In this new series of articles I will relate a few stories, about some of the colorful characters I have met during my time as a bar manager, both in Manila and Angeles. To begin I will start with a man that I called John Hammer.
From the outset I just want to make it clear that I will refer to John as John Hammer. I have no idea how he spelled his last name, but for me he was always the Hammer man, and so he shall remain in my writings.
Here was a man larger than life. He was big, he was strong, he punched like a sledge hammer, drank like a fish and fucked like a rabbit. He was loud, he was in your face and he lived life at a frenetic pace. In juxtaposition to his exterior bravado, the man had a keen and subtle sense of humor, and was even prone to moments of deep reflection. He was an enigmatic character who lived life on the edge and left a legacy on the bar scene of Angeles City Philippines.
As Neil Young so emphatically sang “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” and this is what Hammer did. He danced close to the flames, and in the end, like so many of the Angeles wild men, they consumed him.
John was one of these larger than life characters who seemed to attract people like moths to a burning flame. Hammer attracted all sorts of people, from all walks of life. From the sycophantic hangers on, the wannabe tough guys, the wheeler dealers, the seedy nondescript shadow dwellers, the gangsters and even a smattering of intellectuals, they all knew the Hammer man. If you visited Angeles City Philippines back then no trip was complete without meeting John Hammer.
I first met Hammer in 1992 when I was running Visions in M.H.Del Pilar, Ermita Manila. This was before he ever entered the fray of Angeles City Philippines. He strolled into Visions looking like he owned the place, and I remember watching the crowd disperse before him, a bit like Moses and the Red Sea. My boss at the time John Reed, saw him coming and whispered in my ear, “watch out for this guy he can drink like a fish and likes to fight”. With that said John Reed made a quick exit out the back door, leaving me to entertain the Hammer man.
Hammer made his way to the managers table, sat down and said “you the manager”, to which I replied, “sure am” and he then said, “well get some drinks in”. At this time I had only been running the bar for 2 months, and having a man pressure me to get the first round in was a unique experience. I looked at Hammer in his muscle shirt and thought to myself, he is to big to argue with, so stuff it, I will get the first round in and let’s see what happens from there. As it turned out we had one hell of a session which lasted well into the early hours of the evening and I came away from it physically unscathed and thinking, this John Hammer is a pretty good guy.
During our drinking session Hammer would always buy his share, and while plying three of the hottest girls in Visions with Tequila, would regale me with stories of his adventures in Thailand. By the end of the session he dismissed the 3 inebriated girls, called down two sober ones, paid their bar-fines, and the last I saw of him was the big man strolling out of Visions with two seemingly minute Filipinas tucked under his large arms.
Hammer resurfaced again in 1994 (I believe it was) but this time in Angeles City Philippines. Hammer was never one to work for people, as in his mind he believed the only way to make money was to work for oneself, and be your own boss. This however was easier said than done, especially when you had no start up capital. However Hammer was never one to be perturbed by little obstacles such as shortage of money, and next thing we knew, he had made a deal with the boys from the Orchid Inn to take over the at the empty lot of land where Kokomo’s now stands. This was the beginning of Hammers career in Angeles City Philippines.
Named after the Marine Bar nightclub in Pattaya Thailand, (for some reason both Kelly and Hammer were big fans of the Marine Bar) this was, like most of Hammers projects in Angeles City Philippines, destined for a short life span. Throughout his time in Angeles City Philippines John kept on popping up with different projects, the majority of which were interesting, but never seemed to make him any money. A perfect example of this was the Marine Bar complex. This was an outside venue which featured a boxing ring where the girls from various bars would fight for prize money using over-sized boxing gloves. These fights were never really serious because the gloves were sometimes bigger than the girls themselves, but someone forgot to tell the girls this, and on many an occasion the fights would be more like a brawl than a boxing match. For small framed Asian girls these girls certainly packed a wallop, and they would always take the fight seriously, much to the crowds amusement.
At the time I am not sure Angeles City Philippines was ready for such a venue. Having said that I find it interesting to note that there is now a bar in Makati Manila Philippines doing exactly the same thing.
