EDSA – Manila’s Nana Plaza
Did you know that Manila has an entertainment complex similar to Nana Plaza? Neither did I, until I found myself trawling the internet looking for something to entertain me while passing through Manila on my way back from Cebu. The entertainment complex is called EDSA and it is conveniently close to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. As Manila is not the kind of place you want to be walking around in after dark, I looked for a hotel that was as close as possible and came up with the Copacabana Hotel (264 EDSA Extension, Pasay City 1300, Philippines) – 10 minutes by taxi from the airport, just across the road from EDSA, and girl-friendly.
I was reminded of the crime problem in Manila at check-in, when both the receptionist and the bell boy warned me to be careful in the streets around the hotel. In the event, I found that crossing the 10-lane highway to EDSA was my most life-threatening challenge. There is a central reservation and a pedestrian crossing – but hey, this is Manila, so that’s just decoration as far as the drivers are concerned.
At first glance, it looks as though EDSA is a strip of bars – but these are just neon signs advertising what’s inside. There is only one entrance to the complex where I was searched for weapons – guns being a particular problem in Manila. Inside, it is a bit like a small shopping mall. The bars are ranged around the sides of the central hall, along with a coffee shop and a restaurant. There is also a large water-feature, giving an up-market flavour. Unlike Nana Plaza, there is nothing seedy or run-down about it – and it seems to be on the up and up, because the most recent internet reports I could find (from 2003) stated that there were six gogos and a karaoke bar, whereas there are now eight gogo bars – all of them smartly decorated with designer themes. I was struck once again with a contrast that I had first noticed in Angeles City. In a country where most of the architecture is of the shanty town variety (more so than in Thailand), the gogo bars are surprisingly sophisticated.
My plan for the evening was to try to see all the bars, talk to a few girls, and perhaps barfine a girl later on – but only if I found one I really liked and the ‘chemistry’ was good. It was the end of a two-week visit which had included a trip to Angeles followed by four days in Cebu, so in terms of female company, I was well satisfied (if not glutted). I was also tired from travelling, so I could, more or less, take it or leave it. Funnily enough, I often find the best girls when I am in this frame of mind – and often pick the wrong ones when I am gagging for it.
First stop was Firehouse – a legend from the Ermita days before the clean-up by Mayor Lim, when it relocated. The bar is fairly large, with decoration based on its name, the best part of which was a vintage red fire engine on the stage (which the girls danced in front of and on top of). The music was techno-boring and too loud. It was 8.40, and there were about 18 bored-looking girls on stage, half of them in black, and half of them in white bikinis with fire logos on the tops. I studied them for a while, and decided that the girls were, overall, better-looking than those in a typical Angeles or Nana Plaza bar, but that they looked harder and colder. I could see none of the type I go for (sweet and demure). A GRO (Guest Relations Officer) tried to interest me in a back massage, but I politely sent her away. Then the mamasan tried to encourage me to take a girl. It was too early, but I did get some information on prices. A lady’s drink is a whopping (in the context of this country, of course) 325 pesos and the barfine is 1000 pesos (1000 pesos = $21, €16, £11, 705 THB). San Mig Lite – my favourite tipple when I’m in the Phils – was 110 pesos. By about 9, things were warming up and I counted 38 girls on and around the fire engine – several of them really beautiful. However, the bar was only half full of customers, even though it was Saturday night. At least half of those were Japanese. <If that's the case, then the prices you just mentioned will soon be going up – Stick> In the half an hour or so I was in that bar, I was only ‘hit on’ twice, once by the GRO and once by a gogo girl just before I left. I had a similar experience in all the bars. The girls are very well managed and are not allowed to pester customers. Even if one does approach you, they are very easy to send away. In this respect, a night out in EDSA can be more relaxing than Nana Plaza, where girls in some bars can be pushy.
