Inside Boracay's Not-So-Secret After-Hours Party Place
It’s 10:30 on a Friday night and we’re choosing a table inside an open-air bar in Boracay. There are only about three occupied areas in the space, with several people in each group drinking and laughing. A DJ is blasting house-tinged reggae and ska music from a makeshift booth, while the bartender stands directly across him behind the plastic-covered bar. My friends and I park ourselves at a table right around the middle and survey the place.
There is no shortage of drinks and party places in arguably the country’s best and most well-known leisure island, but most still strictly follow curfew hours set by the local government. A few months ago, it was at 10 p.m., and restaurants and bars stopped serving about an hour before to make sure everybody gets back to their rooms, or wherever they’re staying, on time. Curfew was recently extended to 12 midnight, resulting in popular bars like Boracay institution Epic, the refurbished Summer Place, and relatively new hotspot Aplaya getting inundated with partygoers until the music stops and the lights turn back up just before closing time.
But 12 midnight is way too early for a legendary party island used to hosting all-nighters. In the years before the pandemic, it wasn’t unusual for bars to say goodbye to their last patrons at sunrise, or later, or even never. New rules because of COVID meant the party definitely had to come to an end sometime.
After restrictions were gradually eased, beach-hungry vacationers have started to come back, and business is picking up for many of Boracay’s bars and restaurants. Tourists are looking to blow off some steam—not to mention a few hundred or thousand bucks on drinks and bar chow. And for the serious partygoer, a 12-midnight curfew just isn’t going to cut it.
Enter the after-hours party place.
Somewhere in the island
We’re not going to give the name and location away, but if you’re in the island and looking to keep the party going way past curfew, it shouldn’t be too hard to find. I first heard about it from a new acquaintance who snuck it in about five minutes into our first conversation.
“Punta ka sa ****,” he said. “Grabe dun. Hanggang umaga.”
I had to go check out this party place for myself.
At around 11:00 p.m., the firedancers make their entrance. Did I mention there were firedancers? At one point, I find myself with a fiery spinning headdress, the flames almost licking my scalp and the cloying smell of gasoline going up my nostrils. After the show out comes a plastic tray and I fork over a P50 tip.
At this point, more people have come in. Every table is full and so the newcomers hang out by the bar, ordering their San Miguel Pale Pilsen, San Mig Light, or Red Horse—the only three beers available on the menu. There are P150 cocktails served in Styrofoam cups, with paper straws that become useless after about 30 minutes as patrons nurse their drinks while engaging in that most ancient of social sport: making eyes at the stranger across the room.
At 11:50 p.m, over the loud music, I turn to my friends and yell out the time. Curfew was in 10 minutes and if we weren’t out of there by then, my friend said we’ll have to stay there until curfew lifted at 4 a.m. Either that or step out and risk getting fined by local authorities.
During the last Halloween weekend in Boracay, there was news of at least 70 people who were forced to pay P2,500 for breaking curfew. Most were locals, we were told, but some were visitors who had no choice but to fork over the fine because they were caught wandering the streets of the island when they weren’t supposed to.
“Hanggang anong oras ba yung party dito?” I ask one of the bouncers, who was pulling double duty as a waiter as he volunteered to get me my beer.
“Hanggang umaga na sir, mga 4 or 5 a.m.”
“Okay lang sa mga pulis yun?” I press. “Wala bang nanghuhuli?”
“Wala naman sir. Basta nandito sa loob, walang problema. Hindi sila pwede pumasok kapag naka-uniform, pero pag naka-civilian, okay lang.”
At this point, there was already a crush of people inside the space. I recognize a group from earlier that night hanging out at 2 Brown Boys, another watering hole near the Bulabog side of the island. There were some who, according to another friend, came from Epic and Aplaya, both of which had likely already closed for the night. Every table was occupied, so most lingered by the bar, squeezing the necks of their beer bottles as they either chatted with the person next to them or scanned the space for a potential target.
It's a pretty regular sight at any other bar on any other night in any other place, except this isn’t exactly normal times. No one was wearing a mask and social distancing was merely a suggestion, despite the fact that there were signs plastered all over the place. For a moment, it felt like we had entered an alternate universe where COVID didn’t exist.
And for some people I talked to that night, that might as well be the case.