The fights would happen twice a week and always draw a decent crowd, but the problem was, when the fights were not happening the place was virtually deserted. Back then it was common for different groups to go bar hopping, the biggest of which was the Hash House Harriers. The Hash guys would normally make a beeline for places like the Marine Bar Complex because the beer was cheaper, and it was outdoors with plenty of space. In their own little way the HHH boys, and groups like them, kept Hammers head above water. The Marine Bar Complex was never going to produce bundles of money but at least it was something different, and provided an alternative source of entertainment for jaded Angeles City Philippines expats.
In Angeles City Philippines they will try just about anything to make money, and John Hammer was no exception. The Marine Bar Complex became home for the crocodile that the Orchid Inn boys had inherited from Lovebirds bar in Ermita. What the crocodile was doing in Lovebirds I have no idea and how it ended up in Angeles City Philippines also has me beat, but here it was, and Hammer not being one to let an opportunity pass him by, started feed the crocodile shows. People would pay to come and feed the crocodile and on some days you would see a crowd of girls and guys all lining up to throw some chicken at it. At first the crocodile was ravenous and would demolish the chicken in seconds, however as time went on, it became lackadaisical and even sluggish, seeming to lose interest in the continual supply of chicken. Not sure what happened to that crocodile but I have heard it died from being overfed, which is no surprise considering the amount of people feeding it chicken everyday.
After the Marine bar complex folded, John surfaced running Ziggys bar, now known as Brown Sugar. I will admit Hammer had Ziggys Angeles City Philippines going pretty well. He would sit at the end in the raised section of the bar and let the crowd gravitate to him. He never had to actively seek out anyone to drink with, on the contrary they would flock to him, all hoping to drink and rub shoulders with this larger than life, alpha male, John Hammer. Ziggys Angeles City Philippines was an interesting bar and prior to Pinatubo it had been one of the best bars in Angeles City Philippines. It was a weird design with a dressing room underneath the dance stage, and watching the girls come up from the depth of the building was a bizarre experience. They never came up in a group but rather one by one. The stage at Ziggys was long and in the center of the bar and yet there would only very rarely be more than ten dancers performing at any one time. Every ten minutes one or two dancers would come up from beneath the stage, and one or two would leave the stage from the front. This was like a mini production line of girls as opposed to two separate groups of dancers. For me this approach never worked as I had been schooled in the Manila way which basically meant, pile as many girls on stage as you could, and let the mayhem reign supreme.
I worked with Hammer running Ziggys Angeles City Philippines for 3 weeks and although on the surface he seemed to be having a good time, if you looked closely you could see he wasn’t exactly content. Hammer was never content working for somebody else and during his time in Ziggys Angeles City Philippines it was obvious to me his heart wasn’t really in it. There was a certain imperiousness about Hammer, as if he thought he was better than everybody else, and he certainly wasn’t about to waste any time on you if you weren’t going to spend any money. I got the impression that in the end he decided bar management in Angeles City Philippines was a losers game with no real future, even if you were the big fish in a small pond.
After Ziggys Angeles City Philippines, Hammer surfaced again in Manila, this time running the much renowned Vixens situated on the service road running adjacent to Roxas Boulevard in Pasay Manila. The scene here was much more to his liking. This was a big club with literally hundreds of girls and a steady supply of customers from all corners of the globe. This was the big pond and in true Hammer style, big John set out to leave his mark. Every night in Vixens like its predecessor Visions, was party time, and Hammer would sit up the back orchestrating things like a master conductor. As usual there was never a shortage of people to drink with except this time there were substantially more girls, so at the end of the day, the bar could still make money through bar fines rather than the managers liver.
Vixens was run by John Reed and Fred Thompson of Visions fame and they were joined by a friend of Fred’s from Thailand named John Scott. Vixens quickly developed an excellent reputation as having the hottest girls, the right pricing and a party atmosphere second to none. At this stage it’s only real competition was the Firehouse complex in Edsa, but that was a far second in my opinion.
John Hammer seemed to fit in here, but again he wasn’t completely happy. I don’t know for sure but I think he still yearned for a chance to do his own thing, rather than making other people rich.
John had been working in Vixens for about 8 months when suddenly he showed up in Angeles City Philippines again. It took him all of ten minutes to find out my whereabouts and in he walks with an offer to good to refuse. He strode up to the managers table and said, “listen buddy we have to talk”. Now when John Hammer says we have to talk most people pay instant attention and I was no different, so I replied “okay mate but what are we going to talk about”. Upon hearing this Hammer smiled and said, “your future back in Manila, you need to come get some”.
