Cebu has a fantastic nightlife. The scene may be smaller than in Manila, and everything does shut down a bit early - about 2:30 AM on weekdays - but the overall quality is great and you can easily get from place to place, especially at nighttime when traffic is light. This makes it easy to pack a lot of quality party time into a short time period.

So where does all this partying take place? Cebu's last disco closed in 2003. This is because Cebuanos consider dancing to music from a recording as silly and dated. Cebuanos are consummate party animals and don't need much encouragement to start dancing, singing, or drinking, but, these days, if there's no live band at your club, you're out of the running.

There are two exceptions. Halo, in SM, and Brix, in Ayala, do pump music from the speakers. On weekends, both places become packed to bursting point with horny teenagers. Brix has a few billiard tables, but if you want to poke balls with a cue the better place to go is 9 Ball, in SM and on General Maxillom Avenue, or Sencia's, wedged between the Waterfront and the flyover.

There are no bars in Cebu. There are establishments euphemestically called "bars" but there is not a single establishment with a long counter where customers can sit around and complain to the bartender about their bosses. That we don't have, yet. If properly implemented, that might be an excellent investment right now.

While Cebu lacks bar-like bars, it does have a lot of girlie bars, euphemestically known as KTV's or karaoke bars. The real karaoke joint where you can take your mom, meanwhile, is called a "family KTV." There are only two family KTV's; one at the Gaisano Bowlingplex and K1, at Crossroads. K1 has all the latest songs - Avril Lavigne, for instance - whereas the girlie bars mascarading as KTV's have no songs in their catalog more recent than ABBA.


There are a number of places with stages and live bands, and most do not deviate from the basic format. Usually, there will be two bands, and each will do two sets, with short gaps between the bands. However, on a weeknight, only one band may do three sets (but may be surprised to be confronting a full house). The first set commences around 9 PM.

Almost no Cebuano band plays original songs; all deliver perfectly executed covers of Western and, to a lesser extent, Tagalog hits. Given the size of the city, the quality of the Cebuano bands is amazing; they perform at a level you would expect to find at a major cosmopolitan metropolis. Little wonder, then, that every now and then one gets yanked away to perform on cruise ships or at clubs in Dubai.

The most famous of resto-bars featuring live bands is, perhaps, Ratsky's, in the Ayala Entertainment Center. This is an expansion from Manila. While the design of the Cebu's Ratsky's is far better than the one in Manila, they haven't shaken the unfortunate tendency to fly in bands from Manila to alternate with the local bands. The quality of the Manila bands isn't bad, to be sure, but they seem to be less in tune with the crowds, perhaps because of language difficulties.

A long-established favorite is Jukebox, in the Cebu Convention Center on Arch Reyes, near Ayala. While they do play contemporary hits, the bands at Jukebox are not alternated enough - the featured bands tend to be the same week after week - and the repertoire of the favored bands seems to be a bit heavy on 70's disco hits such as "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire. Jukebox are currently under renovation.

Speaking of renovation, Camp Zitro morphed into Camp Z after a revamp which was completed in September, 2004. To be honest, when military-themed Camp Zitro opened in 2002, I didn't expect it to stay around this long, despite cute touches such as dining attendant uniforms modelled on army fatigues. The food has remained terrible since day one, and the service is little better. But Camp Z remains a popular nightspot - people tend to gather there and you end up going back, perhaps due to the good quality of the bands and the convenient location.

One of the coolest places is perhaps Sinners and Saints, a spacious nightspot located in the Northgate Mall, which opened in 2003. Sinners and Saints has a unique ambience derived from the cute concept: little devils and angels abound. The decor apparently cost half a million dollars - that's a lot for Cebu - and is appropriately sinister.

Another great place is The Village Courtyard. A restaurant and bar complex called The Village opened on the grounds of an old airfield across the Waterfront Lahug in 2001, and immediately drew crowds. But when the Ayala Entertainment Center arrived on the scene in 2002, the young and hip people left, and a few geezers were left behind sipping margaritas in what used to be one of the hottest bars, Yo! Latino. The Village fought back by remodelling an open courtyard, adding a stage and seats. It's now one of the nicest places to party, especially because the menu features authentic pizzas baked by the Italian restaurant next door.

An old favorite is Slabadu, which you may call Slabaduy because of the tacky decor ("baduy" means "tasteless" in Cebuano). But Slabadu is nonetheless an excellent place to spend the evening. The bands have honed their craft after years of entertaining birthday celebrants, newly engaged couples, and management teams who've just closed a deal. One thing I like about Slabadu is that it's very dark towards the rear; this makes it a good place to bring a date. And the food is superb; try the kinilaw.

In 2003, two giant new clubs muscled in on the scene. Sunflower, on Salinas, and NASA, on A S Fortuna, are huge in comparison to the other places. Financed by Korean capital, the talk in early 2003 - when both clubs were about to open - was to what extent Sunflower and NASA would decimate the smaller Cebuano clubs. It turned out that, despite their size, Sunflower and NASA aren't getting much business except a steady stream of Korean tourists, probably due to the tasteless interior decoration, which probably stems from North Korea.

Over the past year a trend has emerged favoring acoustic, or unplugged, performances, and some of the establishments have acoustic nights. But the place to go for acoustic sound is really Kahayag Cafe, on M J Cuenco, who've been focused on acoustic for years.


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