Cebu City Nightlife
April 2001

Cebu City has a population of about 700,000 (662,000 in 1995), giving an idea of the population base supporting the nocturnal entertainment infrastructure described below.

Downtown Cebu City probably had its glory days (Colon Street is the oldest street in the Philippines), but like many cities worldwide, it's now composed of decaying multistory concrete buildings housing shops, cheap hotels, small eateries and a plethora of sleazy dives. These are all very basic.
Karaoke: there are probably at least 100 karaoke places downtown. It's not my scene, but for the price of an ice-cold 30 peso San Miguel (** Peso currently trading at 49 to the dollar) and 10 pesos for three songs, you can join enthusiastic crowds and croon to your heart's content... Sing in Visayan, Tagalog or English (just like on my previous visit in 1999, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" is still a big favorite. I just don't get it, it seems antithetical to the Filipino character. But I don't understand much anyway.) Examples: Hawaiian Barbecue House, Inay's Lechon House, Golden Crust Karaoke, Scorpion Gay Bar. The last has a mixed Filipino clientele of straight and gay (most are "bakla," in drag) men, and the GRO's/waitresses are women.
Bikini Bars: aka girlie bars. A good example is Dream Bar. Climb up a narrow, steep, rickety wooden staircase to find a small club with ratty chairs and tables and a small stage where a succession of scantily clad dancers weave to pulsing disco music. No cover charge, San Miguel 60 pesos. A patron may request a dancer or GRO ("Guest Relations Officer", bargirl that doesn't dance) sit at his table for the cost of a "ladies drink," 160 pesos. (Girl gets 40, bar keeps 120.) Filipino clientele. Similar nearby bars include: Bottoms Up, a little more upmarket and ladies drinks 200 pesos. Some really drunk Filipinos the night I visited, who had to be escorted out by security. Manny's Disco, Island Bar, Cobra Bikini Bar.
Discos: Golden Crust is definitely the best. Walk in through a bakery, then through a karaoke bar, then farther in to find the disco. Totally packed every time I've been there, dozens of wildly gyrating Filipinos, mixed gay and straight couples, singles and groups. I'm usually the only foreigner, but get lots of welcoming smiles (if I'm with a Filipina, they always get asked "Is he your husband? Is he straight?")
Aquarius Disco and Haus: fair-sized dance floor, really loud disco. Was packed when I was here 2 years ago, but when I visited last week it had a sparse crowd.
Super Pinoy Dance Hall: upstairs hall with large dance floor, mostly middle-age Filipinos dancing vigorous ballroom style (couple dancing with lots of turns) to loud disco.

Midtown (North of downtown) more upscale and the clubs are in better condition/more expensive. Clientele starts shifting to middle-class Filipinos and foreigners.
Karaoke: fewer than downtown, but more upscale.
Girlie Bars: example, Firehouse: large raised stage with light show, brass rails, and girls in costumes dancing in groups. Comfortable barstools, plush booths for "private discussions." Ladies drink 200 pesos. Others: Silver Dollar Bar, Thunderdome, Volvo, Papillon, Dimples, Viking Midnight Sun Bar, Club Lesley, Exotica.
Live music clubs: Marlborough Bar: live music, mostly Filipino clientele.
Ballroom Dancing: Royal Concourse Mall has ballroom dancing to taped music Friday ABD Saturday nights at midnight.

North/West Cebu City: generally richer and cleaner part of town.
Waterfront Hotel: huge opulent new hotel ($200-and-up rooms) also housing Casino Filipino where the high rollers drop their excess cash. Has a shi-shi modern disco "H20" which I didn't like. Free ballroom dancing on Friday nights.
La Chappelle: restaurant/nightclub, had an incredible band the night I went, the whole place up AND dancing until 3am. Volunteers from Operation Smile (cosmetic surgeons who do cleft palate surgeries in the Philippines every year) showed up at 2am and the band did an extra set just for them.
Jukebox: in a small upmarket mall, live bands and dancing seven nights.
Club Circus: up a winding street in a hidden corner of Barangay Lahug. Feels like a dirigible hangar inside, with cavernous roof and the usual shabby interior. I've been there three times, each time hundreds of patrons dancing to LOUD disco on the huge dance floor. Clientele is a real mix: young straight and gay Filipinos out for a night on the town, foreigners, and "freelancers" out to make some cash. Big fight between foreigners one night, one chair and a few punches got thrown. I've stayed till closing twice (4am)... maximum fun.
Fuel Disco: haven't been there yet, in a small mall across from Cebu Century Hotel.

