Having lived in Makati City , Metro Manila for more than a decade now - like many others, quickly became a semi-serious player on P. Burgos Street. Thus, I've witnessed it's evolution from a fascinating and thriving block and a half of heavy duty neon, consisting of attractive/attentive young females flirting with eager/drooling customer's in a variety of bars and gogos…and for which I coined the phrase ‘the street of dreams' - till today when it's only a shadow of the past. It's almost devoid of punters, except those on leave from war zones, rugby players in town for weekend bashes and us locals, as lonely dancers now stare into space as if hypnotized, seeking but their own reflection in mirrors to pass the time.
Sure, the flashing lights still shine brightly alongside and above these 31 establishments; a few new gogos have opened, other's shut down for good and several tried changing their name/ambiance in an attempt to reverse waning fortunes while four establishments mysteriously burnt to the ground a few months back in an early morning fire. It's a shame, but nowadays one could shoot off a cannon from Makati Ave to Kalayaan on a Friday/Saturday night and miss almost everyone with the exception of a couple of trolling freelancers, a few taxi's, the odd katoy or ‘bakla' as they are called in this country and maybe a hawker or two peddling Viagra.
The reasons for this are numerous; lack of foreign investment due to a sagging economy within a poorly disciplined society, large government debts, poverty and corruption. Tourism is also non-existent due to many exaggerated stories about terrorism and that wasn't helped when the country got ‘slam dunked' recently by the US State Department. In its last travel advisory on June 16th; I quote: “(We) urge Americans who live or have to travel to the Philippines , to observe vigilant personal security precautions and remain aware of the continued potential for terrorist attacks. Such targets could include but are not limited to places where Americans and other Westerners might live, congregate, shop or visit, including hotels, beach resorts, clubs, restaurants, shopping centers, businesses, housing compounds, transportation systems, places of worship, schools or public recreation events.” This is a real CYA message if I ever read one and totally uncalled for because personally, I feel safer in the PI than I would in many other parts of the world these days…including Canada or America.
That being said, it would seem logical that if customer counts drop…economies of scale dictate owners lowering prices, but it's become exactly the opposite in Makati. In fact, there was another increase just last week affecting beer, Ladies Drinks (LD's) and Bar Fines (BF's). Some places were charging an extra +12% VAT on everything that wasn't nailed down - which went over like a lead balloon and was subsequently dropped in favour of an 18% price hike…an even worse scenario. The kicker; the girls DO NOT get that same increase in their drink commissions, putting their morale, which was already at rock-bottom - right into the toilet. Thus, the initiated, the wise and the locals now do bar-shopping in the late afternoons and early evenings - commonly known as Happy Hour (HH) so it's all not gloom & doom on Dream Alley…if one knows the ropes.
P. Burgos is an intricate pattern of pesos (at present - a 29% currency difference compared to the Thai baht) and formats, so first-timers or ‘newbies' tend to get their fingers burnt on a regular basis. Amazing how these bar girls can so easily spot an ATM insignia on a rookie's forehead and immediately attack their prey.
A smart punter never buy LD's; opting instead for a decent tip (usually equivalent to double of a drink commission - which on average is only 25%) to ladies of choice and everyone's a winner except the house.
A ‘no smoking' policy in bars and restaurants was instituted in Makati several years ago, but that means absolutely nothing on Burgos . Some premises have built enclaves inside for those that still have the habit; in other's, the waitress's simply plop an empty Coke or Pepsi can on the bar which substitutes for an ash tray. In these spots, managers have installed various devices such as buzzers, strobe lights or horns - triggered by doormen outside when an inspector is spotted and the cans magically disappear…another silly game that everyone must play.
On the darker side, one of the quickest ways to depart with some hard earned cash and get a headache at the same time is at Café Mogambo. There is an array of below-average, partially clad damsels, who do absolutely nothing but sit around by themselves and play Balut (a dice game where the banging is equivalent to a sledgehammer) 4 In A Row (a plastic chip game, where the click-click-click implodes the brain) and Junga (building blocks and when crashing - screams numb the senses) because there are no chrome poles to twirl around. Their only hope is to wait prey on the occasional newcomer who might wander in and possibly spring for the exorbitant expenditure of an LD at 350 pesos. They have quite an extensive food menu which is good most of the time, especially the Shepherd's Pie, but expensive as well…an alternative being a myriad of fast food restaurants, like Farmer Jack's and Sid's, just a short walk away.
Happy Hour in which all Customer drinks are Half Price…runs the longest - opening at 11am till 8pm, but Ladies Drink's (up 50 pesos up from 300) and Bar Fines (1,200 pesos + three ladies drinks or 1,050 pesos which equals 2,250) are always Regular Price. The best thing on offer is the music, (when you can hear it over the persistent noise levels) mostly soft rock and easy listening. Café Mogambo, once the place to be and be seen (some idiot even got married in there) is now an albatross of distant memories. News Flash: There was an early morning explosion Monday, in the kitchen of the Tapa King restaurant located in the same housing complex as Café Mogambo, Panama Jack's & Hollywood Bar. The fire spread quickly and there was extreme fire, smoke and water damage to all four premises, so it will be sometimes before they re-open…if they ever do. One of my favourite haunts, located just about the middle of the strip is Bottoms, but again only during Happy Hour. The staff is probably the friendliest on the street and the service/drinks are excellent. Although the dancers and GRO's (Guest Relations Officers) are transient to a degree, the talent pool is top line most of the time. It is also the only bar that offers ‘music videos' and the DJ will play any of your favourite concerts for a slight remuneration. The ‘smoking room' is humongous and very, very dark if you get my drift yet it is quite amusing that the entrance door is always open and a window pane missing at the opposite end for the girls to exit onto the stage. Always thought smoking rooms were supposed to be totally enclosed.
