Out-Of-This-World Parties: An Oral History of Mars

IMAGE courtesy of Jay Server

A boutique hotel now stands at the corner of Makati Avenue and what was once called Pasay Road in Makati City. Before that, however, that space was occupied by a night club called Mars.

Like the red planet it was named after, the “disco” was out of this world, or so its founders believed. Club culture was at its peak in the '70s to the early '90s, with iconic nightspots like Stargazer, Horizon, Louie Y, Coco Banana, Rumors, and Zigzag. There was also Culture Club, which soon gave way to Faces, and then finally, Mars.

“I remember going to Mars for the first time when I was in third year high school with my friends,” says noted fashion and events director Robby Carmona. “Music by DJ Elmer Dado was ahead of its time, tracks that you don’t hear on the radio.”

Model-turned-banker Toni Lorenzo-Sutter agrees. “Elmer Dado was amazing. The music was very current at the time and [there was] a much younger crowd [at Mars] than at Euphoria. “I love to dance and so I would dance the night away in five-inch heels without batting an eyelash,” she adds, laughing.

Carmina Sanchez-Jacob was the club’s marketing assistant in 1993. “Mars was always the "last stop" when people would go out,” she says. “Everyone at some point later in the evening ended up there. The music there was not as ‘pop’ or ‘disco’ as in other places. Tribal music and other early house tunes were part of the DJ sets at Mars.”


Sanchez-Jacob says she met many of the people she eventually worked with throughout her career in Mars. “Elbert Cuenca was our graphic artist, Kenneth Tuazon was my boss, Robby Carmona and I first collaborated on a series of fashion events at Mars.”

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“Carmina…asked me to help her mount a series of fashion shows for Mars,” Carmona says. “Directing fashion shows was a great idea as a career starter after modeling. My first show was to direct a fashion show of a young designer. (It) would give me the opportunity to work with Philippines’ top models. The young designer was Rajo Laurel and the super models were Bea Recto Agnir, Apples Aberin, and Myrza Sison, who became my good friends in the industry.”

“I met fashion personalities the likes of Gerry Katigbak and Rajo Laurel there,” says Sanchez-Jacob. “In the 10 short months that I worked there planning events, I found my calling. Suffice it to say, it laid out the groundwork for my future in this industry. I loved Marvin the Martian and the ‘magazine’ we developed for our projects that year. I still have a copy.”

Sanchez-Jacob says she organized "Maximum Exposure," a series that became the popular counterpart of the "girl of the night" in other clubs. Popular “it girls” at the time like Giselle Toengi, Stacy Brennan, and Amanda Griffin were part of it.


“The ‘Beach Balls’ there were epic,” Sanchez-Jacob adds. “We essentially did a big beach bash with sand and all in the club. You should ask Arnold Vegafria about the time they shut down the electrical grid of San Lorenzo Village because of Jun Poblador's infamous red bulb Christmas tree lighting ceremony.”

“I grew up in Mars and learned a lot from the people I worked with and met (there),” says Maxine Chua, a club regular who liked it so much she ended up working there. “We were the first to throw a foam party, I am very sure about this. This is where I met my now husband, Danny, and my best friend Jay Server.

“It was totally ahead of its time and wasn’t afraid to play the latest tunes even if people didn’t understand them,” she adds.

In March 1996, Club Mars shut down, only to reopen a few months later as Planet Mars. By then, original club owners Kenneth Tuazon and Tito Manapat were joined by new investor partners including Kiko and Joby Oreta, Steven Tagle, Ton Manlongat, Oliver Yulo, Amiel Mercado, and Jay Server.


Server, who was fresh out of college at the time, says he used to patronize the establishment. “One of the owners/managing partners was a good friend of my sister. When they were reconceptualizing the second run, he asked my sister if I would be interested to come on board as an investor initially, then I was invited to take the position of marketing director for the new club.”

In this Q&A, Server, who now runs the dance club Time In Manila, describes in his own words the story of Mars, how it became one of the hottest clubs in Manila’s nightlife history, and why, when it closed down, it was truly the end of an era. Excerpts:

Esquire Philippines: Why was it called Mars? 
Jay Server: I guess it was because of the whole out of this world, off-planet concept. And Kenneth (Tuazon, managing director) had a thing for (Looney Tunes character) Marvin the Martian as well.

ESQ: How easy or difficult was it to open Mars? 
JS: It was relatively very easy to get off the ground as Mars already had a very loyal following from the first one, being one-of-a-kind in a very limited club scene at the time. Once word had gotten around, the existing guest profiles and lists, inviting people to attend our launches and parties was very easy.


