Jan 1, 2012

[Technicolor Musings] Why I Support O Bar (Whether Ortigas or Malate)

For my gay generation (and remember your gay years do not correspond to biological age), my primary peg for what gay culture might be like was the US version of Queer as Folk. And you know what that means - rampant sex, hot guys and fantastic dance clubs just to name some of the more memorable elements. And like many other gay men like me, I wondered if there was anything like Babylon here in the Philippines - a place where I could celebrate my homosexuality and find like-minded people.

In many ways, I initially found Babylon in the form of bars like Bed, Club Government and Club Mafia Manila. They were all fun places to drink, dance and watch a heck of a lot of cruising going on and that was all good. Almost every weekend was spent at one bar or another as me and my friends tried to make the most of our Saturday nights. Admittedly, it was rather tiring and a lot of times I ended up begging off bar trips while my now ex-boyfriend would still go out and hit the club scene.

Still in Queer as Folk parlance, not everyone looks for Woody's, which seemed like a much straighter bar that just happened to have gay men in it. And for a budding gay man, it was hard to see the value in a place that almost seemed confusing and hypocritical in terms of what gay culture seemed to be.

Ever since I found Tobie, I've come to find that there's a perfect balance between the overwhelming experience that is a bar like Babylon balanced with the kind of casual openness that a place like Woody's tends to foster. And that place is O Bar - an experience that stretches from Malate to Ortigas. And I have to admit that it wasn't quite what I had been "trained" to expect from a bar after over six years of going to Bed Malate and such. But in time the place grew on me and then I really figured out what makes the place so amazing.

First, O Bar is what it is, to borrow the overused work jargon. It's a bar that serves food and drinks, plays good music and welcomes pretty much anyone. While you can always argue that O Bar is primarily a gay dance club, it's not like the bouncers are instructed to turn women away or anything stupid like that. O Bar is a rather honest bar - one that knows its limits and does not try to pretend to be anything more than it is. And that kind of candor is important in a community like ours that spends so much of its time hiding in the closet. In that regard, O Bar doesn't require you to act or dress in one way or another. You just get to come as you are and be who you are, and that works out just fine.

There's just enough space to park your drinks, dance a bit and then return to the conversation with your friends. It's a place with regular performances, so it helps to have something to snack on to help wash the alcohol down a bit better. It's a venue for celebrating birthdays, marking anniversaries or meeting someone you've been chatting with for months on end in the hopes of making a real connection. It's still the kind of bar where a stranger might buy you a drink because he thinks you're cute or perhaps a rose might find its way to you as an expression of some serious interest.

Just don't push and shove despite the crowds though. At the very least say "excuse me" as you try to make your way through the bar. After all, there's still common courtesies, unless you were born in a barn or something.

Second, O Bar fosters friendships. Sure, you can say that same of almost any bar, but there are certain elements that really drive this point home, at least in my opinion. First, the place actually has tables for you to gather around and still manage to have a conversation. The occasional drag shows are a source of entertainment and naturally a momentary lull amid the madness of the dance floor for you and your friends to actually toast your glasses, share a laugh and just be together.

I've made more friends at O Bar in the last two years than I have in more than 6 years of hitting the rest of the club scene in Manila. I know it's partly the way I am (I'm not the friendliest guy in the world), but at the same time the way O Bar is organized, you will inevitably end up seeing the same people repeatedly. When you share a table with other people, conversations are bound to happen and soon you'll find yourself looking for these same people the next time you venture out to the bar scene.

And I put a lot of stock in the friends you keep while you go clubbing. Admittedly, I've never gone to a bar alone except for the time I was on a business trip in the US. It ends up feeling somewhat sad and depressing to go alone and trying your best to find someone to seek companionship from. But when you're with friends, you always have a fallback point. No matter how many times you get shot down by the guys that you like, you can always return to your circle of friends, vent your frustrations a bit and then raise a glass and move on to the next guy. This totally makes a world of difference, and I absolutely LOVE my extended O Bar family.

What better way to celebrate with friends than at a place that gives you something to see in the form of the ledge dancers, the drag queens and the poi dancers? It's a place where there will always be something to talk about. It's a bar that plays the kind of music that speaks to your heart and makes you want to scream the lyrics at the top of your lungs as you dance. It's all this and a heck of a lot more.

Third, O Bar is a family in itself. Should you take the time to get to know the people behind the bar, you're bound to meet a wide range of interesting personalities. It's a lot easier to call a waiter despite the crowd when you actually take the time to get their names. You stand a better chance of getting the songs that you like played more if you get to know the DJs better.

The ledge dancers are all rather nice guys when you get down to it (while others are just outright crazy). And of course the O Divas are fabulous both in and out of costume, but I'll leave that to you to really discover on your own.

There's more to the bar than just hooking up and navigating the gloom with a drink in hand. There are some stellar personalities that make every awesome night happen and you're doing yourself a favor by taking the time to get to know the people more. And you have to respect what O Bar tries to do to support the gay community in the city. Most major dance clubs limit themselves to being open from Thursdays - Saturdays since this is the most cost-effective way of doing things. O Bar does its best to open its doors almost every night in order for wandering queers to have a place to crash and have fun despite everything else going on in their lives. And with Ortigas open from Wednesdays to Sundays and Malate open every day, that's quite the commitment to keeping their doors open for everyone.

