This is the sad story of my favourite bar in Angeles City, Philippines, and its decline – a decline that is symptomatic of the decline of the bar area around Fields Avenue.
The bar was called Heartbreaker. I first visited it in November, 2006, and made these observations in my diary:
“Next stop was Heartbreaker. This is a very high bar with a large central stage and a stainless steel mezzanine above, where customers can sit and overlook the action. I counted 30 girls dancing in pink bikinis. I got chatting to a waitress and bought her a drink. She told us a lot about the bar and showed us round, all the way to the top. The style could be described as “stainless steel meets opera house”: there was a Baroque cupid supported every light fitting, and Art Nouveau statues acted as pillars. At the very top was a fairy tale, low-relief German street scene under a painted starry sky – the only problem being that we seemed to be the only customers who got that far. Honeyko and I agreed that it was very romantic and that it was our No. 1 club. The waitress told us that the owner was German. I also met an Italian manager, who told us that the bar had been open for three months, replacing Pick Up Disco. Before we left, we went for a drink at the mezzanine level where we could overlook the stage downstairs. We found that the gogo girls alternated with “cultural dancers”. I spoke to one of them and she told me that it was traditional Philippine dancing. It was vaguely like Ram Thai, but blander – a nice touch, though.”
I managed to get one underexposed shot of the fairy tale, low-relief Hansel and Gretel style street scene, made even less clear by the editing out of my honeyko, but it gives the general idea.
Luckily, I got a good shot of the exterior of Heartbreaker at its best. The bas-relief frieze is a pearl-of-price, a sort of Parthenon Marbles meets Angkor Wat Apsara. The two statues of Nubian women on the balcony look as though they might have been taken from Tutankhamun’s tomb, and draw the eye to the stylish lettering around a broken heart logo. The double doors to the balustraded balcony are studded with golden hearts, butterflies and stars, and it declares itself to be a “Night Club” rather than a bar.
Heartbreaker was particularly impressive at a time when most of the other bars in AC were plain, tin-roofed shacks, like Bunny Ranch.
I can only applaud the poetic vision of the German owner. He wanted to create something that was more than a mere gogo-bar, and spent a lot of money on design features that the average monger would not even notice, let alone appreciate. Heartbreaker was not just about sex, but about love, poetry and culture. It added a lustre of romance to the otherwise mechanical routine of sex for money.
I visited again in July 2008 to find that Heartbreaker had been taken over by the Dollhouse group, and renamed Crystal Palace. The interior was much as before except that the stage had been moved to the right, and an upper tier had been added. This was the time of the Korean takeover, epitomised by Club Atlantis, which, at that time, had 500 girls on its books (I counted 80 on the tiered stages on one of my visits). The Dollhouse group followed the same model (which I termed “girl power”) and involved packing the stage with girls – and it worked! I found it totally mesmeric – so, although the renamed bar was more hardcore and less poetic, I still liked it.
As it was now under the same management, it had the advantage of a “pass-through” to Dollhouse (a curtained doorway), which was a convenient way to pass from Real Street (on which Crystal Palace was situated) to Fields Avenue (where most of the other bars are), and to see another girl-packed stage on the way. I spent most of my time looking at the girls, but didn’t miss the opportunity to take a look upstairs. All the romantic decor was still in place, though, as before, there was no-one around to enjoy it (they were all goggling at the gogo girls).
A few weeks ago, I visited Angeles for the first time in 11 years, and planned to start my evening in my favourite bar. As I was coming from the Royal Amsterdam Hotel on Fields Avenue, the quickest way was through Dollhouse and the pass-through. I pulled the curtain aside and nearly bumped into a waitress coming the other way.
“Where you going?” she asked.
“Crystal Palace,” I replied.
“Closed. This kitchen now.”
Shock horror! My favourite bar had turned in to a kitchen!
Next day I went to Real Street to take a look, and was horrified at the dereliction. Real Street used to be one long strip of bars. The building on the corner of Real Street and A. Santos Street had been demolished, and all the other bars closed – except one at the far end, The Body Shop, which deserves honourable mention as a well-managed bar with an attractive line-up of dancers, though one of the girls I talked to lamented the shortage of customers, Real Street being somewhat out of things these days.
