Last week we briefly talked about Angeles City. In today’s article I want to spend some time talking about another provincial (up country to the Thai residents) men’s playground — Olongapo. Olongapo is more often referred to as Subic Bay because it was the home of the US Naval Base by that name. Olongapo is about 125 km from Manila and 65 from Angeles City.The Americans had used the base from the late 19th century until the Bases Treaty failed ratification by the Philippine Senate in 1992. Of course, there was a brief period from 1941 to 1946 when the Japanese found it useful, but for nearly 100 years, it served as the stepping stone to South and South East Asia. During its heyday, there would be up to 25,000 young sailors in town. They’d been on ships for months at a time and when they got shore leave, there was no shortage of nightlife.
A single family has dominated the Olongapo political scene for the last half century; the Gordons. They are a pragmatic bunch and realized that having several hundred bars would keep the unemployment roles down and would bring literally millions of dollars into the local economy. The Shore Patrol was vigilant and policed the bars on a regular basis. On the hole, most were pretty grotty. You’d find the toilet by following your nose. There were no such things as urinals — just long troughs where you’d drain the dragon. A toilet was a luxury. Still, you would find some of the best bands in the Philippines and, of course, thousands of women. Make that thousands and thousands.
The nightlife was divided into 3 distinct areas. Just outside the main gate in Olongapo City, 6km north in Barrio Barretto and another 5 or 6 km further north in Subic City. The further you went from Olongapo the raunchier the bars. Some of Subic City’s most famous places were called Blow Heaven, Sweet 16, Heads and Tails, Super Head, etc. The names tell it all. Smile was one of the staple games. A bunch of guys would to into a place and several girls would crawl under the table and first one who smiled lost. There are still some places in Subic City where that game is played, but they are not well lit and the entertainers will probably be balakas (katoeys). Several years ago, the Mayor of Olongapo decided to clean up the image and did 2 things; she closed ALL the bars in Olongapo and outlawed dancers in Barrio Barretto. Subic City is not part of her jurisdiction. The Subic area has relatively few tourists. There are some good 4 star hotels on the Base itself and several 3 star places in Barrio Barretto and Baloy Beach. In the last few years, the Baloy area has seen several new hotels including 2 that we recently opened (www.mossubic.com). The nightlife market is still about half locals and half tourists.
Last year, the 6th consecutive Mayor Gordon removed the dancing restriction from the bars in Barrio Barretto. Bikinis are still prohibited and girls must wear bras. As a result, several new bars were built and there are now 10 or so watering holes offering dancing and, perhaps, 5 or 6 more with GROs or Guest Relation Officers which is another word for hostess. That term is so Filipino. Something like calling a garbage collector a sanitary engineer. Anyway, the bars run along a 2 mile stretch starting at the Arizona Hotel and ending at Midnight Rambler.
Subic City has not fared as well. Five years ago there were 8 or 9 go-go type bars catering mostly to foreigners. That number has dwindled to 4. Only two are worth visiting, but those two have a fine selection and have some of the best shows I’ve seen anywhere. Given the number of locals who visit those places, the ‘talent’ is pretty well trained. Most are a little older than the Angeles City or Barrio Barretto staff, but older is relative and there is no substitute for experience. Subic and Barretto both have the same system as Angeles City whereby you pay between US$26.00 and $32.00 for a bar fine which includes the girl’s tip. Ladies drinks will set you back a whopping US$2.50 to $3.00. Some bars have a 2 or 3 tier pricing system based on if they think you are a local or tourist. Some bars have ‘local’ ladies drinks and the ‘imported’ variety. It’s a rip off.
Transportation to/from the Subic area to/from Angeles City/Manila is not bad. A private car will run in the US$50.00 range. There is daily van service from/to Angeles city that is under $10.00 and leaves from Kokomo’s in Subic at 11:30AM each morning and returns from Kokomo’s in Angeles City at 2:00PM.
Next week I’ll start reporting on specific bars, restaurants and offering some editorial comment on a variety of issues. In the meantime, if you have any comments, questions, or specific things you’d like to read about, please email me at: [email protected].