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Red Banana: Attempts to re-ignite parts of the past

Re-introducing Red Banana – which opened where Bed Bar used to be when it was still in Malate in the City of Manila – as a venue that tries to recapture what made these parts of the city the gay capital of Metro Manila for years.

Red Banana2For those who can remember the Red Banana of the past, it was one of the… naughtiest (bear with me as I’m trying to stay PG here…) mainstream places Metro Manila has ever known. Yes, it had an area where you can dance the night away while drinking whatever you can grab; but what made it – uhmm… – appealing was its “special” areas where you can “hang out” with whoever caught your fancy at the dance floor/bar/restroom. It was, in not so many words, akin to Queer as Folk’s Babylon.

With the changing face of Malate as the gay capital of Metro Manila, that version of Red Banana disappeared – along with everything naughty. And we were left with bars that – more than anything – stressed on social impressions (i.e. social climbing). Fun (the Red Banana type) was seemingly relegated to… oblivion.

But when Malate’s existing bars post-Red Banana folded (only to re-open elsewhere), one of the main venues that served as party central for gay Manilans re-opened as (well…) Red Banana. And so we now have Red Banana 2.0.

VENUE IN FOCUS

Bed Bar – just before its venue closed in Malate – had two entrances: one was for the “normal” people (the ones who actually paid money to get into the bar), and another for the VIPs (those who were supposedly moneyed, but – embarrassingly – entered the bar without even paying). The entrance for the normal people is now the entrance of Red Banana, while the entrance for VIPs is a lounge.

On weekends, the divider that separates Red Banana and the lounge is opened, making for a larger venue. This is somewhat of a necessity, considering that weekends see the grand performances (in these days, these include drag acts and go-go boys – though Red Banana’s versions are not as naked as O Bar’s or Bed Bar’s).

What used to be the upper floors of Bed Bar’s former Malate venue are also separate venues. In fact, that section of Bed Bar where the go-go boys used to shower is now a stage, complete with two semi-grand staircases that lead almost to a small-ish dance area fronting the cocktail tables.

Looking at the stage, the bar is at the left (same with the old Bed Bar); while the toilet is still near the exits (also same with the old Bed Bar).

Thus, Red Banana is, therefore, considerably small. Made even more apparent when it gets full (and it DOES get too full at times)…

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PLUSES AND MINUSES

That it’s small works for this venue, however, since many of the people going there sort of stay friendly to each other. It’s almost like a small community, with new meats (uhmm… faces, I mean) coming in. That people stay friendly is worth highlighting because, sans the presence of the pushy bouncers of O Bar in Ortigas, for instance, Red Banana remains welcoming.

Red BananaBy the way, I have yet to hear of theft happening in Red Banana. I remembered blacking out on my first night there, but when I woke up, my phone and cash remained with me…

The performances aren’t all bad, either – on weekends, shows could last for 40 minutes (!), well worth the cover charge paid.

The cover charge (at P250 on weekends) is also a come on. O Bar charges up to P400 (also on weekends), offering a less personal gay space, so that – for me – Red Banana seems like a more sensible option.

Truth be told, the sound system of the old Bed Bar when it was in this same venue was way better – you could “feel” and not just hear the music. But – particularly when already tipsy or drunk – Red Banana’s more than suffices.

The music? Think pop most times. House was thrown now and then, I think – but I am not so sure anymore; I must have been way too drunk at those times I was there, simply swaying to what was being played.

And the boys? Yeah, there were cuties around. But you are more to run into people you may be familiar with when malate used to be the “it” place. Those who are not are the newbies…

HEAD OUT

Having started this coverage with a chat about the “naughty” Red Banana of the past, it’s worth stressing that Red Banana 2.0 is not at all “naughty.” So forget Babylon expectations – this one’s simply for clubbing.

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But sans that, however, is Red Banana worth a check?

Yes, if you miss the “old” Malate.

Yes, if you want to see many of the “old” crowds.

Yes, if you wanna be in a closer knit community of gay/”bi” men.

Yes, if you believe you should not be ripped off your hard-earned cash just to be in a gay space.

Yes, if you’d rather be in a safer gay space.

Yes, if you want a big production with less (not totally eliminated) the unnecessary male dancers for the male idolatry.

Yes, if you want to be in a place where you can still chat with who you are with while… doing all of the above.

Oh, well, just head to Red Banana, which somehow captures how Malate was before the scene as we now know it spread too wide and too thinly…

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Red Banana is located at the (former) Orosa-Nakpil Courtyard, which is at the corner of Ma. Orosa and J. Nakpil Street, Malate, City of Manila. Cover charge is P250 on weekends, with one free drink.

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