Oct 13, 2013

[Technicolor Musings] Enough With The Old Malate Nostalgia

The old Malate courtyard
I respect old Malate as much as the next guy. And while I only started clubbing in 2003, I'd like to think that I still got a good taste of what made Malate such an amazing place and why it was quite the refuge for the LGBT community. I spent nearly every weekend there and I have a lot of fond memories.

Fast forward to the present and a lot of the old icons that made Malate so memorable for a lot of us have moved on. BED has a new location at the Greenfield District. O Bar ended its Malate operations and can only be found in Ortigas now. And the whole landscape just looks so different.

Every now and then I get into conversations with friends who celebrate old memories of Malate, lament how things of changed and things of that nature. And while I do feel bad, I recognize that the crowds have moved on and what made Malate special to me and others just isn't there anymore. That Malate "died" for a reason - and now the crowds have moved on to other things. And I really don't think that focusing on the nostalgia factor in any future marketing efforts related to the area will work.


A lot of this thinking has come along given the recent announcement of the new Heaven establishment (or collection of establishments? Which is not too clear to me) that includes a variety of bars including one called Red Banana and one called Mint. To most folks these days, these names don't mean anything. To folks who used to go to Malate back in the day, these were also names of prior establishments that had their own respective reputations. For context, Mint was actually a pre-Bed bar. It was that long ago.

So why have folks decided to revive the names of these bars at all? We know it's some weird attempt at playing the nostalgia card to get folks to come back to Malate or something - isn't if obvious? But how is this an effective marketing strategy? Why struggle to get older customers back when what needs to be done is to create a new customer base. The Malate folks need to tap into a new market.

Let's face it - Malate will never become anything like famous LGBT havens like West Hollywood or something. Malate was never a community where people decide to move to given it feels safer for the LGBT community. It used to be a place to go to - a refuge where one could let one's hair down (or perhaps put a wig on) and just be yourself.

But with the advent of new gay spaces across Metro Manila, people now have more options of where to go to - a lot of them being a lot closer to major residential areas like Quezon City. There are bars and other establishments that try to target different aspects of the community and thus provide a wide range of options for everyone.

While tradition and history and important, Malate can't keep playing that card and expect things to change. People need more compelling reasons to go back to Orosa / Nakpil. And those reasons need to trump all the little things that make Malate so inconvenient like distance, lack of parking, lack of street lighting and a strong tendency to flood in strong rain. Malate worked before because it was practically the only place to go to if you wanted to celebrate LGBT culture. But now that we can go to many different places, now it's more apparent that the area just isn't really all that inviting and safe.

And how many people have been beaten up and mugged on their way home from Malate bars in the past years? I had a good friend who essentially woke up in the hospital some time after leaving one of the bars a few years back. Plus you have the shifting attitudes of the city towards the LGBT community depending on who is currently the major of the city. The city government has not exactly done anything on a legislative level to make it more welcoming to the LGBT community unlike the few cities in the county that have anti-discrimination ordinances or even city-level Pride Councils.

Beyond nostalgia, the city of Manila needs to step up and prove that they truly want to support the community. They need to invest in the needed infrastructure to make the place safer and more inviting to patrons. The city needs to do more than provide lip service to the LGBT segment when the reality is that they don't really care if we're there or not. The city's attitude towards the pink community reflects how a lot of the country deals with us - we're politely tolerated but not talked about. They don't want to cross any lines politically but also won't take any risks on our behalf. They say that they'll try to protect us but are more than willing to invoke anti-indecency laws to harrass queer couples being intimate in parks or in their own cars or something.

Malate needs more than just a fresh coat of paint. It needs to become a legitimately safe space for LGBTs in order to bring the crowds back. And yes, we totally need more LGBT spaces in this city - and it would be a horrible shame to completely lose Malate as one of them.

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