Mark Smith AKA AC Sheriff.
I cannot say with absolute certainty when I first met Mark Smith but I seem to remember being introduced to him in passing in 1991. At the time I was bar hopping with a friend and I remember thinking how neat, tidy, organized and functional Roadhouse was, especially when compared to most other bars on M.H.Del Pilar. I also remember thinking, it’s nice but somehow a little bit sterile, plus there was never a great number of girls to draw my attention, so my visits here were destined to become infrequent.
With it’s hundreds of girls, bright lights, and its heady party atmosphere, Visions in Ermita was for me the ultimate club and I desperately wanted a chance to manage it. Mark Smith, albeit unknowingly, was to help me achieve this goal.
In his early days Mark was a hard drinking man and his drink of choice was Wild Turkey bourbon. Like most Go-Go bars a large percentage of Roadhouse revenue came from alcohol sales, and drinking battles where obscene amounts of alcohol are consumed, were a common occurrence. On one such occasion Mark got involved in a heavy bourbon drinking competition with a guy called John Rollins. John Rollins was an established big spender in Visions and when he appeared in Roadhouse running his mouth about how much he could drink, it was an irresistible challenge for Mark Smith.
During the course of the evening Rollins let it slip that he had been offered the job as the next manager of Visions. At the time there was no love lost between Mark Smith and the Visions general manager John Reed, so when he heard Rollins news, combined with the fact that Rollins had been running his mouth, it was for Mark, like a red flag to a bull. That night Mark set out to destroy John Rollins and the end result was a totally trashed Rollins hugging the Roadhouse toilet bowl, surrounded by a pool of his own vomit. Hardly an auspicious start for an aspiring bar manager and it was made worse by someone taking photos of the event, having them developed, then slipping them under the front door of Visions with an attached note saying, “your new manager”.
The end result of this was that Rollins got overlooked for the job at Visions and I got the nod.
In retrospect looking at the events of that night as an outsider, I do not attribute Mark Smith with any ill feelings towards John Rollins. Indeed, if some young punk had come into my bar boasting about how much he could drink, and what a good bar manager he was going to be in an opposition bar, I would probably set out to teach him a lesson as well. The irony is, that at the end of the day, Mark Smith was right. The last thing a bar needs is a manager who doesn’t know his limits when it comes to drinking, and thanks to Mark Smith, John Rollins learned this lesson in a hurry.
Okay, taking the photos and having them delivered to John Reed was not exactly taking the moral high ground and certainly was a little bit petty, but here is where life’s delicious irony comes into play. After getting knocked back for the job in Visions, John Rollins landed the job as manager of Firehouse, which at the time was regarded as the premier bar in Manila and certainly paid more than Visions ever would. Had he gotten the job in Visions he would never of had the opportunity to work in Firehouse.
As William Shakespeare so aptly wrote, “All’s well that ends well” or put another way, ‘one door closes and another one opens’.
Mark Smith was an interesting character who certainly left his mark on Angeles City Philippines. He was an intriguing mix of bull headedness and Machiavellian like manipulation. He would approach most problems like a bull in a china shop, running head first against any obstacles, using a iron like will and dogged determination to break through the barriers. When he took this approach, I used to refer to him as being in Juggernaut mode, immovable, unwavering, and unstoppable. The driving strength behind Mark Smith was that he unfaltering believed his way was the right way, and when combined with his unflagging determination, this made him a force to be reckoned with.
Bullish behavior and extreme obstinacy were traits often associated with Mark Smith, but believe it or not, he could actually exercise diplomacy, and at times verged on Machiavellian like, behind the scenes maneuvering. I think in some ways Mark Smith emphasized the bullish approach because it was natural for him, and because it disguised his behind the scenes maneuvers. People came to associate Mark Smith with the bull in a china shop approach and couldn’t believe he was capable of the deft behind the scenes maneuvers, until it was to late.