A VIP room across the way is also available (at the steep price of 3,500 pesos) for a bit more privacy. The only negative is that HH (where beer is now 75 pesos, local spirits 100, LD's 200 pesos and bar fines 2,000) ends abruptly at 7PM and everything almost doubles in price. It is also one of a few bars that maintains two shifts. Daytime girls start at 2 till 11 and the nighttime gals begin drifting in around 7 and hang in there till 4 in the morning or later.
Unlike Thailand , the bars here stay open till 4am or in some cases till the last customer happens to stagger out the front door.
For a slight change of pace but within the same realm, there is always Mirror's next door located in the new Hotel Bellagio. It is laid out sort of theatre style, with the dancers ‘doing their thing' somewhat below the patrons, which is much easier on the neck muscles. It's pretty dark but the disco type music is so loud, I head down and left to the ‘smoking room', which is almost sound proof so my ear drums remain intact. The difference here is this area can quickly become a VIP area because the four small booths are equipped with curtains. Close em though and it will cost dearly.
Another HH alternative is Tickle's that opens at 2pm…and is located across Burgos and 15 metres down Durban Street . The DJ sometimes plays great music in the afternoon and the girls are polite, friendly and sexy. It's a small bar with flashing lights and sirens upon occasion and a ‘smoking room' with two rather large booths in the back, BUT if the door closes, it becomes a VIP section and the charge is 3,500 pesos per GIRL. So beware. Other options include leaving the door open for the prying eyes of the mama-san or there's a large dark area in the back corner if one wants to take their chances. It is linked in all respects to Bottoms and Mirrors, with regards to price structure but the HH for some reason lasts till 9PM.
Two more good bars with HH's that extend till 9pm are Bandido and Wild West. The only bar just off Burgos on Makati Ave, formerly known as Grand Prix and Geronimo (before the raids) Wild West is semi-classified as a ‘shooter's bar' but mostly devoid of the shooters, but cozy in that the only seats available - are at the bar. Thus, all the dancers are within an arm's reach of desire. The atmosphere definitely has a Western theme (lots of Indian paintings & statues, but no cowboys) and though the girl's costumes leave a bit to be desired, the drinks are decent and a wide variety of music (even country & western) is played throughout the night. There is also a so called ‘sports bar' upstairs, but the atmosphere is the pits, isolated from days gone by - within a dismal atmosphere. It's not even worth a look-see.
Bandido is in the basement of an old apartment building, so it's like an underground dungeon but the oblong dance floor in the middle is lit up like a Christmas tree in an effort to make the place look bigger than it really is. In my opinion, some of the best looking ladies on the street work here and at least, they make an attempt to move their bodies in time to the music. The costumes are provocative and enticing, the girls low-key and Angie and Ida are the classiest mama-sans in the city. The big negative is these two bars along with Flamingo are associated with Mogambo so the same rules apply - with the customers getting hit with no break in Happy Hour prices on LD's & BF's.
Now Rogues is the most happening spot on the strip these days. You have to walk up a flight of stairs and the surroundings are a bit shakey, but it's well worth the effort. The owners have done a superb job of thinking ‘customers first/ladies second' and is probably the main reason the place is packed on a nightly basis. HH runs till 10pm (the latest of any bar) and at very reasonable prices all night long. San Miguel is 55 pesos, local spirits at 75 pesos and escalating only marginally till the wee hours of the morning. There is even a decent break on LD's - with the normal rate being 150 pesos till 10 and only jumping to 250 after the bewitching hour. There are two dance floor areas -four booths with curtains, around 60 pretty and scantily dressed maidens…both GRO's and Dancers who are friendly but not overly aggressive and two pool tables. I prefer to sit at the bar because Desiree is a great bartender and I also have the option of watching a variety of sports on three TV monitors facing in my direction, with channels coming direct by satellite from South Africa . They also have ‘free beer' nights upon occasion and a Wine & Cheese party which includes a ‘cultural' show once a month, so in these trying times, Rogues is the place to hang loose and have fun.
While other establishments come and go – one has stood the test of time. Walt's Cathouse has moved locations several times over the years…but the décor (the infamous circular bar with bamboo surroundings) hasn't changed and it still remains the ‘local's local'. Opening at 5pm, the music is varied (from rock & roll to the blues) and at a decibel that you can carry on a decent conversation with your buddies or one or more of the 15 charming hostesses/waitresses.
LD's are 250 pesos but no barfines…though clandestine arrangements can sometimes be made. Abeth is the best manager on the street, a big screen satellite TV is set up in the ‘smoking room' for all kinds of sporting events and his first class pool table is always busy. Hungry? Walt serves up an unreal steak sandwich with the chili, fried chicken and tacos - also big winners on the menu and drinks are always very affordable. In any case, it's the perfect place for chilling out and relaxing at the same time.
Because the prices have risen so much on Burgos , many guys are now heading to Ermita and Malate in downtown Manila or up to Angeles City but those are details for next time.