecca: Have you guys seen the ship over there? Is that why you come here?
Rose: Actually we come here for the karaoke but, no, I've never noticed that before.
Rebecca: It's meant to be.
As we wait for the lead singer, songwriter and founder of the band, Ray Mawhinney, Rose orders cold sake and the guys order bottles of Singha.
Rebecca: Do you hang out together often or is it strictly business?
Rose: We used to and then we got girlfriends and boyfriends and stuff. We all sort of have lives and day jobs but I guess Joe and Ray hang a lot.
Joe: We're like the married couple of the band apparently.
Rose: They bicker but they really love each other.
Rebecca: OK, Joe, if you and Ray really are the married couple, what would you order for him tonight? When he gets here we'll see what he says.
Joe: Hmmm... I'd order him a beer. I'd just get him booze.
Joe: Wait, no, in all honestly I would order him fried rice because my pad Thai doesn't come with fried rice, and I want fried rice.
Ray shows up and gives Nick a CD scribbled with black permanent marker.
Rose: We've been talking smack about you.
Rebecca: Ray, what are you ordering tonight?
Ray: Um, spicy eggplant?
Some married couple they are. Our server returns with drinks and takes our order. Pablo chooses roast duck with basil leaves, Joe goes for tofu pad Thai, "extremely spicy," and Rose gets curry noodles with tofu, medium. Nick orders chicken satay with fried rice and Ray sticks to his guns. I opt for spicy seafood soup, medium.
Rebecca: So Ray, tell me about Sunken Ships. What's the story?
Ray: It was a solo project at first. I had Pablo filling in on violin sometimes, and Nick came on. Then Joe got on board and the decision was made to make it a band, so we brainstormed for a few days and came up with the name.
Joe: Joe Mullins and The Others didn't end up being an appropriate name.
Rebecca: So why Sunken Ships?
Ray: I like how sunken ships are sort of an environment unto themselves, and how an eco-system pops up around them. And I write a lot of stuff that makes you move in a swaying motion, kind of nautical. I like the ocean a lot.
Described as a "darker shade of folk," the music of Sunken Ships is epic and slightly ominous, like a band of friendly ghosts that's lived at the bottom of the sea for hundreds of years. Since 2010, the band has played regularly at venues throughout Los Angeles.
Joe: Actually, the first three shows we played after coming up with our name were canceled due to water-related disasters.
Rose: We played about a million shows in April though.
Rebecca: What's your favorite venue in town?
Nick: Bootleg was pretty awesome.
Joe: I like Bootleg too.
Ray: We're playing The Echo in July and we've played Silver Lake Lounge a bunch of times.
Rebecca: Where's the weirdest place you've ever played?
Rose: The vintage store, totally.
Pablo: No! That one restaurant.
Nick: It was like a sushi-pizza-hamburger-Mexican food place.
Joe: We were supposed to play at a warehouse downtown, but the promoter ended up moving it to this restaurant in Boyle Heights. We had to play in an area about half the size of this table.
Nick: There was a big post where my drums were.
Joe: We all looked at each other like 'should we cancel this?' But it ended up being one of our most well-received audiences.
The server returns with steaming bowls of noodles and plates filled with glazed meats, vegetables and rice. My spicy seafood soup arrives with a three-foot flame shooting out of it.
Rebecca: I'm scared to eat mine you guys. Joe, do you always get pad Thai? Is that your favorite?
Joe: Yeah. The peanut-ness is very flavorful.
Rose: I've got to say, these curry noodles were an excellent choice.
Pablo: I love duck. It's amazing. It's chewy, like a different consistency than chicken, and this dish is spicy.
Nick: Everything here is really spicy. Every time I leave here I feel like I'm breathing fire like a dragon.
Rose: I am crying a little bit, but in a good way.
Ray: My eggplant is good, not too spicy to me.
As my fiery plume wanes to a flare, the contents of my soup come into clear view: clams, squid, shrimp and imitation crab.
Rose: Is that a tentacle?
Rebecca: I think it's a squid.
Rose reaches over and plucks a piece of squid from the broth so she can get a better look.
Rebecca: Try it.
Rose: Yeah, I think I'll pass.
The meal continues and everyone sips their beverages intermittently to soothe the burn. Pattaya Bay's medium spice level is not for the faint of palate.
Ray: You know, I sang "Footloose" here one night and did a very, very good dance. I think my shoes actually came off at some point. I was miming out words with props and stuff.
Nick: I only do Elvis songs.
Rebecca: I sang Destiny's Child last time... I think. So what's the goal for Sunken Ships?
Ray: Our short-term goal is to finish our EP, "Mystery Friend." It's six songs and we're hoping to have it mixed and mastered by this June.
Rebecca: I must ask the standard question. Which bands is Sunken Ships influenced by?
Ray: Morrissey is probably one of our biggest influences. Also David Bowie.
Rose: Ray hates Morrissey.
Ray: That's not true.
Rose: By hate I mean love. I saw someone the other day with a tattoo of Morrissey wearing a crown of thorns, crying.
Ray: Yeah I don't take it that far.
Our three hours of conversation, dining and, most of all, laughter, fly by in what seems like minutes. For a band that makes such introspective music, the members are all smiles and sarcasm. Whether it's after a long night of work, play or performances, you can find Sunken Ships on the shores of Pattaya Bay for a late night bite, and if you're lucky, an encore.
Sunken Ships are:
Ray Mawhinney, Vocals
Joe Mullins, Guitar
Rose Shawhan, Bass
Nick Miller, Drums
Pablo Mendez, Violin
[Photos by Hagop Kalaidjian]
Pattaya Bay Thai
1727 North Vermont Avenue, 323.666.0880