Kokomo's History Pt. 1

In the early 90's, negotiations were ongoing for the renewal of the Mutual Defense Treaty which governed the military and, to some extent, the economic relationship between the Philippines and the United States. They were long and protracted. Two main representatives were U.S. Ambassador Richard Armitage and Philippines Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus. Armitage was a career diplomat who served in several capacities for different Presidents. Both men were honorable and highly respected by their country’s leaders as well as each other.

Each time the Philippines would make a demand, Armitage would have to return to the various committees within the U.S. Senate asking for more concessions. At one point, he told Manglapus that he needed to tell the Philippine Congress to put forth their final requirements. He took the demands back to Washington, and they were accepted. Manglapus flew to DC where, much to everyone’s frustration, he presented a few more ‘demands’. It was an embarrassing situation for both men.

Armitage took the proposal to Congress, and while they were deliberating, Mt. Pinatubo erupted on 15th of June 1991. Clark was 95% evacuated within a couple of days before the eruption. Immediately after the eruption, a tropical storm passed over the area which added so much weight to the ash fall, and the ensuing damage made Clark virtually useless. Thus, negotiations for Clark ended. There was a classic cartoon in Time magazine depicting President Cory Aquino standing at the gate of the Clark Air Base looking at Armitage. The caption read “Does this mean you don’t want us anymore?”.

Mt. Pinatubo Ash Cloud

The departure of the Americans coupled with the widespread destruction of most of Pampanga, spelled disaster for the entertainment area of Balibago in Angeles City. On the corner of A. Santos Street and Field Avenue there was an Angeles City landmark – The Orchid Plaza. The property was owned and managed by the Orchid Hotel Group. The facilities consisted of a perimeter structure housing several fast food type restaurants and a couple of bars. The building had no roof. In the center was a large fountain that was covered every week and held ‘Foxy Boxing’ events. They were wildly popular with the U.S. Air Force guys as well as the local population. Orchid Plaza was one of the few businesses that remained after the Pinatubo eruption– abet in a toned down manner. Over the next few years, one of the Orchid partners was murdered in Thailand, and the other owners lost interest in the venture. Eventually, they turned it over to another Angeles City legend, John Hamner. John tried to revive it, but to no avail. Sometime around 1997, Gerard Heinen purchased the property and he approached David Fischer about renting it, since Fischer was already operating a couple of small bars in town. At the time, the best option for a wide variety of Western food was Margaritaville (now Margarita Station). The Ville was one of the city’s most popular hangouts. It was built, owned and operated by a retired Air Force officer, and it rightly enjoyed wide popularity as it was open 24 hours, and was an attraction for after hour liaisons.

Fischer decided to take the opportunity to build a similar venue. Originally, the business occupied a single floor with offices and support facilities housed on the 2nd floor. The area over the front entrance was an open air bar. Housed within the complex were the restaurant, an Internet Cafe, hair dresser, boutique and small convenience shop. The back area was occupied by squatters who, once removed gave way to the swimming pool.

Originally the name was going to be Big Johnson’s, but it was a bit of a play on words. It was also the name of a T-Shirt manufacturer who produce clever Big Johnson cartoons. In April of 1997, Fischer, his original partner, Mike, JC (from Margaritaville) and Rick (from Rick’s Café) decided to go to Thailand for Songkran, a festival celebrating the traditional Thai New Year. They were enjoying the afternoon activities at Nana Plaza and the subject of the name came up. There was lots of bantering about other names, when the song, Kokomo’s by the Beach Boys came on. Frye suggested that this might be a perfect name ‘Everybody knows there’s a place called Kokomo……’You get there fast and you take it slow……’. Thus, the name.

In the early 2000's, 10 rooms were added. In the ensuing period, two bars were added to the premises; both attracting large audiences; Voodoo and King of Diamonds. The operation went through many iterations. Where Voodoo is now housed, was the Internet center, beauty parlor, cashier and boutique. The Internet center was moved to the balcony area, the cashier to the area near the entrance and boutique and beauty shop moved off site. The kitchen moved from its current location to the KoD area and back again. The bar was once in the center of the building and moved to the front, then to its current location. Where the 3 Santos Street rooms are located once stood an outdoor bar with an enclosed billiard area. At the pool, there was a swim up bar as well as a large Jacuzzi.

John Todorovic

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