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Review: LA Cafe in Manila, Philippines

LA Cafe is a large and well known bar in the Ermita section of Manila. Open 24 hours a day this is a full time entertainment center. The two floors offer a bar, restaurant, billiards, live music and ladies of the night. Of course those ladies don’t work directly for the bar. But they certainly come around in significant numbers.

To be clear LA Cafe is known as a meeting area for freelance prostitutes and their customers. LA Cafe then is something like the Thermae of Manila.

l a cafe manila philippines

The biggest difference here is that LA Cafe is a full fledged bar that could arguably stay in business on the strength of its food and drinks. I don’t know if the bar would actually survive without the presence of women and willing eager punters. But it is at least seems to be possible.

That’s because a number of regular customers frequent this bar too. Filipino men and women can be found amongst the crowds here along western men. So you might walk in and see a local guy drinking beer with friends right next to an expat looking for some pay for play action. This can make for quite the scene.

L.A. Cafe in Ermita

LA Cafe is located on Del Pilar Street near Rizal Park and the Manila Bay. Interestingly enough the US Embassy is also located nearby. The area is typically rough with worn sidewalks and tangled wires overhead. The large green LA Cafe building fits into that nicely.

The ground floor has a round bar and some tables scattered around. Decorations dot all the available space on the walls and even ceilings. There is some neon lighting and even a disco ball. But for a bar in this part of the world the place is hardly among the flashiest. It compares more to a dive bar in the west than a gaudy KTV in the east.

Ermita manila

The upstairs area opens at 8:00 each night. Live music is played on a low stage upstairs. A seat in this section costs an extra 100 Pesos ($1.81 USD). It is hardly worth it unless the downstairs area is full or you are a fan of tribute band style music. Though I would note that the place has had some very attractive female performers in at times.

Bills are kept separate between floors. You have to settle your tab on the first floor before you can move to the second floor. The same goes when moving in the opposite direction.

Easy to find and popular this bar can draw quite the crowd during the most popular times. It’s not uncommon to enter at prime time and find every seat in the downstairs area occupied. Most of the freelancers stay downstairs for this reason. More people means more possible customers. Though you will occasionally find some gals searching on the upper deck too.

Freelancers at LA Cafe

On its own LA Cafe is just a fairly regular bar and restaurant. The presence of freelancers selling sex is what makes the place stand out. On a good night several dozen women will come and go through the bar. Though things can also be very slow and quiet during off hours.

LA Cafe has been around for years. It has also been reliable with very little change. At this point the place has become a sort of institution. Sure some of the women found inside can also be found working the streets. But for others this is the sole place they go to ply their trade.

lady at LA cafe manila

Because of that LA Cafe draws a mix of hardened prostitutes and part timers just hoping to earn an extra pesos here and there. So ladies inside can range in age from 18 on up into middle age. Looks tend more towards the average and plain. Some of the women are actually quite old and even large. These days the older and bigger outnumber the attractive gals in their twenties by some margin.

The Philippines has been dealing with a rise in obesity for years. That is reflected here at LA Cafe. As time goes on the freelancers who frequent the bar appear to be getting larger. Of course things can change from one to the next in any bar. That’s especially true in a place like this where the level of talent is determined by whoever happens to walk in that day. Still I sense a general trend. I may be on to something to as the live singers are even appear to be growing in size.

An overall view

Prices are reasonable at the bar. A beer is 130 Pesos ($2.35 USD). A cocktail is 100 Pesos more. Food is fairly priced too and includes favorites like hamburgers and fries. Oddly there is an additional 150 pesos fee for lady drinks even though the freelancers who show up are totally on their own.

When it comes to the freelancers everything is negotiable. Prices asked don’t seem to be dependent on looks or much of anything. The average rate most women here start off with is 3000 Pesos ($54 USD). Some will ask for even more. Many will settle for even less. Especially as the night turns into morning.

LA Cafe is an odd place. As a regular bar with food and live music I would probably give LA Cafe two or perhaps two-and-a-half stars at best. But this not an arts and entertainment website. I report on the commercial sex industry as it exists around the world. Viewing LA Cafe as a hot spot for freelancers and their fans I think it probably deserves a little more. Though to be honest I can’t tell you exactly why. Three stars.

LA Cafe. 429 M. H. Del Pilar St, Ermita, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila, Philippines. Click here for a map. Open 24 hours. Phone: +63 270-84-937.

4 thoughts on “Review: LA Cafe in Manila, Philippines”

  1. Rockit, thanks for the update. I’m in Manila a few times each year and always stay in Makati near Greenbelt, where there is a regular flow of freelancers walking around in the evening. I haven’t gone back to my hotel alone many times. I hear so many mixed things about LA Cafe and it’s good to read a thoughtful, balanced review. I’ll spread my wings next time and see how it goes. P

  2. Three stars seems a bit generous. On the night I visited several years ago, the looks were as you described: average and plain. I left fairly confident that this is how it is on most nights and thought I would not give it a second chance. Any lookers would not be plying the trade at LA Cafe. I would not pay their asking price of 3K, though it’s hard to blame them when everything is overpriced in the Philippines.

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