In his early years Mark Smith spent some time in the navy and I think this instilled in him a respect for discipline and orderliness, as well as an understanding of the chain of command. Whenever the navy or the air-force were in Angeles City Philippines, Mark would make it a point to get to know the officers and they would invariably end up drinking in Roadhouse bar in Angeles City Philippines. I always thought this was an astute business move on Marks behalf but I think for Mark it went beyond business. Looking at it in retrospect I believe Mark Smith had a genuine respect for members of the armed forces (especially Americans) and when he played host to them he was congenial, organized and respectful. He emphasized the “thank you for serving approach” before the term even existed and in so doing encouraged them to visit his bar in Angeles City Philippines.
The respect for rank and authority was deeply ingrained in Mark Smith and he had the unique ability to convert this into the business environment of both Manila and Angeles City Philippines. During his early days with Roadhouse in Ermita Mark Smith became friends with many American embassy personnel. As a result Roadhouse was always on their list when they hit the town for a drink and some fun. Indeed Roadhouse was unofficially sanctioned as an American embassy friendly bar and a safe environment for them to drink in. This did wonders for Marks bottom line and as far as I know Roadhouse always turned a profit, even in Angeles City Philippines during the slow years directly after Pinatubo exploded.
In some ways Mark Smith was very black and white. Mark Smith in many ways preferred the direct approach, especially when it came to dealing with the Filipino’s in power in Angeles City Philippines. I distinctly remember when Alfredo Lim was closing down Ermita, Mark Smith pulled some strings and managed to get an appointment to see the mayor and talk about why he was harassing the bars. Mark came away from that meeting with a positive outlook and proceeded to tell all the other bar owners what Lim had told him. Basically Lim had said no bar-fines, no bikinis, and no loud music outside the bars. Mark Smith now had his guidelines and he responded accordingly. He got rid of the Roadhouse bikini and replaced it with tight crotch hugging shorts and a white cut off top. He abolished bar fines and he turned down the music and lighting outside Roadhouse. 3 weeks later Lim was raiding again and one of the first bars closed was Roadhouse, even though Mark Smith had complied with Lim’s instructions to the letter.
The respect for rank, or perhaps a respect for power and authority, never left Mark and he applied the same approach when dealing with the Filipino power players in Angeles City Philippines. In the late nineties early two thousands the Angeles bar scene and entertainment structure was expanding rapidly. Large amounts of money were being invested in Angeles City Philippines new hotels, new bars, new restaurants etc and all of this was occurring under the investment friendly mayor Carmelo Lazatin. Lazatin was a political master and seasoned politician plus he was ostensibly foreigner friendly, as such it was only natural that Mark Smith should develop strong ties and work closely with him when he was Mayor of Angeles City Philippines.
For Mark, Lazatin represented the top of the local chain of command. He was the Angeles City Philippines ships captain and Mark Smith his liaison officer for the foreign community. Mark worked closely with the mayor on many projects including the ill fated Angeles hospital and at one stage he even had his own office in the Angeles City Philippines City Hall.
Being close to the mayor of Angeles City Philippines has definite advantages but also definite disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is that other foreigners living in Angeles City Philippines will automatically view your actions with suspicion, as will many Filipinos. During those years there were many negative stories regarding Mark Smith and his closeness with the mayor of Angeles City Philippines, but most of them in my opinion, were just the product of jealousy and resentment.
I think Mark Smith truly believed that his actions were in the best interest of the town Angeles City Philippines and the bar business as a whole. However whilst this might be true I think it’s also important to note that Mark Smith was definitely ego driven. For a while there he really saw himself as being the sheriff of Angeles City Philippines, dispensing law and order to wrong doers. Whilst it is true that he did work closely with the local cops and local politicians, he was in no way the Angeles City Philippines sheriff and had no power over his fellow foreigners when it came to living and existing in Angeles City Philippines. I believe that to some extent Mark Smith suffered from what I call the Short Aggressive Male (SAM) syndrome. Others have coined the term Napoleon complex but despite the different names, the behavioral traits are much the same. Men with this complex are normally short in stature and they compensate for this with aggressive behavior and a desire to dominate the actions of others. There was definitely an element of this in Mark Smith and this vibe was picked up by many residents of Angeles City Philippines.
