They serve the tables and dance, I’ve been told, naked.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

In the 1990s, the Angeles City area surrounding Clark Air Base in the Republic of the Philippines was not very family-friendly, as is often the case in areas immediately surrounding military installations. The area around the base was full of speak-easies, strip clubs, and worse. A local guidebook listed over 400 bars and clubs in Angeles City. The seedy atmosphere was especially oppressive for the families accompanying U.S. military members assigned to Clark because the seedy areas of Angeles City were the only areas open to them for shopping and entertainment away from the base. The restrictions to travel were based on assessments of threats to U.S. personnel from insurgent groups operating in the Philippines. In May of 1990, two U.S. Airmen had been gunned down in front of the Holiday Inn just outside the base. Walls and fences with Constantine wire topping, armed guards at gates, and guard dogs on patrol along the perimeter of the base ensured the insulation remained firmly in place between the American families and the world of the Philippines.

During my military assignment there, my family was one of the families then living on Clark AB, insulated inside the relatively ‘normal’ conclave with American-style homes, schools, churches, and a golf course.

One of the NCOs assigned to my organization, Rick, operated one of the bars off-base called the Red Baron. He had married a local woman (probably) because, through her citizenship, he could legally own real estate and a business in the Philippines. And all manner of business was legal in the Philippines. Most any business could be carried on there, legal or not, so long as an appropriate share of the profits flowed through the right hands.

My wife, Glinda, liked Rick — he was personable and had been helpful to the family when we were first at Clark, showing us around, running errands, and such. Upon hearing that he operated a bar, she insisted on paying a visit. Having heard a bit about the establishment, I tried to discourage her.

“You really don’t want to go, there, Glinda.”

“Yes, I really do!”

“No, no, no. You really don’t. Let me explain: That bar will be dark and the music loud. The food will be questionable. People will be smoking, drinking, and boisterous — not on their best behavior.” After 22 years of marriage, I should have known that the worst way to discourage Glinda from anything was to try to keep her from it.

“Well, sure, she said. It’s a bar. What do you expect?”

“Well, yes, Glinda. It is a bar. But they have young Filipina waitresses. And…dancers…”

“OK. Sounds nice. The girls need to make a living, too, you know.”

“Yes, Glinda. They do. But you wouldn’t like their uniforms. At the Red Baron, their working outfit is non-existent. They serve the tables and dance, I’ve been told, naked.”

“This isn’t Idaho,” she said, “I expect differences. I want to see Rick’s bar.”

She was, as usual, unmovable. After all, ‘Everybody comes to Rick’s.’

So it was, after warning Rick, on a bright and hot Tuesday afternoon in July (darts tournament day for teams from the base) I found myself walking Glinda up to a dark and heavy-looking wooden door embedded in a white stucco wall off a dark alley under a flashing white-red-and-green neon sign with a likeness of Charles Schutz’ Snoopy riding on the words ‘The Red Baron.’ A slight young Filipino in a white Guayabera was seated on a stool behind a small, rough, counter made from wooden boxes. Eyeing us suspiciously, he asked, “What chew want?”

“We are here at Rick’s invitation,” I said. “We want (I lied) to go into the Red Baron.”

He pressed a grungy black button and, into a little microphone clipped to the lapel of his Guayabera, said, “’Ey boss — you espectin’ some guy wit’ a white woman?” Apparently hearing through an earphone, he nodded and said, “OK, OK.”

Still looking unsure of the situation, he turned and with a key opened the heavy door, he said, “You can go in. Watch yer step. It’s dark.”

And it was dark. Unbelievably dark after the brightness of the sun on white stucco. The room throbbed with stomach-vibrating music. The air was heavy with cigarette smoke. A Filipina hostess dressed in a fluorescent orange bikini met us and escorted us to a table. It was a good thing she did because our eyes were struggling with accommodating to the dark and we could never have found our way. “Would you care for a menu, Sir?” She shouted over the music as we were getting ourselves seated.

“Not yet,” I yelled. “Can I have a San Miguel in a bottle and a Sprite for the lady?”

I think she said, “Of course,” as she turned and walked away.

Sitting in the dark our eyes began to slowly accommodate, and vision began to return. We could see our table had a red-and-white vinyl checked tablecloth and there was a chrome paper napkin dispenser in its middle. Tables around us were busy — most with four or six men from the base — some in uniform. All we could hear was the driving music, but it was obvious from the expressions and actions that we could see that they were merry-making. The seated customers seemed to all be men. Occasionally a loud groan or cheer from the direction of where I assumed the dart-boards were located would rise above the level of the music. Glowing neon beer signs on the far wall showed a shadowy female form gyrating to the sound of the music on a raised pedestal in the middle of the room.

Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

The tables were being waited on by young Filipina women with trays loaded with bottles and cardboard serving boats. Occasionally a flutter of quick motion at a table followed by raucous laughter would indicate that perhaps one of the servers was attempting to avoid an unexpected touch. As our eyes slowly began to adjust, one of the servers approached our table with my San Miguel and a red plastic glass on a tray. As the server leant over the table to place our drinks for us, I felt Glinda suddenly and firmly grasp my arm tightly enough to make me flinch — her nails may have drawn blood.

“DAAANNN!” She whisper-shouted in my ear over the music. As the girl turned and walked away, Glinda continued in the same hissing, frantic tone, “She’s naked!”

Sigh. “Well, yes, she is naked,” I said turning to Glinda shrugging. “I told you the servers and dancers here may be naked.”

“Yes, yes,” she said, “But…but…I mean…she’s naked. Really naked. Completely naked!”

“And just what,” I asked, “did you think naked meant?”

As the music suddenly died down between numbers, Glinda whimpered, “I don’t know. I guess maybe in a bikini or at the worst topless. Can we go now, please?”

“Sure!” I replied. “As soon as I finish my San Miguel and pay our bill.”

My eyes had become so adjusted to the darkness that I could now clearly make out the physical beauty of the servers and the dancer in the neon glow. From across the bar, cigar in hand, Rick waved to me.

Glinda was subdued and quiet as we drove home. “What else,” she asked, “goes on in there?”

“There are rooms,” I told her, “upstairs, that they rent by the hour should a customer and one or more of the servers wish some ‘alone time.’ Rick says his wife runs that part of the business, and I know no more than that.” I thought it best not to mention some of the ‘games’ that I had heard of that were played right there at the tables in the serving room for tips and such. The rest of the ride home was very quiet.

So ended our first and last visit to the infamous Red Baron of Angeles City.

Retired environmental manager. Reader, traveler, quick with a hand or a smile.

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