Angeles City: Same Same But Different Part 5
I first went to Angeles City in 2006, and visited occasionally up to 2010. In that year I got married, and in the belief that, if it is worth doing at all, it is worth doing properly, I turned my back on P4P (and as there were no more bargirl muses, laid aside Bangkok Byron’s lyre). Nine years later, in 2019, things went pear-shaped, and Bangkok Byron went in search of his muse again. Since then, he has visited the Philippines five times, and was to find many differences between now and then:
In 2006, the biggest and best gogo bar in Angeles City was Blue Nile. It had a large, high interior, and a unique hydraulic stage. One group of girls danced on the main stage, and another group on the hydraulic stage behind them. This stage could be raised to showcase the dancers, or lowered, to let them off for a set change, or if one had been called to sit with a customer. The manager told me that Blue Nile had been voted the best gogo bar in South-East Asia for the past four years.
But there were new kids on the block: Heartbreaker and the Dollhouse had just opened. Heartbreaker was my favourite bar for many years for reasons I describe in my submission of that name. As for Dollhouse, I love its Art Deco facade, but the girls never appealed to me, then or now.
In 2006, I can remember them looking bored, and barely moving, with their mobile phones in their hands, or stuck down their butt cracks (today’s phones are a bit too big for that!) Soon after, Club Atlantis opened with a whole new concept of what a gogo bar could be. This is what I wrote in my diary after my first visit in 2008:
Wow! So many girls! I had that gone-to-heaven newbie grin on my face just like I had on my first sight of Rainbow 4 several years ago. The bar is arranged like a Greek amphitheatre, with three mezzanines for customers, and a two-tiered stage with a balcony above. A huge mural of the sunken continent of Atlantis provides a themed backdrop for the stage, above which are two huge screens showing close-ups of the stage, advertisements for coming events, or pop videos. There is also large mural of the American flag (sucking up to their best customers, perhaps?) and lots of chrome and flashing lights. Girls danced choreographed routines on the two stages, while those who were waiting to dance leaned on the balcony rail watching the dancers below. The girls danced in several different groups, one after another, dressed in different costumes and performing different routines. The main group is called ‘Angels of Atlantis’. Every so often, all the girls go on stage together – and the effect is mind-blowing. I counted 130 girls at one point – that’s by far the most I have seen in one place – ever! I noticed that the girls wore numbers – but unlike anything I have ever seen before, these numbers went into the 1000’s! The highest number I saw was 2056 – but surely that’s just a marketing ploy – they can’t really have over 2,000 girls on their books! The place was so big that the girls seemed far away (I must remember to bring my opera glasses next time) and I wondered how on earth it was possible to communicate with them. I asked a waitress, and she replied, ‘Just tell me the number, and I will call her.’ I saw later how this was done. The waitresses shine a red laser light to attract the attention of the girl. Needless to say, the place was packed with customers. Many of whom looked Japanese, but whom I later found out were Korean.
I watched the show for a long time, but though there were many attractive girls, felt no desire to buy one a drink – not because a Lady Drink is 300 pesos (which is saucy enough), but because the atmosphere wasn’t right. I was excited by the place, but only as a show bar. I felt no connection between myself and any of the girls onstage. Looking around, it clearly did not affect others in this way, as there were many customers, mainly Koreans, entertaining girls. Unlike them, I can’t just ‘pick a number’. I like to make eye contact and see how the girl responds because I am looking for a girl with whom I can have some kind of connection.
As I watched, I realised that I was looking at a new phenomenon – the superagogo. The superagogo is to the gogo, what the supermarket is to the small shop. It’s big, it’s impressive, and it offers a much wider range of choice – but you don’t get the personal service.
This photograph shows Club Atlantis a week ago (you can see they are advertising events for Chinese New Year) . It still runs more girls than any other bar in Angeles, though nothing like the numbers it had before.
The other flagship bars of the Dollhouse Group, Dollhouse and Crystal Palace (formerly Heartbreaker) adopted the same model, which I termed “girl-power”. The formula is simple: pack your bar with girls, and the punters will pack themselves in. In Dollhouse and Crystal Palace, the extra girls danced at mezzanine level, effectively doubling their numbers.
On my November visit, I was horrified to see that my favourite bar, Crystal Palace, was closed, and the Dollhouse mezzanine was empty. The reason is that these days they just can’t get the girls – as you can see in these hiring posters. Similar posters can be seen outside almost every bar. I love the Insomnia poster – it’s about as politically incorrect as you can get! (Try running an ad like that in Farangland and see what happens!). The second poster, outside Champagne, shows how they are trying to attract girls with high salaries (The Robinson Cooperation, which runs many malls, pays sales clerks c. 325 PHP per day). But even a salary that is c. 50% higher + lady drinks + tips + barfines is still not enough to attract girls to the bars. Well, there are better options, these days. There has been a boom in call centres in recent years, and they will pay c. 650 per day – more, if you get promotion.
Fewer girls mean fewer customers and bars are closing. Blue Nile, that flagship of the early 2000’s, is now a tattoo parlour.
Along with Crystal Palace, at least three other bars on Walking Street have closed: Salambo, After Dark and Camelot (all great bars in their day). Many other bars are in a run-down state through lack of investment.
Angeles City is thriving, but the entertainment area around Fields Avenue is in steep decline, and nothing sums it up more eloquently than the reclining odalisque (to use an Art History term) on the roof of Las Vegas bar. The first photo shows how she looked in 2006, the other was taken on my last visit in January 2020 (it’s amusing, but appropriate, how the dirt in her mouth turns her subtle smile into a cynical sneer – the pharaoh looks fed up, too).
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