Here’s what happening now: Metro Manila is losing a LOT of gay-oriented bars. Only recently, we saw the closure of (admittedly quite popular) Bed Bar in Greenfield District in Mandaluyong; the shutting down of Budhakkan Bar both in Cubao and Mandaluyong (and – get this – only a few days after Outrage Magazine visited to review the venue!), and the end of Palawan Bar (both 1 and 2).
This development is not entirely new, marked by the slow and painful death of Malate starting late 2013. Malate used to be the heart of gay partying, with oh-so-numerous gay and gay-friendly bars all over the place.
And now, there are but a few establishments’ serving the pink market, with the owners seemingly attempting to hold on the past, still trying to survive despite of this pallor.
I found myself at FAB Bar for its White Party 2015, marking the June Pride celebration in Metro Manila. Going there, I noted to myself that it has been two years since the last time I visited this (once vibrant) place in Manila.
And how life in Malate has changed in that two years!
While our cab was sauntering Nakpil Street, I could only feel disappointment after noting too few LGBT people there, when – in the past – we used to have the Pride-related events there right after the Pride parade. I was expecting a street party this time, too; though – alas! – there was nothing there.
It even seemed to be that walking alone in that place can be tricky, with the darkness enveloping the area a lure for crimes that could happen. In my eyes at least, it is darker there now than it was two years.
And so off I went to FAB Bar…
Standing on the entry of the venue, one is welcomed by heavy smoke – secondhand smoke from the cigarettes of the clubbers, and from the smoke-belching machines for the party. The place, by the way, is supposedly airconditioned; but it was still sweaty hot inside, helped a little by an electric fan swaying as if also dancing to whatever’s being played. Wanting to back out to be where there’s fresh(er) air was not a choice; the place is too small, so there isn’t really space for backing out as soon as you enter. It’s like being taken into the venue.
Considering the size of the place, there numerous tables and chairs occupied by the guests seemed too much. For me, it may be better if they just remove these tables and chairs to maximize the small place, particularly if they are expecting a huge number of guests (such as for their White Party 2015).
Up front is the stage, also small so that it can only host two go-go boys. There isn’t even a backstage, so that – when the drag performers had to go onstage – they had to start their performances from the main door/entryway, and then pass through the tables and chairs, before ending onstage. The set up is not that efficient because performers can possibly hit the drinks of the guests, or even the guests themselves (accidents could happen).
There is a bar situated at the right part of the venue, which happens to be on the way to accessing the toilet. As such, if you sit here (there are bar stools, after all), the tendency is for you to always hear: “Padaan po!”, “Pausog po!”, “Excuse me po!”. Not exactly a good experience.
There is a DJ booth situated by the main door. Leading this piece to… the sound system, which is actually truly amazing. You know how some partygoers say that music can be literally felt, not just heard? That’s true here, since you can actually feel the beat. However, and we go back to this again, due to the smallness of the place, the full potential of the sound system isn’t utilized. There isn’t even a dance floor to speak of; you wait for the performances to end before you can dance by taking over the stage.
The lights? Visually pleasant, adding to the overall party atmosphere.
The crowd is diverse – yuppies, oldies, middle class, not that well off… But it is worth noting that while there were many who went there, most of them actually left after just a couple of beers. And this is during the Pride season; so I can only imagine the venue’s guests during normal days.
I’d say that FAB Bar isn’t necessarily bad – there are a lot that can be found good there, including the good service, clean wash room, a friendly and attentive staff…
But my FAB Bar experience isn’t all rosy.
Maybe it’s but a reflection of the current gay scene in Metro Manila – particularly in Malate in the City of Manila, which is no longer vibrant.
It makes one ask: Where, oh where, is the gay haven in Metro Manila now?