Next was Pitstop. The decor was themed around motor racing, but was rather half-hearted. For example, the two petrol pumps on either side of the stage were just large pictures – the real thing would have had more impact. The 13 girls onstage wore chequered-flag bikinis. Here, lady drinks are a more reasonable 195, barfine 1000. Once again I was hit on by a GRO offering a back massage. I don’t know why the management bother with GRO’s because they are just pests, really. If I’m going to talk to anybody, or let anybody massage my back, it will be a girl I have chosen from the stage. There were some good-looking girls here, though overall, the standard was not as high as Firehouse – still, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to talk to them!
I was on my way to Cotton Club when I got a tantalising glimpse through the door of a bar called Bullets & Arrows. It was not mentioned in any of the internet reports I had read, so I assume it must be fairly new. Incidentally, the glimpse was only possible because the bars have open doors – quite unlike the curtain-shrouded portals of Thai bars. The theme was Wild West, and the two-level stage was designed to look a prairie wagon. There were about 22 average-looking girls on stage at 10 wearing tan bikinis with fringes. Lady drinks were 195 or 325. This two-tiered pricing is common in EDSA, and I hate it. I mean, what do you say to a girl, “I’m a cheap Charlie, so I’m only going to by you the cheap lady drink”? A guy I got talking to later said that the best thing to do is to forget the lady drink and give them a tip. That way, they get all the money, and the bar is cut out of the equation. However, it’s not that simple, as the girls have to meet quotas. The bar seemed quite full, but I realised that that was just an illusion, because when the girls changed shift, I realised that most of them had been sitting around the bar. The number of customers was quite low, and once again, many of them were Japanese.
The next stop was Cotton Club. This is the biggest bar in the EDSA complex, with two levels. There is an upstairs mezzanine with a smaller bar where you can sit and watch the girls from above. There are two stages. A long, thin central stage, and at the far end of the bar, a smaller stage crossing it like a ‘T’. At 10.30 there were 13 girls on the central stage and 4 on the small stage, many of them very cute. In fact, girl-wise, I’d rate this bar as 1st = with Firehouse. One girl in particular caught my eye. She had a pretty face and the kind of petite body that I liked. I was going to signal her to join me, when the mamasan intervened. The mamasans in EDSA like to be much more directly involved than is the case in Angeles City or Thailand. She shone a laser dot on the girl to attract her attention, and moments later she was by my side. Her name was Michelle, and she was 19. Lady drinks here are 100 or 322. I decided that the best strategy was just to offer her a drink and let her choose (she chose the cheaper one). She was a real stunner and she knew it. When I asked her what tip she wanted for long time, she said 7,000. I nearly fell off my stool. I think she was playing me for the newbie. How they spot them, I don’t know. I am no newbie to gogo bars, or even to the Phils, but I was a newbie to EDSA and she spotted it straight away – or perhaps it’s because there are so many high-paying Japanese men in EDSA – or she didn’t like my balding head and fat gut – or I’d forgotten to gargle with Listerine again. Whatever – I’m not a cheap Charlie, but I am a Yorkshireman, and I had no intention of forking out a figure that would buy me three girls (or more) in Angeles!
On to bar number five, Space Girls, where I decided to give the San Migs a rest and have a coke (also 110 pesos). I was already tired from the early start and flight from Cebu, and I knew that if I had any more alcohol, that there would be no point in barfining. The waiter (yes, male in this bar) brought me a can and glass full of ice. I dread to think where they get the ice from, so I played safe and drank straight from the can. Space Girls is decorated to look like the inside of a spaceship. There were 11 average-looking girls on stage at 11 o’clock, but few customers, mostly Japanese. Once again, I had to shoo a GRO offering a back massage. When the girls changed over, I spotted one I liked and after a quick word with the mamasan, she joined me for a drink (195 pesos). Her name was Ann, she was 20, and while still small and slim, was ‘rounder’ than the previous girl, with a cute, puppy-fat face and fuller bosom. She was easy to talk to and I quite liked her, but she seemed distant, so I decided to pay the bill and move on.