 Fourth,  O Bar understands drag culture, and I find this to be one of the most important facets of the bar versus all others. For O Bar, drag performers are not just meant to be subject of ridicule, which is far too common in our country today. Drag is an art form in itself that, like theater, can express itself through drama, comedy and everything else in-between. Other bars have added drag queens to their evening arrangements for the sake of having them without really understanding why. O Bar knows why drag queens are a critical piece of gay culture and they perform quite the service to foster and grow the art form.

Beyond just supporting it, O Bar celebrates drag culture, which is a phenomenal thing indeed. I've encountered other reviews of O Bar that complain that the drag numbers get in the way of dancing or serious hooking up, and I respect that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But when  you open yourself to it, you'll realize what makes the drag performances so important. They're about celebrating the full range of diversity that comes with the term "gay" in all of its marvelous and colorful glory. Drag queens represent many of the best things about gay culture - the need to express who we really are through color and style, the courage needed to don a dress and perform in front of so many people just as we find the nerve to be who we really are with those closest to us, and the ability to laugh at ourselves no matter how bad things get because if you can't see the joy in things, then the rigors of gay life will crush you.

O Bar is the closest we'll get to having dinner theater in the country right now, which I hope will change some time in the future (fingers and toes crossed)! I can't think of another bar that really allows drag queens to elevate their performances to an art form in the way that O Bar does for the O Divas. They have dedicated stages for their numbers, the investment of additional lighting just to feature them better and of course the fact that they are positioned in a manner that allows the drag queens to get up close and personal with the audience.

It's one thing to try to keep yourself separated from the events on the stage as you watch these divas strut their stuff. But it's another thing entirely when they take the steps and pull members of the audience up on stage to have some fun alongside them. It's another experience entirely to have them wade through the crowds as they perform their numbers or even descend from the ledge cages to land on your table. When you come that close to a drag queen, you can't help but feel a twinge of envy that these individuals have found such an empowering and public way of expressing themselves when you on the other hand worry if you forget not to raise your pinky finger when drinking coffee at work.

Lastly, O Bar just tries to have fun. Everything that bar does is to create an enjoyable experience and an entertaining atmosphere. It's not about trying to present a venue that feels like your hobnobbing with high society. It doesn't try to put on airs. It doesn't try to rape and pillage you for all that you're worth. It's a bar put together by a group of people who want to answer a need in the community, the need to have a place where we can step out of our closets for a moment, let our hair down (or put the wigs on), apply a little foundation (if that's your thing) and just meet up and gather with other friends in order to have a good time.

And man, I have so many amazingly wonderful memories because of O Bar, the people I've met there and the many, many things I've seen while there as well. And as much there are often a million other things that I could do on a Sunday night like rest up for the work week ahead or try to test out some new restaurant or whatever, the moment we start to receive invitations from friends to join them at the Bar, it becomes a different little argument entirely. More than anything else that I do, I know that a night of O Bar is practically guaranteed to be an awesome experience because of all the diverse elements that go into every night.

These are probably my five biggest reasons for continuing to support O Bar the way I do. And I'm thankful for that very first night that Tobie dragged me to the bar despite my hesitations. At the time I still had ridiculous reservations about going since I believed myself to be "a Bed person" (despite never having gone into O Bar to compare). And what I found was that O Bar doesn't give a crap about that sort of thinking. You can have fun here tonight and maybe go back to the likes of Bed or Republiq tomorrow. It all doesn't really matter since all the other bars can't offer the total experience that O Bar does, and thus you're bound to come back for more.

And so I've continually gone back time and time again and all other bars seem like a distant memory to me. I can't imagine spending an evening anywhere else. And for any major event like the White Party or Halloween, I don't even think about where I'm going to be that evening - it's definitely going to be at O Bar.

So thank you O Bar for becoming my second home on the nights when I'm trapped at the office. Thanks for being supportive of the community and really presenting us all with a place to be ourselves and have fun. And thanks for playing such a big role in my life as a gay man together with the man that I love.

Just don't let him perform in drag again. LOL
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  1. WAAAAH  you mentioned I did drag in O bar! HAHAh!

  2. Hi, so where is O Bar again (is it Malate or Ortigas?) and which day would you recommend to go? Thanks.

  3. O Bar has branches in both Malate and Ortigas. It's hard to "recommend" a day to go through, it really depends on what you're looking for. Malate is smaller but is open every day with drag shows on Sundays to Thursdays. Ortigas is only open from Wednesday to Sundays with drag shows daily. Weekend crowds for both bars can get pretty insane, but some people look for that sort of thing.

  4. Want to go there, but i don't have friends to go there with.

  5. Tricky "problem" to have, but maybe it'll make for an interesting adventure if you try going on your own at least once. And if you see me and my partner there, be sure to say hello so we can toast a drink or two =D