02C71: 18 Years of O Bar's Ongoing Legacy

18 Years of O Bar Philippines

In my early gay years, my group of friends at the time was what made going out to clubs so fun. Whether it was Bed or Government, we stuck with our group and everything worked out. I'd drink a bit, dance a bit, and just watch people and that was it. I know it was also a personal choice that I didn't really go beyond our friend circle and meet other people, but that is also the nature of those places to some degree.

When Tobie started bringing me to O Bar while we were still getting to know each other, it was a very different experience. Its humbler space in Malate could be described as "cozy", I suppose, and yet they managed to put on drag shows regularly on stage that was little more than a riser. In time, I got to meet the many friends Tobie had made at the bar including a good number of the staff - which was initially weird to me at the time. I don't think I had ever bothered to get to know any of the waiters at other bars. But that was the general vibe at O Bar even back then - everyone was chummy to the point of being quite friendly and familiar. If you started to show up regularly, then you'd really begin to notice a difference in the sort of people who go to O Bar more. At the same time, the staff would notice you becoming a regular face and that would also result in even friendlier treatment as they start to remember your preferred drinks or follow up on any stories you had shared previously.

O Bar has been our primary bar destination over the years and pretty much our only bar or choice recently. Our regular visits have allowed us to develop some great friendships and relationships not just with fellow patrons but also with members of the staff and, of course, the many performers. We'd always encourage people to try going to O because the quality of the performances was something else and continued to get better over time. I've said this many times, but the O Bar approach really leaned into treating drag as the art form that it is and applied the same sort of training and rigor that we see in other performing arts. The bar has also been a venue for showcasing other forms of talent ranging from ballet, indigenous performers, live singing, poi dancing, and even aerial performances. 

It surprises me that O Bar is both universally known but also seemingly ignored when you talk about the local gay scene. I feel like it's trendier for most folks to talk about other bars on social more than O Bar. I'll never understand why this is so - it's just a thing. Just look at how little O Bar was given focus on Drag Race Philippines beyond being a point of comparison for other establishments. And you see local publication efforts like Mega Drag mainly focused on queens who have been featured on the various drag competition shows. Maybe I'm just imagining things, but I definitely feel like O Bar deserves a lot more recognition for its contributions to Philippine drag and the LGBT community at large. And maybe that's part of the what drives us to continue to be such big advocates for the bar. It's why I take so many videos of the different performances and continue to put them out there on the internet in the hopes of getting more people exposed to the artistry that O Bar helps to cultivate. I will always celebrate O Bar.

Last night we joined other O Barians (the term coined to describe O Bar regulars) and other guests who came for the great roster of drag artists for the night to celebrate O Bar's 18th anniversary. There were a lot of familiar faces but also many friends who were missed. The performances we amazing but beyond that it was nice to see a lot of performers from the older years that had moved on to other places. This really made last night feel like a big reunion for O Bar's extended family and a reminder of how many O Divas have gone on to appear on TV both in drag competition shows but also in commercials and other programming. 

O Bar leaned into this aspect to things with the "Your Home" tagline as part of the lead-up to the anniversary. And I've written about the same thing time and time again - that we consider O Bar to be our second home. And for this celebration, we also tried to get little Christmas gifts for everyone - a practice that has pretty much become a tradition for us. And it's better to do this sort of thing during the anniversary because it's when we're most complete versus Christmas itself. Initially, we would just get gifts for the queens that we were closest with. But now we try to have gives for pretty much everyone whether they're performers or members of the staff. I thought we had covered pretty much everyone this year, but now we realized that we haven't been factoring in the kitchen staff, so we'll see if we can get something for them in time for Christmas. 

We can only do so much, but we try our best since O Bar is family. And we'll always go to great lengths to show our chosen family how much we care.