“Di ako naniniwala diyan sa COVID,” Richard* tells me over sips of his Pale Pilsen. The 23-year-old from Quezon City said he was fully vaccinated but that he thinks people are making too big a deal out of the disease that has killed over five million people worldwide. “Pag nagkasakit ako, kakain lang ako ng tama, iinom ng gamot, yun lang. Malakas naman ako, di ako natatakot diyan.”
Ivan, who has long wavy hair dyed blond and owns a restaurant in the island, says he already had COVID and isn’t worried about getting it a second time.
“Nagka-COVID na ko, and I got fully vaxxed na,” he says. “So no, I’m not really worried.”
Thirtysomething Gelo says pretty much the same thing. “Di ako worried sa dami ng tao dito. Alam ko naman nag-RT-PCR test yung karamihan. Tsaka most of them are fully vaccinated.” This is just a few days after the local government dropped the RT-PCR requirement for tourists and now only ask for proof of vaccination.
At some point, Gelo takes his shirt off because he was feeling hot and carries on like that for the rest of the evening.
Of the five or six people I talked to, none expressed any serious concerns about being in an extremely crowded place.
“Nakaka-miss yung ganito,” says Richard, the COVID denier, while looking over the sea of people, most of whom were standing nearly cheek-to-cheek, conversing loudly over the music. “Wala pang ganito sa Manila e.”
The DJ starts a medley of popular pop and R&B hits: “Young, Wild & Free” by Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars; “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison; “This Love” by Maroon 5. A shirtless guy with dreadlocks plays the djembe in time with the tunes, while a woman who looked pregnant walks this way and that before finding a seat in front of a door that seemed to lead to a back room.
'Minimize your voice'
But at around 12:30 a.m., the near-deafening sounds from the speakers are dialed down a few decibels. Curfew is officially on and, according to one of my friends, while the party doesn’t stop, the least the owners of this place can do is not draw any further attention to itself.
Soon we spot one of the bouncers carrying a plastic sign over his head with the Victoria Court “shushing lady” logo and text that reads, “Minimize Your Voice.” He walks around the area and literally shushes anyone whose cackles go over a certain volume.
But even with that and without music, the place is loud. People have broken off into different groups, joining new ones and rejoining their original groups later. A woman in cutoff denim shorts and a bare midriff seems to take a liking to Richard and latches onto him, calling him “baby boy.” Another woman approaches the group and starts inviting people somewhere, although I fail to get any details. “Join kayo!” is all I hear.
One group around a table starts singing the "Happy Birthday" song and offers shots to the celebrant. Somebody behind me knocks over a beer bottle and it shatters to the ground; I feel tiny glass splinters in my flip-flops, but luckily I don’t get hurt. My friend Ralph, who had to leave the place before 12 so he could meet another friend at another bar, sends a message via Facebook Messenger asking if we were still there.
“Yup, still here,” I answer. “Daming tao.”
I try to wear a mask as much as possible, but between taking sips of my beer and trying to carry a decent conversation with other people, it seems next to impossible. I know I put myself at risk, but thankfully, I live alone and can’t infect any of my family (in case I do have the virus). I’m also fully vaccinated, but I still make plans to self-isolate and get tested when I get home if I exhibit the slightest symptoms.
“Walang ganun dito,” says Stella, midriff woman who made it abundantly clear that she had the hots for Richard. (Or maybe she was just teasing). She was answering my question about whether she was worried she was in a place with so many people and might possibly catch COVID. “Halos lahat dito na-vaccinate na. Pag nakuha mo, e di nakuha mo. We just have to live with it.”
It’s almost 4 a.m when I check the time. The bouncer I spoke with earlier had said it was already safe to go out around 3 a.m. and that we shouldn’t worry about getting stopped by cops. We say our goodbyes to new friends we met that night, most of whom I know I’ll probably never see again. I had a few drinks, mostly beers, but don’t feel drunk and eventually make it back to my room after a 10-minute walk. I feel exhausted.
My friend said that, with the dropping of RT-PCR requirements, there’s sure to be an influx of even more tourists descending on the island that weekend, so if I wanted, we could go back the next day, which was Saturday. It takes me a few seconds to consider, but I knew what my answer was going to be. All-nighters in Boracay might be back for good, but if this night taught me one thing it’s that my party-till-dawn days are probably behind me.
*all names have been changed