Bargirls: my two cents worth. It's true, I love buying bargirls ladies' drinks and then asking for their life story. Most speak at least some English, which combined with my rudimentary Visayan allows fair communication. I've read stories in the US about Filipina bargirls being slaves, sold into a life of abuse by their families. As far as I can tell, that's not true: the ones I've talked to are all conventional employees, and most even say their managers treat them fairly (I've never heard that from a sweatshop worker!) But admittedly, being a bargirl is at best a fair choice among even worse options for a woman with little schooling, and most would prefer to be doing something else. A woman who grows up in a Catholic culture with dreams of marrying Mr. Right and living happily ever after, doesn't easily make the switch to being up on stage in a bikini in front of leering men....a degrading experience.
Almost all the bargirls I've met are doing it for financial reasons: usually because they have a child born out of wedlock, but sometimes just because their family needs the money and they get picked. Here in Cebu most bargirls earn 100-200 pesos/night for base salary, and an additional 40-80 pesos for each "ladies drink." This can total 1000-2000 pesos a week (or more if she "goes with customers"), a very good wage compared to hotel maid (300pesos/week), salesgirl (600), or even nurse (1000+ ). Far from being forced to prostitute, many of the bargirls I've spoken to do this job precisely because they make a good wage without having to "go with customers," unlike the many young women on the streets who only make money when they do have sex.
I'd like to add that from what I've seen, the mood in most clubs is very lighthearted; in spite of not really liking the job, most of the women have a lot of fun at work, with lots of joking and they even dance for each other instead of just for their male customers.

Profiles of Filipina bargirls (identified by their barnames, nicknames used at work only): They're all wonderful women in a tragic situation. By the way, I haven't "gone with" a woman from any Cebu club.

Analyn: 20. Worked as a salesgirl until she got pregnant by her boyfriend, who abandoned her during the pregnancy. After the birth she started working as a dancer to support herself and the baby. Her mom is angry at her, doesn't really accept the baby but takes care of it while Analyn works nights at the bar. Has never gone out with a customer, doesn't want anything to do with men right now.

Ziever, 19, finished 4th grade. Raised in a broken home. Has a six-month old baby born out of wedlock. Started working in the bar a few months ago to support herself AND baby. She says her baby keeps her happy! I arranged to meet her and her baby next day at SM Mall for lunch. I carried her baby around for a couple hours while she bought some baby toys and kitchen supplies. Wants to marry a foreigner.

Jessica, 22. Dropped out of school in 6th grade. No children. Working in the bar as a GRO only, not dancing. Doesn't go out with customers, as she can earn enough from ladies' drinks to live comfortably. Would like to get married eventually.

Lina, 38. Had a common-law marriage for 7 years, resulting in 2 children; now separated. Has worked in bars for 8 years. Not much hope for the future, but cheerful in that amazing Filipino way.

Charmaigne, 22. Finished 3rd grade. Comes from a broken home, has worked in clubs off and on for 3 years. Intermittently works as a salesgirl but then comes back to the clubs because the money is much better. Generally doesn't go with customers but does sometimes "if I like him." Wants to find a nice man and get married.

Maria, 19. Has a baby born out of wedlock. Would like to find a foreigner to marry and live overseas.

Nicole, 24. Finished 3rd year of high school. Has 3-year old daughter born out of wedlock. She said she's tried to kill herself 4 times during the past year and her parents sent her to Manila to get away from her problems here. She recently returned to Cebu City and started working in the club 2 weeks ago.

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