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O Bar: Settling for less?

A close look at O Bar – and what may be the (sad) state of clubbing in the Philippines.

Not everyone will agree with me on these observations.
And, truthfully, that’s fine.
In fact, that’s how it should be.
We all could benefit from discussions, even if (or particularly because) we have contradicting points of view.
But I still feel that honesty will best serve Metro Manila’s partying crowd best when rendering reviews, instead of giving out PR-ish statements, or even half truths.

And so here goes…

To contextualize, after the demise of Joy Club, then Mint, and then Bed (at least in Malate, since it eventually re-incarnated in Mandaluyong), it was O Bar that – in so many ways – took over as the must-visit venue for self-identifying gay and bisexual party-goers (and their friends, too). And, truth be told, the place deserved the patronage it got. After all, it had many merits – it was open seven days a week (so those who wanted to party on weekdays, particularly after working the night shift; it’s drinks are cheap (the used to charge only P150, with three free drinks); it was accessible (at the very middle of the then LGBT center of Metro Manila); and the crowd (in some ways) were not bad looking at all.

It had its… drawbacks, of course.
Gay-bashing reportedly happened right inside the venue, and pickpocketing happened in it more frequently than should be acceptable.

Because of the success of O Bar in Malate (it initially attracted those that Bed Bar failed to attract; and then when Bed Bar closed for renovations, swallowed much of the party crowd), a branch was opened in Ortigas. The drama for the branches in Malate and in Ortigas was the same – i.e. offer an alternative party venue for those unsatisfied with what became of Bed Bar while serving those who would not be seen dead in the likes of Palawan (in Quezon City’s Cubao).

After years of serving as the (most) LGBT-welcoming venue of Metro Manila, Malate (in not so nice a word) died.

Not surprisingly, O Bar’s Malate branch eventually folded, so that its Ortigas branch – for a while – became the “it”place. It became so popular, in fact, that they had to move to a bigger place (much like the direction taken by Bed Bar before it crashed in Malate).

And so we closely look at the new O Bar.

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Look-wise, the venue is very different from the older version – with this one, the focus is on the performers, so that at the very front of the venue is a HUGE elevated stage where the drag acts happen, and where the go-go boys (before and/or after the drag acts) shake their asses. No, you may NOT climb on the stage (to dance); it’s only for the performers.

Similar to the past version, there are numerous cocktail tables on this one, too – generally segregated into two portions (the “main” and the “VIP” sections). The prime spot is, obviously, the table at the very front of the stage (even if it’s on the non-VIP section of O Bar) – and it becomes the “ultra-VIP table” as needed.

Similar to the old version, too, the DJ booth is atop the bar, which – in turn – is beside the toilet (segregated by speakers and what-have-you’s). No, the sound system still isn’t… pulsating; but that it plays music (usually pop and dance tunes) is more than enough for many…

And similar to the older O Bar, too, this newer bar has LOTS of go-go boys, performing before, between and after the drag shows (the older ones were nearing phenomenal, by the way; these new ones, just passable). And so, in not so many words, what we have here are hetero baits for the homo market…

And here is where my discontent with O Bar lies – i.e. that considering it’s supposed to be a “gay space”, it is not exactly the most empowering place to be in.

When ultra-VIPs are in the bar, for instance, not only are they given their separate space, but they are also given their own “guards” (bouncers serving as guards), and I actually saw them push and shove non-VIPs who “invaded” the VIPs’ “spaces” (that is, by dancing too close to the VIPs’ table). This “invasion” of spaces is something that is bound to happen since O Bar DOES NOT have any REAL dance area, so that the clubbers just move and sway where they are – meaning, bumping into others is bound to happen.

Even seeing someone get pushed simply for partying is not at all fun – particularly since the club charges P400 (on weekends) door fee, quite high in a country with many only taking home around P8,000 every month (if at all). And yeah, I recognize that those who do not earn (much) are not the target markets of O Bar, yet I can’t help but feel sad that so many of us put up with what should not be thrown our way. After all, if you cough up money, shouldn’t the (appropriate) service come with it?
(As a side note: Don’t get me talking about the pickpocketing that continues to happen inside the bar…)

Maybe I’m banking too much on what others may just dismiss as a “gay bar”. And maybe I am. But for as long as we can’t even feel safe in places supposedly made for us, then we – as members of the LGBT community – need to reconsider why we have a problem as far as demanding what we truly deserve is concerned.

I know people will continue flocking to O Bar.

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And truth be told, I don’t think I can blame them.

Because when we run out of places to go to, even the unsatisfying will… suffice.

And that’s a sad state to be in.

O Bar is located at Food Street, Home Depot Complex, Julia Vargas corner Meralco Avenue (across XRoads Bar), Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

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