Hammer then got some drinks in and proceeded to give me a spiel on why I needed to come back and work with him in Manila running Vixens. He was there for about an hour pitching me but I was still undecided until he said the magic words, ‘buddy they need you and you need them. Angeles City Philippines is small fry, you need to come home and play with the big boys”. With that he gave me the finger click and his “get some”, paid his bill and said, “I’ll be round your house tomorrow, we’re going down to Manila”.
Sure enough at a disgustingly early hour the next morning Hammer and driver were outside my place. Next thing I knew I was being bundled into the car and we were leaving Angeles City Philippines, heading down to Manila. I did about 9 months in Manila with Hammer running Vixens, but for me it was somehow very different from both the Visions that I had known and loved so much. Even though it was basically the same people behind Vixens as were behind Visions 1 and 2, for me it just didn’t have the same feel. Having never worked in Visions 1 or 2, Hammer had no point of comparison, so for him this was all new and exciting. He was right at home in Vixens and would always hold court in the back section with his main customers being US Marines attached to the American embassy. Hammer would start the drinking and the sessions would continue until the last man standing. When I worked in Makati I would do the same with the embassy marines, and I would take perverse satisfaction in knowing the alcohol they had consumed the night before, would invariably be thrown up on their morning 5 mile run.
I ran into John Hammer again when he returned to Angeles City Philippines, found some investors and built Thunderstruck. Once again Hammer was trying to do his own thing and using OPM (Other Peoples Money) as his foundation. During his time at Thunderstruck Angeles City Philippines, I only got to see Hammer on the rare occasion as I was based in Makati, but I would hear the stories, and in a very short time Thunderstruck became Angeles City Philippines, premier party bar.
Thunderstruck Angeles City Philippines in my opinion boasted a sort of pub with pussy atmosphere. They had some nice looking dancers there, but it seemed to me that the main appeal of Thunderstruck Angeles City Philippines was as a place to hang out with ones friends and swap stories, over more than a few alcoholic beverages.
When it first started out Hammer would be there every night with drink in hand, holding court. As time progressed Hammer would spend less time in the bar, preferring instead to work out at the gym, ride his Harley or try to work his latest get rich quick scheme. This was one of Hammers hallmarks, and although he drank a lot, I always got the impression drinking was a means to an end for him. He drank calculatingly, not because he enjoyed it. I think at the end of the day Hammer was much more at home working out, fighting, or wheeling and dealing, than he was drinking in a bar in Angeles City Philippines.
I can still remember clear as day how I found out about Hammers murder. I was lying in my bed in Makati when a text came through from a very good friend of mine, who is a Mad Dog MC member and used to make regular trips to Angeles City Philippines. The text simply read “John Hammer is dead”. Upon reading this I at first couldn’t believe my eyes and I text back, “is this a joke mate”, only to receive another text saying, “no mate I’m serious. He was murdered this morning on his way home”.
Johns death had a profound effect on many people, and I think this was for a number of reasons. Firstly, he had always seemed larger than life, almost invincible, and to see him so brutally gunned down, was both a reminder that nobody is bullet proof, and certainly a reminder of ones own mortality. A second reason why his death was so shocking was because of the way it was done. They ambushed him on the little bridge at Hensonville, thus making sure he had no chance of escape. They riddled him full of bullets using automatic guns, and even emptied a few rounds into him when he was lying on the ground with his girlfriend beneath him. This was a contract killing and to this day nobody is 100% sure who did it or why. Hammers was the first paid for hit in Angeles City Philippines, that I can remember. Yes there had been other foreigners killed in Angeles City Philippines, prior to him, but none so brutally, and none so obviously an assassination.
There are various theories as to why Hammer was assassinated ranging from an old grudge in Thailand, through to him beating up the wrong people in Angeles City Philippines, his fallout with his investors in Thunderstruck in Angeles City Philippines or Hammers dubious acquisition of a “boiler room” phone list. To be honest I have no idea if any of these theories is correct. All I know is that it was a brutal murder, and I for one miss the man.
There are many stories surrounding Hammers death but I will leave those for when I write my book or blog. The big man certainly left his mark on Angeles City Philippines and for now I can only say RIP big John, and I hope you are riding your Harley on that long open highway in the sky.