In the year 2000 I was based down in Makati and I remember my boss at the time asking me “why is Mark Smith so close with the Angeles City Philippines mayor” I don’t get that, doesn’t he realize what will happen when the mayor finishes his term and a new mayor is elected in Angeles City Philippines”? He was referring to the Filipino politicians habit of purging the old regime and replacing it with their own people. In some ways I think my old boss was right and I am pretty sure the change in political power brokers contributed to hasten Mark Smiths departure from Angeles City Philippines.
Please don’t get me wrong here I am not saying he was run out of Angeles City Philippines or anything like that., but lets just say the new Angeles City Philippines administration did not exactly look kindly at a foreigner who had been so close to the preceding administration. Being a Filipino and involved in local politics of Angeles City Philippines is one thing, being a foreigner and involved in local politics of Angeles City Philippines is another thing altogether. For me I believe Mark Smith was getting ready to split from Angeles City Philippines anyway and the new administration with their hostile attitude just hastened his decision.
When he left Angeles City Philippines Mark Smith was at a stage in his life where he was ready to get out. He had suffered from a heart attack and as a result had curtailed the drinking and smoking. He had done many years in the Roadhouse bar Angeles City Philippines and it was becoming old for him. He had lost his enthusiasm for the business and he was no longer a power player in Angeles City Philippines. His son was at an age where he needed to go to America and get a proper education and the new administration in Angeles City Philippines were not exactly friendly. He had done significant numbers of women, he had lived the life and had his proverbial five minutes of fame. He had been a significant power player in Angeles City Philippines, he had outlasted many of his detractors and he had proven that he could run a successful bar in Angeles City Philippines that made money and people liked.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly I think Mark to some extent could see the writing on the wall. His existing customer base was getting old and no longer spending money in Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines like they used to. Then to make matters worse, as the old market died off it wasn’t being replaced by a new younger market. The result of this was lower sales and declining profit margin for Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines. Add to this there were now several new players in Angeles City Philippines (Blue Nile Group and Dollhouse group) with big money behind them and they represented some serious competition for a niche market bar like Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines. Then to top it all off the storm cloud in the form of human trafficking was beginning to rear it’s ugly head. I think all of these factors combined to make Mark realize it was time to get out of Angeles City Philippines.
Mark Smith like many who become involved in the Angeles City Philippines bar scene was somewhat of an enigma. From what I can gather he did not have extensive schooling and he was very much a self made man. Nearly everything he got, he got from hard work, long hours, dogged determination, and an unflinching belief that his was the right way. From his time in Taiwan he could speak Fuken and Mandarin fluently and yet despite visiting and living in the Philippines for twenty something years, he only knew about twenty words of Tagalog.
When it came to women he was impulsive to the point of ridiculousness. Once he set his eyes on a girl he liked he would become fixated and would do whatever he felt was necessary to make her his own. He was actually married and divorced six times, and as far as I can gather, all of his wives were Filipinas.
Mark was certainly intense and demanding. He was a stickler for rules and authority. Appearances mattered to him and he would always pass a rule that his managers in Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines had to wear a collared shirt, decent pants and clean shoes. At the time he was the only one in Angeles City Philippines who did this and his insistence on a certain standard in appearance was typical of how he saw the bar business and Roadhouse’s place in it in Angeles City Philippines.
He saw Roadhouse as being the cleanest, most efficient bar in Angeles City Philippines, and thanks to Mark Smiths unrelenting eye for detail, it was exactly that. He ran Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines like a staff sergeant would run an army barracks. The staff would all report to work on time, the staff would all have assigned duties which Mark would check to see if they had been done correctly, the place was spotlessly clean, and in as good condition when he left it as the day he built it in Angeles City Philippines. His bar staff headed by Olive were second to none and the service in Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines was always exemplary. The toilets were the cleanest in Angeles City Philippines, the drinks were always served in the right glass, the beer was always cold, the popcorn always warm. The music was rock and roll, and the girls all had to do the Thunderstruck routine with no exceptions. The girls all wore the same uniform, the same red shoes and the same garter belt placed the same distance above the knee.
