03/13/2015

May I take your orders, please?

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kara_3

Bombs away: One of the favorite things I’ll take away from the night — when I had to learn how to make Jägerbombs on the spot. I had to make about 16 glasses that night.

I downed a second Jägerbomb for the night, offered to me by an amusing chubby lady who had, incidentally, also asked me to make them. I poured her drinks, lit her cigarettes, and laughed on cue to all her jokes while she shamelessly adjusted her bra in public. We were at Raven MNL, a hot boutique super club in Taguig on a Saturday night. And as with any hip club on the weekend, the energy of the place was at its peak. A middle-aged foreigner, totally wired, had been awkwardly busting moves on the catwalk that ran down the VIP area. I watched from one of the booths on the side with the candid bra-shifting woman who was not my friend, but my customer—because on this particular night, I was not a customer at Raven. I was a waitress.

Raven MNL is a penthouse nightclub. Its entrance is a grand winding staircase that leads you to a palatial two-floor bar. Private booths are located on every corner, decked out with their own table, Las Vegas-style bottle service, and a personalized server.

Earlier that evening at around eight, I was told that I would be shadowing a server named Sarah, a 22-year-old fresh graduate with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. The night began with a quick detour to the nearest drugstore to down a Red Bull before the night began.

At 11, the doors opened, and we were sent to our designated posts. Sarah and I were assigned to two VIP booths at the front of the house, where guests are required to purchase a minimum number of liquor bottles from P3,000 to P6,000.

Special service: Requests like holding onto the customer’s valuables for a good 15 minutes are just another part of the job. Art by Mawee Borromeo

When midnight hit, and our guests hadn’t arrived yet, I became genuinely worried. My lower back was starting to ache, and I was spacing out in a place that was so loud that you had to be cheek-to-cheek to hear the other person speak. Then, all of a sudden, a throng of girls wearing fluffy bunny headbands noisily made their way to our table, led by a lady in a revealing red romper with a sign around her neck reading “BRIDE.” They had dares for one another scrawled on pieces of paper: “Get a guy to buy you a drink,” they would yell to one another. Sarah looked at me from the side and scoffed, as she proceeded to empty their ashtrays.

Most of the time, I felt invisible. I wasn’t invited to party. I was only there when they needed me. Otherwise, I had to consciously remain unobtrusive, trying my best not to photobomb while they snapped memories, but to be near enough to see when they waved their hands in my face. When one of them spilled their drinks, I offered them tissue. When they poured whiskey down each other’s mouths, I gave them glasses of water because the alcohol burned their throats. I ushered them to the toilet. One girl asked me to hold her valuables while she went to the ladies’ room, then she disappeared for a good 15 minutes, I wondered if I should check up on her, maybe hold her hair back if she was heaving in the toilet. They were as rowdy when they left as they had arrived, and when the lady who asked me to hold her stuff resurfaced, she shoved a P1,000 bill in my hand.

While I watched guests howl to the euphoric vibe of the club, my overriding feeling at that moment (as a girl suddenly seeing it from the other side) was kind of like the unnerving feeling on Survivor when you’re forced to switch tribes. My world wasn’t with those people anymore getting sloshed onstage, showing off their body-hugging outfits and committing to their four-inch heels — the world I was used to. My world was with these uniformed laborers on the floor, trying to get through the daily grind.

It wasn’t until one of the guests from our second table, a flamboyant small man in thick-rimmed glasses, asked me, “Ano pangalan mo? Wala ka kasing nametag eh,” that I felt a little bit more involved. He told me to pour two whiskey shots, and then called Sarah over and asked us to take it with them. (In Raven, servers are allowed to take drinks from guests when they offer.)

By then it was creeping past 4 a.m. and I had been standing all night. I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in a place where I could easily (and would normally) get one. The fact that it was offered filled me with an insurmountable joy. Sarah, who admitted to me early in the night that she had never accepted shots from guests, was splitting free drinks with me when I egged her on.

Work hard, party hard: Servers at Raven are allowed to accept drinks from guests when they are offered. I think I got the same amount of free drinks, as a waitress, as I would being myself on a girls’ night out.

Work hard, party hard: Servers at Raven are allowed to accept drinks from guests when they are offered. I think I got the same amount of free drinks, as a waitress, as I would being myself on a girls’ night out.

It’s funny. While the point of this boutique club was premium exclusivity — VIP treatment and opulence because you can afford it — here was a group who befriended bouncers and servers and allowed us to have a taste of their luxury. They blurred the lines. They called us by our first names and made sure we had our share of fun, too. We took shots like we were friends. I loved it. But I still addressed them as “Ma’am” and “Sir” and ran to get their bill when they asked for it.

At 5 a.m., our shifts were over, something I didn’t think I was actually going to complete. But I couldn’t bail halfway through the night, and I was surprised to find that I had actually enjoyed the stint. I said my goodbyes to an already tipsy Sarah (who was spilling secrets to me after her third shot), and we fist-pumped while she slurred for me to get home safe. I felt a warmth and camaraderie.

But as I surrendered my uniform, and took the elevator back to ground floor, I realized that the feeling was fleeting. I stepped out of the building, onto the concrete streets of the Fort, watched as runners prepared for their morning exercise, and I sauntered back home, exhausted and alone. The pain in my lower back was inching back, and a needy tugging inside me longed to talk to somebody. Anybody. But the world was asleep. The tugs-tugs of the music and the laser lights of the club faded as I walked farther away. And the last thought that ran through my head before I went to bed was, well, goddamn. We deserved every peso of tips we earned that night. And all the free shots too.

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Raven MNL is located in W Fifth Building, 5th avenue corner 32nd street, BGC Taguig.

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