As you can see from the photos, Heartbreaker / Crystal Palace is in a terrible state. All that is left of the original facade is the long frieze and one of the bas-relief panels, and I don’t suppose they’ll last much longer. Perhaps I should “collect” them, like Lord Elgin did with the Parthenon Marbles, and indeed, I’d rather look at those Apsara-style hotties than reliefs of muscular Greek hoplites any day! Two grubby awnings cover the elegant balustrade, and the Nubian statues are long gone, along with the row of plants in elegant urns. It was sad to see this poetic vision in such decline. I feel I want to declare it a listed building, restore it to its original state, and open it for cultural tourists, but what chance has this building when the beautiful Art Deco Metropolitan Theatre in Manila is also in a sorry state of repair? Hopefully, somebody will buy it, renovate it, and reopen it, but with the run down condition of the rest of Real Street, and properties going a-begging on Fields, it is not likely.
Here is a close-up of the frieze and the remaining bas-relief panel. I think you can see why I prefer them to the Elgin Marbles! The frieze appears to depict a harem, as only women are portrayed. The Ionic columns, and the chaise-longue, suggest a Roman setting, though the women have the full, rounded breasts of the Apsara in Khmer temple carvings. The central figure in the bas-relief panel could be Daphne handing out laurel wreaths for victory in sport or battle. The headgear and moustaches of the men give them a medieval Germanic look, perhaps reflecting the heritage of the German owner. One of them appears to be carrying a flag, so perhaps the scene is some kind of victory celebration – possibly the victory of the visitor over the “mind-forged manacles” of his life in the west. Let me know if you have better interpretation.
The bar’s website is still online http://crystalpalace-ac.com as it is part of the Dollhouse Group, whose other bars are still open. It seems to have been last updated in December 2017, and the drinks prices advertised in the recent photos (Local drink = 75, Lady drink = 150) seem about right for that date, yet all the AC websites and forums I consulted before my visit continue to recommend it, for example: https://www.philippinesredcat.com/best-go-go-bars-in-angeles/
I decided to give an Arthurian-theme to my next evening, and discovered that the fate of Heartbreaker / Crystal Palace was repeated in several other places in the entertainment zone. I started off at Lancelot, and as there were only four girls on stage (to be fair, it was only about 7 PM, and most of the bars get going about 9 PM), I hurried on to Camelot, a bar that is much praised in the forums for its line up of attractive dancers, but – another shock – it had closed! It is at the far end of Fields, beyond the Walking Street barrier, so I turned round with the intention of changing to a pillaging theme at Viking (which is towards the other end of the street). On my way I passed Red – closed, and Owl’s Nest – closed. Oh dear, I thought, what’s going on?
Perhaps, as in Thailand, it is because the girls have other alternatives. The Philippine economy grew by 6.2% in 2018, and the call-centre industry is booming, giving well-paid employment to many Filipinos. Put simply, young women no longer have to strut their stuff on a stage just to survive, and that can only be a good thing.
Bangkok Byron is famous (or should that be “infamous”?) for writing poetry (or should that be “doggerel”?) about his adventures (or should that be “misadventures”?) in the bars of South East Asia, so he can’t resist putting it all into a sonnet (and every word is true!)
Why do you have to be a heartbreaker
When I was being what you want me to be?
Suddenly, everything I ever wanted
Has passed me by…
– DIONNE WARWICK
I took her to a bar called Heartbreaker,
a fairy palace in a shanty town
of tin-shack gogo bars of no renown;
it was the perfect place for me to take her:
Here, rather than the usual bored dance
of gogo girls in barely-there bikinis,
cultural dancers, gyrating like genies,
gave sex a gloss of glamour and romance.
Sitting upstairs, with painted sky above
a row of houses round the mezzanine,
like a Hansel and Gretel opera scene,
we drank our San Mig Lights and fell in love.
That fairy palace was our matchmaker –
But it turned out she was the heartbreaker.
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