Some people found Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines boring and stiflingly regulated. Others appreciated the orderliness, cleanliness and consistency. Whenever you entered Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines you knew exactly what to expect and while Mark Smith was at the reigns this was never going to change. Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines was a bar that attracted a certain type of big spender. Normally these guys appreciated the Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines environment, they liked the orderliness, the professionalism of the bar staff, and the organization of the dancers. Most importantly the customers liked the feeling of being in control. They liked the idea of being the center of attention, being king for a minute and being “the man” in Angeles City Philippines. Still to this day I think Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines has more bell rings than any other bar in the history of the Philippine bar industry.
Just as there were people who really liked Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines, there were also those who hated it. These people would invariably shake their heads when the waitresses would rush to light their cigarette, they couldn’t comprehend why people would ring the bell and claim that Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines was a great party bar, when for them it was regulated and boring. Most importantly they couldn’t understand why anyone would enjoy a bar that had so few dancers and all the dancers seemed like robots.
By running Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines like he did, Mark Smith always had a problem getting enough girls to work there. The simple truth of the matter was they didn’t like the music, they didn’t like the hard red shoes which hurt their feet, and they didn’t like the rules and regulations or the way they were enforced. They didn’t like the strict rigidity of Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines and they didn’t like Mark Smith whom they saw as being very strict and “bastos”. Marks rigid approach and ruling the roost with an iron fist may have been appreciated by some customers but it did nothing to entice the girls, and this is why he always had a problem attracting girls to work in Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines.
Having said that over the years there have been some absolute beauties who have graced the Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines stage, and these girls have become the stuff of legends Many have gone on to lead happy married lives in other countries, whilst others have simply faded into the fabric of Filipino society.
To his credit Mark Smith wasn’t afraid to diversify and during his time in Angeles City Philippines he dabbled in many different fields. From the Angeles City flying club and the computer based chat room Jade Cool, through to an open air steak house where Salvatore’s now stands, managing pick up disco, managing the Royal Amsterdam hotel, and even having a small role in the ill fated slot machines of the Blue Nile group. Mark Smith was involved in many different ventures in Angeles City Philippines. To his credit Mark Smith was never afraid to take on a new challenge and whenever he turned his attention to a new project he would give 100% effort.
Marks forceful personality and uncompromising approach did not exactly make him mister popular in Angeles City Philippines. But Mark was never one to worry about his popularity. He had a few long term friends and these he treasured, the rest were just acquaintances or business relationships. Some people whom at one stage he was close to became his enemies and I think this had a lot to do with Marks domineering bullish approach.
Among the Filipinos he was for the most part disliked, but then again with his demanding ways, his expectation of strict compliance to the rules and his forceful uncompromising demeanor, the dislike was almost inevitable. Juxtaposed to the vast majority of Filipinos there was Olive and Girlie who were loyal and devoted to Mark Smith as any human being could be. Both these ladies had their lives inextricably entwined with Marks and their respect for hard ass Mark Smith was never ending. They both realized where their bread was buttered but beyond this they both had tremendous respect for him as a boss in Angeles City Philippines and as a friend. Mark demanded perfection from them and on most occasions he got it.
When he sold Roadhouse in Angeles City Philippines to Mo one of his stipulations was that Olive and Girlie keep their positions. This was partly Marks way of thanking them for the many years of loyal service and friendship they had given him. In my opinion the respect was a mutual thing and to his credit, Mark trod the delicate line between being the boss and being a friend extremely well.
If truth be known I think Mark Smith did an amazing job training Olive and I am willing to bet she could hold her own in any bar in the world. Her standard of service was exemplary and the way she controlled and taught the Filipina waitresses was second to none in Angeles City Philippines. This lady could write her own ticket as far as I’m concerned. I have no idea where she is now but wherever she is I hope she is happy and doing well.
Mark Smith has left behind him a legacy in the form of Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines and even though in its present form it is radically different from what it was in Marks day, whenever I visit there, fond memories come rushing back of my time in Angeles City Philippines. As far as I know Mark Smith currently resides in Vegas where he has established himself and reportedly has put Angeles City Philippines in the very distant past. Mark Smith was in many ways a force to be reckoned with. His legacy in the form of Gilleys Roadhouse Angeles City Philippines will probably survive for many years to come, and for me at least, it will always be a reminder of the man who created it…..Mark Smith The Angeles City Philippines sheriff.