ESQ: What sort of ideas did you have about the place in terms of concept and look? How was it different from the other clubs or discos popular at the time (like Euphoria, Equinox, Faces?)
JS: Louie Ysmael and Tito Bobong Velez had the whole world standard-international club/disco look, feel and vibe perfect down to the last detail. They will always be the pioneers for us in this industry. What set Mars apart, I guess, is that we had a younger mindset and were riskier in terms of a general look. Our building exterior and interiors were inspired by the work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s work from the Alien Anthology, down to the alien eggs at the reception and specially fabricated fiber glass wall paneling.

In terms of music we also went in a different direction, opting for a more underground sound selected by our legendary director of music Elmer Dado. At that time, internet was still in its infancy of dial-up, so downloading anything was still a whole galaxy far, far away. We would fly ourselves all over Europe and Southeast Asia to actually buy physical records and new releases. We would attend trade expos and fairs to do so and get concepts and ideas from all over. A lot of music, still popular to this day, were played first at the club. Proud to say we were the ones who started many firsts, in terms of parties and events, that helped shaped the party scene as it is today.


ESQ: Describe a typical evening at Mars.
JS: We tried to keep the club as dynamic as possible. We had different themes for the different nights. We weren’t just playing a different genre per night but really going all out with the theme nights, many of which we were first, and in some cases, only club to be able to pull off in the local scene.

My personal favorites were the Tekken (Playstation) tournaments, held every Tuesday nights, which I called “Strictly Brawl Room” with Miller Genuine Draft. Buy a beer for a ticket to play ladder style. We had Tekken-heads from your next-door neighbor to guys from the Eraserheads and even Francis M. competing toe-to-toe like normal boys.

Then our Beach Ball 2010 series (set in the future but it’s now 2017 so…), where we had everyone in beachwear every Wednesday with celebrities going for prizes with our tequila-driven limbo contest and the Beach Babe of the night. Our crazy Halloween parties with the best costumes ever! We introduced Manila to the first foam parties, which were crazy. I can go on forever. People at the time were so game and it made such a big difference.

We got everyone—models, basketball players, artistas and politicians. Would rather not mention names though. Don’t want to get anyone in a spot with memories of their good old days.

ESQ: Could you mention some of the people who frequented Mars? Who were the regulars?
We got everyone—models, basketball players, artistas and politicians. Would rather not mention names though. Don’t want to get anyone in a spot with memories of their good old days.

ESQ: Did anything salacious or any seriously violent incident ever happen there?
JS: Salacious or seriously violent? Ha ha ha, pass also on this one. 


Do you remember any kind of special cocktail, bar chow or popular food item that you served at Mars? 

We had the typical fare, but everyone loved our sisig, which was so good I can’t seem to replicate it to this day. (It had) the right kind of crunch and all. Then for some strange reason I had a baked garlic and cheese tahong phase, which people liked anyway as well.

ESQ: Did you get any visits from international celebrities? 
JS: Yes, we did. My most memorable and favorite one was Lou Diamond Philips because at the time I was a huge fan of his work in Young Guns and La Bamba. He even mentioned in a newspaper interview how comfy he felt here and how he was at a club the other night and had a fan quoting lines from his older movies verbatim. Yup, that was a drunk me.


ESQ: How many people could Mars accommodate? At its peak, how many people were there on a typical weekend evening? 
JS: Around 150 to 180.

ESQ: When did Mars close down? And why?
JS: Around 2002? 2003? Good run. I guess it’s how the market is, particularly about new bars and establishments. Three to five years was a usual benchmark. And at that particular time, new bars and clubs were popping up all over the place like mushrooms. That saw the emergence of Bonifacio Global City as a nightlife destination, and a migration north also with the (opening) of proper establishments in the Pasig and QC areas, in my opinion.

In the absence of selfies and strangers snapping away and taking unapologetic videos of people getting drunk and having a good time, I guess you can say those were the years that really defined the saying, ‘What happens in the club stays in the club.’

ESQ: When you look back, how do you feel about those "Mars years?"
JS: We have to keep in mind that, in those days, text messaging was very limited and people didn’t have social media and group chats to know where to go. You can count the good places with your 10 fingers. I guess that made things much more spontaneous and given the limited choices and proper implementation of door and crowd control, you really had a good crowd going.

In the absence of selfies and strangers snapping away and taking unapologetic videos of people getting drunk and having a good time, I guess you can say those were the years that really defined the saying, ‘What happens in the club stays in the club.’ Unlike today where everything goes straight to Facebook. Event photographers were official and the nostalgia of club flyers and invites delivered to your home or office, and those “privilege” membership cards with your names on them embossed were truly a mark of those years.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting down modern technology and the benefits it provides. Promoting is as easy as a click and a push of a button, send to all and that’s it. The “Mars years” for me were a more intimate, private and enthusiastic time for both the establishments and partygoers of the era. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything else. Spoken like a true tito of Manila.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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