A brief history of Davao gay bars

At a time when the hottest social subject that keeps bobbing in and out of the headlines, at least historically, is about LGBTQIA+, it’s about time we take a peep at the gay revolution that has affected Davao’s milieu over the years.

Davao region, in fact, has been at the forefront of gay movement in Mindanao for decades now. In retrospect, the first ‘same sex marriage’ in the country happened in Compostela Valley on February 4, 2005 between two members of the New People’s Army (NPA). The event, well chronicled in media, was done under the rules of the underground movement.

To the credit of the LGBTQIA+ community, the first Pride March in Davao City was held on March 4, 2016, followed by another similar event three months later, on June 1, 2016. Thereafter, on a yearly basis, the gay parade has been done every June in the city’s downtown area. (The first Pride March in Asia was conducted in Manila on June 26, 1994.)

A testament to the growing LGBTQIA+ movement in the city are the gay and lesbian associations that have sprouted in recent years. The more active clubs are Boulevard League of Gays, Salmonan Isla Verde Miniforest LGBT, Ugnayan LGBTQ of Ilang Association, Buhangin United Gays Association, United Gay Association, Lez Be Friends, Pretty Boy Academy, GLUTA, HUBAG.COM, Boyzone Davao, Planet Eagle Family, Fab LGBT, Racos Davao, United Gays Association of Toril, Inc., The Friendzone, and LGBTQ Davao City by MGO and Lesbian.

LGBTQIA+ revolution started in Davao way, way earlier. Outside their usual participation in comic skits, beauty parlors, fashion design events, and beauty pageants, open gay and lesbian social involvement started more openly in the late 1970s.

Davao’s first gay bar (name forgotten) opened in 1980 in a renovated garage; it was a discreet drinking pub situated directly across present-day Tower Inn along Elpidio Quirino (formerly Tomas Claudio) street. The waiters, typically macho and good-looking, wore undershirts (singlets) and fish-net briefs that made the crotch conspicuous. The gay lounge did not operate long enough after its existence was reported over radio station dxRH and raided by the police.

In the 1990s, the most popular gay bar was Midnight, situated at the junction of J.P. Cabaguio and J.P. Laurel Avenues. It was, for some time, a trendy drinking pub but over time it became notorious for nocturnal brawls. Efforts were made to revive its halcyon days by changing its name, but the notoriety attributed to the place eventually led to the bar’s demise.

In 2000, another gay bar (name forgotten) later sprang along Graciano Lopez-Jaena Street, the road leading to Rizal Memorial Colleges campus at Quiambao Heights. It operated in a stand-alone structure that used to be a snack lounge. Its most noticeable landmark was the statue of a squatting Mexican, chin on his knees and with his sombrero, a broad-brimmed felt hat. Inside, it had a dais where macho dancers presented their sensual performances.

The city’s longest surviving gay bar is Boyztown, launched in the early 2000s and now operating at The Site, at Jacinto Extension corner Mapa Street. The businesss has already undergone three reincarnations in identity and management. It is known among the LGBTQIA+ simply as Bt Davao, a short form of its original name. Outrage, an online magazine, in its July 27, 2013, travelogue titled ‘Bt: Where the boys are in Davao City,’ described the haunt’s ambience:

“But, no, [Bt Davao] isn’t a grandiose place. It’s actually but a small place – a loft-like venue, with the downstairs area able to host over 50 people (tightly gathered together), and the upstairs area able to host 30 more people (also tightly gathered together).  There are tables outside, too, for 20 or more people – though because of the 1:00 AM curfew, there are more who prefer to stay inside even if the place gets (too) packed (for it to still be comfy).

“But exactly because it’s a small-ish place, is why many flock to it. People know people. They chat. They say hello. They smile.  And for the too-obvious tourist like me (current state: long hair, so VERY non-clone-like for a gay person), they stare, craning heads to check out the “stranger” in their midst. This is a community of sorts. Of Davao City’s MSM [men having sex with men] …

“There’s singing, too. Bt is, after all, a singalong bar. And no, good voice is not a prerequisite – particularly because just about everyone singing may already have had a drink or two by the time their r turns come. But that they have fun, that’s apparent.” (Paragraphing mine.)

There used to be a gay bar (name forgotten) also along Rizal Street in the 2000s, just beside the Phil-Am building. Prior to its conversion, it was a popular cabaret-type nightclub.

Today, Davao’s extant gay bars include, among others, the Halley’s at Bacahoa Village in Cabantian, Buhangin District; comedy bar Zigudo along Florentino Torres Street; Stre3ts Urban Lifestyle Pub at Loyola Street, Obrero District; Fame Disco Pub at corner Legazpi and San Pedro streets; Adam’s Apple Bar, also known as Salambat, at Km. 7, J.P. Laurel Avenue; and Masculados Restobar at Anda Street.