Casino is the nearest bar to the main entrance and has the pushiest ‘hello boys’ (most bars have ‘hello girls’ – a much better idea) but the least attractive girls. Another deterrent was the 325 pesos lady drinks. The only good thing about this bar is the playing card pattern design of the girls’ bikinis. I had not been there long, when a guy came over and said, “I’ve seen you a couple of times this evening.” His name was Steve, and like me, only here because he was passing through. We chatted for a while about the relative merits of Thailand and the Phils, and while I agreed with his enthusiasm for Thailand as a whole, I couldn’t agree that Nana Plaza was better than EDSA. I explained that, the experience I was having now – i.e., of looking round a bar and seeing nothing that I fancied was becoming more and more common in Nana Plaza, on top of which the girls are becoming more and more pushy and overpriced. True, the EDSA bars are also overpriced, though this is somewhat ameliorated by the favourable exchange rate. Overall, I said, there is a sense that Nana Plaza is running down, and that EDSA is on the up and up. He disagreed. He also disagreed with my opinion that the girls in EDSA are better looking – I suppose that, in the end, it’s all a matter of taste.
After the disappointment of Casino, and a second coke, I was gagging for another beer, so when a quick glance at the talent in Samba – the bar in the far corner – revealed nothing promising, I decided to forget the idea of barfining and go for the San Mig instead. There were 12 girls on a small L-shaped stage wearing orange floral-pattern bikinis. The bar had a good atmosphere, and there was a reasonable number of customers. This was one of those bars where the girls seemed to grow on you as you watch (or was it the effect of my fifth San Mig?). By the time I was halfway down the bottle I had identified three I liked. The mamasan must have noticed my stares because she came over and tried to interest me in one of her girls. She pointed out a girl who, though not unattractive, was too tall for my taste, and said, “She good girl. She f*ck you good, and in the morning as well.” I asked her about the three girls I liked, and she mentioned that one of them was new and had only been working for about a month. That clinched it, and within minutes I was introducing myself to Maria (19) over a 325 pesos lady drink. Most of the online forums advise you not to talk to the girls about money – after all, what they get is technically a ‘tip’, and what they get is what you give them. However, as a newbie, I wanted to get it right and not overpay or underpay. She wanted 4,000 (which by now I knew was near the top of the range) so I offered 3,000 (near the bottom of the range) and we quickly settled on 3,500. That, + barfine of 1000, is about 3,157 THB, so similar to Nana Plaza prices. We went to Josephine’s restaurant for a meal. Josephine’s is open plan in the sense that the counter is against one side of the hall interior and the chairs and tables in the middle. The atmosphere was pleasant with several customers and girls eating, drinking or just sitting around and chatting.
We were just about to leave, when I noticed another sign: VIP Rooms. I had seen the sign earlier and assumed that the sign indicated short time rooms, but it turned out it was another gogo bar. It is an upstairs bar next to Firehouse. There were few customers (probably because of the bar’s misleading name) and the girls were nothing to look at, but it was worth the visit to be able to say that I had visited every bar. It was past one o’clock when we headed back to the Copacabana (though, unlike Bangkok, the night swings on until 4 am), and fortunately crossing the road at this time was easy. There were no problems with bringing the girl into the hotel, and Maria must have been there several times before because she knew her way around better than I did. She turned out to be a good choice and we had a good night, marred only by a shower in which the hot water wouldn’t work, and the necessity to be up, packed and ready for the taxi by 7 am.
So how does EDSA compare with Nana Plaza? The complex is much smarter, and the bars more tastefully decorated, however, it is smaller and there are fewer bars (and therefore fewer girls) to choose from. The girls are (in my opinion) better-looking, but not so friendly (though there are some pearls to be found), and the atmosphere is nowhere near as lively. This is partly due to a lack of customers, and partly from the business-like attitude of the girls. Prices are in the same ball-park. The bottom line is that EDSA is not the place to spend your holiday (though there are several other good bars in the Pasay City area). However, if you find yourself based in Manila, or passing through the airport, it is a great place to spend a few nights.
© Rob, 2007
Very interesting report.